At Poitín and UB Preserv, Capturing the Unique Character of Houston

Two different tales of Bayou City food.

By Scott Vogel 

Recently, while watching downtown’s buildings melt into silhouette as the sun set around them, I had the sudden reckless thought that few skylines can compete with our own. An arguable observation but also inevitable, especially when one is, say, happily ensconced on a vast patio in the First Ward, and especially when one also happens to be drinking a P&T, a sort of free-spirited, dissolute cousin of the gin concoction. No, our skyline has not the enormity or architectural daring one sees elsewhere, but there is quiet wisdom in it, a genius both majestic and modest. Like the city for which it stands totem, it embraces not one style but a hundred, not domination but concert, not threats but welcomes. In Houston’s skyline, one might say, our city’s secret strengths are celebrated and enshrined in glass and steel.

Or so it seemed to me on the porch at Poitín, which happens to be the name of both the Sawyer Yards restaurant that occasioned the above epiphany and the obscure Irish moonshine behind its P&T. Blame for my convention-and-visitors madness belongs to both, and also the cult of Houston-ness that has invaded our culinary psyche. Capturing the unique character of this town is no longer the domain of architects and city planners. Increasingly, chefs and restaurateurs are getting into the act, employing everything from menus to décor, lighting to music, all in hopes of casting foodstuffs in H-Town’s likeness.

“Just as the city of Houston opens its doors to immigrants from around the world,” Poitín (poo-CHEEN) declares breathlessly on its website, “our menus are a culinary embodiment of that diversity.” Translation: Owner Ian Tucker (also Irish, natch) enthusiastically condones an evening repast that includes, for example, fried green tomatoes, mussels in saffron broth, potatoes slathered in chili sauce, Cajun-spiced pork skins, and on and on.