Bars With A Full Menu
Breakfast At Harold’s Tap Room Hits A Casual Sweet Spot
A Sunday morning visit to check out the newly introduced breakfast service at Harold’s Tap Room was a pleasant reminder of how many different ways there are in the city to enjoy brunch. Houston has many sumptuous ones that feature a seemingly endless parade of chafing dishes. All-you-can-eat dining is set to the beat of a live band and if someone leaves less than stuffed, it’s his own fault. These culinary celebrations can be impressive—as well as expensive, crowded and noisy.
On some weekends, something simple, quiet and thoughtful is in order. Such is the experience at Harold’s Tap Room at 350 West 19th Street, located in the quaintest part of the Heights. “We want to be welcoming, casual and a place where someone who works from home can get a bottomless coffee and a pastry,” says owner Alli Jarrett. “It’s a good spot for a quick business meeting or a light lunch meeting for when you don’t want to go upstairs [to Harold’s]. (Those pastries, by the way, come from local bakery Cake & Bacon, whose goods seem to be showing up all over Houston now.)
Surrounded by strips of antique storefronts (and housed in a nearly 100-year-old former menswear store itself), the casual bar represents an interesting intersection of where past meets future. Bellying up to a bar for a daytime meal seems like a terribly modern idea, but it’s actually a very old one. In the 1700s, travelers relied on taverns that provided (not very good) meals.
Fortunately, the breakfast fare at Harold’s Tap Room, though is quite satisfying—and there are actually plenty of tables for those who don’t want to dine at the bar, both in the main room and in a room off to the side that used to house Alli’s Pizzeria. (The tap room was the more sensible and customer-friendly replacement for the quirky Heights General Store.)
I was invited to try some of Jarrett’s favorite selections, which are approachable and tend to highlight high quality, fresh ingredients at their best. Take, for example, the housemade ham and cheese biscuit. Chef Antoine Ware cures the ham himself, and it’s stacked high in a simple presentation that allows it to be the star.
Perhaps even more interesting is the more complex breakfast pizza. The eight-inch round is big enough to share with a friend, and the ingredients on the $10 delight conspire to create nuanced flavors and textures. There’s smoky bacon (also cured in-house), perky chunks of tomato and the cool crispness of arugula, all enriched when golden egg yolks of locally sourced eggs yield to the fork.
There’s quiche as well—generous, homey wedges of it. On the day of my visit, it was imbued with yellow squash and zucchini. Jarrett said the vegetables will change depending on what is in season.
Julia Tillman, the head bartender for both the tap room and Harold’s restaurant upstairs, has created an accompanying list of cocktails with bold flavors, yet each ingredient is familiar and approachable. “Downstairs in the morning, we focused on coffee cocktails. That way if people want their coffee but also want a little booze in it, they can have that.” (Harold’s is using coffee beans from local roaster Geva Premium Coffee.)
Some of Tillman’s creations modernize affectionate throwbacks to the time just before “mixology” became such a big deal. The Walnut Espresso Martini was, in fact, cited by every staff member I encountered as the “must try” drink—and even someone who froths over what constitutes a “real” martini might let their hair down a little over this one. The key is balance, and there’s plenty of toasty espresso in the drink to dance with Nocello (Italian walnut and hazelnut liqueur) and a healthy spike of 1876 vodka made in Dripping Springs, Texas.
Of course, every brunch needs a bloody mary, and Harold’s has that covered with its reasonable-priced $8 Texas Mary. It has the qualities a mary-lover is looking for: depth, spiciness, zing and a touch of unifying sweetness. I asked Jarrett if the mix was made in-house. It turns out that it’s a modernized throwback, too—a spiked-up version of Mr. & Mrs. T’s. That was a little surprising, considering that most of what Harold’s does is made from scratch, and those who avoid anything that contains high fructose corn syrup will want to pass on this. That said, it’s the same mix that several airlines serve, so if a bloody mary is your drink of choice, you’ve no room to talk.
After breakfast, Harold’s Tap Room transitions to lunch service, then segues to the role of neighborhood bar. “We wanted to become a neighborhood bar, because there wasn’t one here,” explained Jarrett. “We can give the neighbors something different.”
In the evening, simple, classic cocktails are the order of the day. “When was the last time you saw a White Lady on the menu?” asked Tillman. (A White Lady includes gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice for tartness and an egg white for frothiness.) There are also 14 local craft beers on tap. On any given day, the selection might include Saint Arnold, Eureka, Spindletap and Town In City.
Jarrett’s “baby,” though, is the wine-on-tap served either by the glass or by sizable carafe. On the day of our visit, there were three rosés, a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, an Italian red blend, Pinot Noir and a California red blend. Many wine lovers might not know that these days, wine on tap is not cheap or poorly made. The reduced packaging and no need to label often makes for good deals on quality sips.
Harold’s Tap Room is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. (later if it’s busy), Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Food service ends an hour before closing. For a more traditional, full-fledged meal experience, head to Harold’s restaurant upstairs.