Houston Food Find: Rice Bowls For Breakfast at Morningstar—Updated
Oatmeal and puffed rice cereal are considered typical breakfast fare. A freshly made bowl of rice, though, isn’t part of the typical American lexicon when it comes to the morning meal. Morningstar, the spiffy and relatively new coffee shop in the Heights that’s open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m, is ready to change diners’ minds with three different rice bowls for breakfast, brunch and lunch. There are two savory ones and another that’s lightly sweet.
Owner David Buehrer, who is also a co-owner of Blacksmith coffee shop in the Montrose and Greenway Coffee in Greenway Plaza, says morning rice bowls are common on the West Coast. Because of the rice, it’s easy to assume these are Asian creations, but that’s not the case.
“It’s kind of southeast Asian-inspired but it’s a truly American dish because of how the cultures are fused together,” said Buehrer. “The flavor palette is Asian only in the sense that you’re eating rice for breakfast.” Indeed, Morningstar’s rice bowls are veritable melting pots that pull inspiration from Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and other cuisines.
The most popular of the three offerings is the Crispy Rice with Kibbeh. Kokuho Rose Rice, which is commonly used in Japanese cuisine but grown in California, is cooked, dried and then flash-fried to an addictive crunch. “It makes a really crispy, airy, light and fluffy base for the savory sausage,” explained Buehrer.
The sausage he’s referring to is the kibbeh, the name for many different kinds of seasoned ground meat dishes that are staples in the Middle East (and even parts of Latin America after the Levintines, or Latin Christians, emigrated there from the Middle East). Kibbeh can be made from ground lamb, goat or beef and, according to author Robb Walsh in The Chili Cookbook, might have been the predecessor of Texas chili. Morningstar uses ground beef then adds a soft-boiled egg to create a protein-packed dish.
Update, 8/17/2017, 12:45 p.m.: The Emerald Rice bowl is no longer available.
The other savory option is the Emerald Rice with Soft Egg. The color of the rice comes from pureéd gui lan, also known as Chinese broccoli or kale. (Dim sum fans are likely very familiar with it as it is often the most healthy-looking item on the carts that roll by.) “Gui lan is like the love child of collard greens and broccoli,” joked Buerher. “It gives the rice a mellow, vegetal bitterness that’s really savory and works really well with pickled vegetables,” says Buerher. For that reason, the Emerald Rice bowl includes pickled carrots and onions. It also pulls from yet another cuisine: Vietnamese. There’s a lemony tang that comes from the fermented juice called chanh muối. That’s the same, tart component used in soda chanh, a fizzy beverage that’s a staple in Vietnamese restaurants. “We call it Vietnamese Sprite,” said Buehrer with a grin. Morningstar uses both lemon and lime juice in their chanh muối. Vegans and strict vegetarians can ditch the soft-boiled egg; lacto-ovo vegetarians can keep it.
The “sweet” option is black rice with coconut milk—but it is far less cloying than a typical sweetened breakfast cereal. Other ingredients include condensed soy milk and ground, sugared pistachios and fresh seasonal fruit, which means the dairy-free combination is just fine for vegetarians. The combination is reminiscent of the traditional Thai dessert of sweet sticky rice but the black rice lends a bit more heft and chew.
While Buehrer certainly isn’t a nutritionist (and neither are we) the bowls seem more balanced than carb-fests of traditional breakfast foods like pancakes and pastries. (Such carb-fests are possible at Morningstar, too, as they make a wide variety of doughnuts.) Each rice bowl includes varying amounts of protein and fruit or vegetables.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘healthy’ because everyone has their own definition of health. I like to use the word, ‘wholesome.” We guarantee that we make our products with the most wholesome ingredients that we can,” said Buehrer. “Just because we’re a restaurant doesn’t mean that everything has to be totally bad for you.”
Buehrer says that the rice bowls have been enthusiastically embraced by Morningstar’s customers, especially for brunch. “I think savory breakfast is easy to accept,” he says. “I think the breakfast sandwiches have done so well that the rice bowls are just an easy transition from those. Customers are like, ‘Yeah, I had the bacon biscuit and loved it and now I’m going to try the crispy rice with beef sausage this time.’ [The rice bowls] have a following now. People crave these and look forward to them.”
4721 North Main Street
Houston, TX 77009
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.