When Julep won the title for the country’s Outstanding Bar Program from the prestigious James Beard Foundation last year, there was no food on the menu.
After all, focusing on the drinks over the food isn’t all that unusual for many high-end cocktail bars in Houston and other cities. But starting today, owner Alba Huerta’s award-winning Julep is launching its most ambitious food menu yet.
Under the guidance of chef Calvin Miller, the menu at this coffee shop along the Washington Corridor includes green gumbo with mussels, Dr. Pepper-braised short ribs, aguachile shrimp, and even a bread pudding for dessert.
“I was trying to come up with a menu with food that I personally like,” Miller said. “I wanted to pair drinks that were really smart.”
Miller, a 36-year veteran of the Houston food scene who has cooked at restaurants like Cultivare and Georgia James, joined Julep late last year.
Since opening in 2014, Huerta has been serving food to customers with items ranging from hot fried chicken to chicken pate “pho”. A combination of the pandemic and waiting for a grease trap in the kitchen put food service on hold for most of 2022.
Miller was tapped to revamp the food side of the menu and said he jumped at “the opportunity to get creative because it’s not just your typical bar stuff.”
“When I first started working here, a lot of people, even my friends, didn’t know we had food,” Miller said.
Goodbye to small bowls of peanuts, stale popcorn and reheated chicken wings. Whether it’s the tuna tartare or the burger called for on the menu, Miller wanted to offer food that he and his colleagues would eat while having drinks after work.
Raw oysters, which were previously on Julep’s menu, will still be served with the addition of other snacks such as stuffed mushrooms, roasted brussels sprout salad, beef carpaccio and a Cajun queso blanco lobster hot sauce.
Larger plates draw on Gulf Coast influences with dishes like maque choux (with andouille sausage, corn, and greens), pulled pork sliders, and a seasonal green gumbo with mussels.
Since winning the James Beard honor, Julep has partnered with a number of high profile bars across the country and the world. The time has finally come, Miller said, for food to get the same attention as cocktails served over ice or a classic dry martini.
“We want to meet expectations with food,” Miller said. “People should walk away thinking ‘Julep is a great bar with great food.’”