Houston Cocktail Bar Julep Focuses on Chef-Created Dishes & “Migrant” Ingredients
In late July, Julep, which was named Best Cocktail Bar of 2021 by the Houston Press, updated its menu — its first new one since reopening on May 1. It was closed for several months due to the the pandemic. Located at 1919 Washington, the Southern-inspired bar has added several cocktails, as well as food items.
On the drink side, Julep’s owner, Alba Huerta, created what’s being called the “migrant” cocktail menu, which tells the histories of how certain ingredients came to America. For reinvigorating the food offerings, she teamed up with chef Kate McLean (formerly the executive chef of Tony’s) on four new dishes. Houston Food Finder was invited to sample several of the new additions.
The cocktail menu has a mellow vibe, with the exception of the Nightshade Apero. This highball riff is a mix of white port, Manzanilla sherry, Select Aperitivo, lemon and tonic with thyme and bell pepper. Having origins in Central and South America, the bell pepper is the “migrant ingredient” and introduces a spicy snap, as well as a hint of sweetness, to counter the sherry’s dryness. Yet, the peppery and grassy qualities of the thyme stand out, transforming the cocktail into a multifaceted drink.
Cardamom is the spotlight component of the Ela Milk Punch. The spice, which has roots in India, is mixed with bourbon, brown sugar, milk and banana. While the cardamom offers nutty and herbal flavors, it comes across subtly, allowing the banana to take the lead. The sweetness of the brown sugar gently mutes the intensity, making this cocktail an easy-drinker.
Other new libations incorporate uncommon ingredients into classic cocktails. New Vieux, Julep’s take on a Vieux Carre, combines rye, rum, alligator pepper-infused sweet vermouth, Amaro Montenegro, mole and Peychaud’s Bitters. (Alligator pepper is a West African spice with flavors similar to cardamom and clove.) The alligator pepper lends earthy notes, but it does have to compete with the rum’s sweetness. The Tepeche Julep puts the focus on tamarind, a fruit that is popular in countries throughout South and Southeast Asia, Central America as well as Mexico, combining it with pineapple, verdejo wine, maraschino, mezcal and raspberry.
Overall, the cocktails are well-executed and good introductions to guests who are new to craft cocktails.
McLean’s new dishes for the menu include a French onion dip with caramelized onions, confit onion oil and shallot-infused vinaigrette combines the sweet and savory with a sharp tang. The full-bodied texture is smooth and creamy, punctuated with bits of onion and shallot. The kettle chips add crunch, making the snack a complete and enjoyable experience. The Oyster Picnic Board came with six raw Murder Point oysters, a Toulouse sausage link, herb-infused butter and a baguette from Houston’s Magnol French Bakery. The board’s presentation is immaculate, and the French sausage brings outspoken flavors and textures that offset the silky brininess of the oysters.
McLean’s show-stealer is the House Burger. A first for the Julep menu, the burger features Texas Akaushi beef, American cheese, a sesame seed bun from Magnol French Baking spread with the aforementioned French onion dip and crystal pickles(a crisp, semi-sweet pickle). The beef patties are on the thinner side, with a sear that brings a sturdy bite in contrast to the pillowy soft bun. The essential burger elements are balanced and create a substantial and filling vehicle for the zesty punch of the french onion dip.
The final food-menu addition is Bourbon Pearls, a line of chilled bourbon and Texas pecan fudge balls, coated in mint powder. The fudge is rich, but cut slightly by both the refreshing mint and cool serving temperature. The combination allows guests to enjoy the entire dish without feeling heavy.
Julep, which has served Houston since 2014, is open daily from 4 p.m. to midnight and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. In addition to the newer offerings on the migrant ingredient-inspired drink list, Julep’s menu contains 80 classic cocktails, as well as a diverse food menu. Visit the Julep website for details.