Creole & Cajun
“Irish Moonshine” Restaurant Poitín Is Part Southern Comfort & Part World Tour
Poitín opened mid-May at 2313 Edwards in the Sawyer Yards complex in Houston, becoming one of just a few restaurants with a fantastic view of the downtown skyline. It’s operated by Irish native Ian Tucker (who also owns charmingly named Balls Out Burger in the Heights) and was funded by a successful NextSeed micro-investment campaign. Even though the restaurant has an Irish owner and namesake (poitín is Irish moonshine) it definitively is not an Irish restaurant. The sophisticated, glassy environment has a touch of hipster about it (note the wall of recycled glass bottles) but on the menu are more than a few upscale Southern comfort food dishes.
Much of that is thanks to executive chef Dominick Lee, a New Orleans native who attended the Art Institute of Houston and did a stint at Kiran’s before joining the Poitín team. Lee is passionate enough about where he grew up that he encouraged pastry chef Dory Fung to use strawberries from Ponchatoula in her Wild Strawberry dessert, a giant meringue filled with strawberry sauce, surrounded by fresh strawberries and with a black pepper cookie underneath. The idea is to break it up with a giant spoon and share it at the table. It’s good, interactive fun.
The menu is still being tweaked and should be expected to change as the seasons progress. Lee’s crispy-coated Peasant Chicken, a homey dish that’s based on a family recipe (think homestyle “Shake ‘n Bake” but better) proved so popular that he’s changed it from an appetizer to an entrée.
Other Louisiana-tinged dishes include Pick Ya Flavor pork skins (choose tomatillo-guajillo, Cajun or “Saigon Kick” custom seasoning blends) and Cornmeal Dusted Okra with a buttermilk sauce amped up with dill and Cajun spice on the side.
The rest of the menu is Lee showing off his worldly side. Influenced perhaps more than a little by former employer Kiran Verma’s spice repertoire needed to execute her elegant Indian fare, Lee is all over the map (literally). There’s a stellar selection of banchan (little Korean side dishes mainly of pickled vegetables) that comes alongside the $85 Marble Ranch bone-in short rib but can thankfully be ordered as a side, too. The Heirloom Polenta with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, herb-infused ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano is textbook Italian.
On the appetizer side of this world tour is a generous portion of housemade hummus topped with meat from slow-roasted lamb neck. The hummus is a worthy rendition; the North African-style flavor of the lamb neck clashed a bit and seemed unnecessary. Diners should be quite happy with that lamb neck on its own as an entrée, though (and feel free to order the hummus without it as a topping). Served atop cauliflower ground to the texture of couscous, it gets its flavor from harissa , ras al hanout, dates and prunes.
For the beverage program, there was initially a power team of women leading it who have mostly been in significant roles in Houston for quite some time. There’s already been a change as Poitín management has parted ways with bar director Christa Havican. Beverage director Sarah Cuneo and sommelier Shannon Nöelle Crow seem to still be in place, though.
Cuneo’s past experience includes the rigorous bartender training at Anvil Bar & Refuge as well as working at The Pass & Provisions and The Pastry War, so it is a reasonable expectation that Poitín’s cocktails are top-notch. The P&T — poitín and tonic, a riff on gin and tonic — is exactly the kind of cocktail needed to cope with Houston’s humid summers. The lemony sipper is served over ice and is an enduring cold sipper, much like an Aperol spritz is.
The Clear Cuba Libre is just as endearing, even whimsical. “Cola essence” — essentially cola extract with out the color — and citric acid are the keys to this great fake. Hand it to the unsuspecting and they’ll mistake it for a glass of water with a lime wedge. Those two cocktails just scratch the surface of what’s on offer. There are drinks for just about every flavor profile, from staunch to refreshing, and there are more featuring that intriguing Irish moonshine.
Poitín is like a fun walk in a big national forest. It’s attractive, intriguing and there’s a lot of different directions you can go with your culinary journey. Both the drink and food menu are fairly big in scope and ambition but on first glance, at least, it doesn’t seem to be anything the more-than-capable staff can’t handle.