Restaurants / Openings

Your Sneak Peek at Politan Row — Houston’s Most Anticipated New Food Hall is About to Debut

The Chefs Tell All

BY // 11.07.19

It’s almost time. The hotly anticipated, eclectic chef-driven Politan Row is set to open its doors in Rice Village on Saturday. That sound you hear? It’s your stomach growling. Don’t worry. You’re not alone.

The new foodie haven comes from veritable food hall empire Politan Group, with five total halls throughout the country — most notably, the legendary St. Roch Market in New Orleans. Until now, that is.

Politan Row Houston is bringing new restaurant concepts to the heart of West University, spanning from bao bursting with flavor to citrusy-sweet ceviche.  The chef-driven spots include Breaking Bao, Cochinita & Co., Susu Kopi & Boba, Kin, Ate Kitchen, Torshi, Nice Sprout, Bar Politan and PACHA Nikkei.

There are two key additional cornerstones at this new food hall: a creative coffeehouse and a stellar beverage program. Politan Row Houston definitely aims to wow. Here is a preview of what’s to come — from the chefs themselves. After all, they’re the real stars of the show.

Susu Kopi & Boba

The coffee-centric spot is an exercise in Indonesian innovation, helmed by sister duo Niken and Ecky Prabanto. The siblings are steeped in coffee tradition. They’re the minds behind the iconic Greenway Coffee operation with David Buehrer. And Blacksmith, Morningstar, Prelude and Tropicales.

You can expect all of Greenway Coffee’s fine roasting at the hands of Ecky, just with one twist — every single bean will come from Indonesia. She’s kicking things off with Sumatra, promising a flavor not unlike a pineapple upside down cake.

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Viewing a cafe through an Indonesian lens means boba galore, bajigur — a specialty hot beverage blended with coconut milk— tons of sweet soft serve with regional herbs and a fair amount of nostalgia in the form of a treat you may not have associated with Indonesia — Ovaltine.

“Soft serve is something that everybody of all ages, in all cultures likes. Hopefully they’ll get a little taste of their childhood — and ours. Ovaltine’s a flavor we grew up with,” Niken Prabanto tells PaperCity.

 “In the U.S., it’s chocolate milk. For us, it’s Ovaltine,” she laughs.

 Soft serve flavors will rotate, always a pair of dairy options and a duet of vegan alternatives, all of which can be swirled together to create the ultimate in cold confections.

Dairy flavors look like pandan matcha, Ovaltine, sweet corn and coffee. Meanwhile, vegan-friendly will start off with black sesame and ginger lemongrass.

“I just try to do what I enjoy consuming, and that’s why we wanted to do this too. I don’t think there is any place in Houston in particular that does flavors that we’ll be doing. We just want to introduce it to those people,” Niken Prabanto notes.

Politan Row beckoned with its eye-opening format and values.

“They focus not just on talent, but also community. What they’re doing, the talent they’re supporting aligns with what we believe. It was a no-brainer to partner with them,” Ecky Prabanto says.

Bar Politan

The craft cocktail bar is called Bar Politan across all of the company’s food halls, but each offshoot is distinct, with its own twist.

How does the Texas twang come across at Politan Row Houston?

In a cocktail scene devoted to agave spirits. Sophie Burton, Politan Group beverage director, couldn’t resist that focus.

“It’s one of the most interesting spirits for me, personally. It has that acidity and also that savoriness, a couple little flavor elements that you don’t get with other unaged spirits like rum, vodka, gin,” Burton says. Those elements often come out in cooking, but it’s rare that you see them in a glass.

The Space City cocktail scene drew her in from the start, from cocktail king Bobby Heugel’s mixology menagerie to the programs at Nancy’s Hustle and Nobie’s.

“They’re just overachieving over there,” she laughs. “I think the Houston cocktail scene is killing it, with a lot of great people doing interesting things.”

politan row sophie burton bev director
Beverage director Sophie Burton has fun crafting cocktails.

Bar Politan will bring all the craft but no pretension or intimidation. “We want to make cocktails that are comfortable, interesting and easier to drink and to execute. We’re hoping to be approachable and accessible.”

Seasonality influences the menu, keeping it refreshing when it’s hot out and comforting when it’s cool. But it boils down to vibes.

“I take a lot of inspiration from eating in a diverse way,” Burton says. “I’m definitely inspired by different flavor palates, and being like ‘Oh, man, I had this cool thing. I want to recreate that vibe in a glass.’ ”

Bar Politan will boast seven house cocktails and a selection of 10 classic cocktails, plus beers almost exclusively from Texas — and almost exclusively Houston beers, in the case of draft — and a wine program built around small producers, who work sustainably, organically or biodynamically.

Hell’s Bells, a neon yellow spicy margarita, is crafted with Blanco tequila, mezcal and yellow bell pepper. Megan Thee Collins — named for Houston’s own Megan Thee Stallion, and just one example of Space City-inspired names — is a smoky, deep pink drink with mezcal, Jamaican rum, lemon, hibiscus-honey syrup, soda and tajin.

Bar Politan’s happy hour is nothing short of generous, running from 4 pm to 7 pm Mondays through Fridays, plus a $7 til 7 pm program that applies to certain beers, wines and classic cocktails.

Another bonus: friends in the service industry, and staff and faculty at Rice University can enjoy all day every day happy hour.

“I want people to feel like we over-delivered. I understand everybody’s time and money is very valuable to them. I want them to leave after having a cocktail thinking that was absolutely worth it, the service, the presentation, the way it tastes,” Burton notes.

Kin

Chef Evelyn Garcia is no stranger to The Bayou City restaurant scene, with a series of pop-ups and residency at the now-shuttered Decatur Bar & Popup Factory. A food hall just fit in.

She’s found kindred spirits in the multitude of other chefs at Politan Row, perfect for launching Kin.

Garcia’s culinary wheelhouse is Southeast Asian-inspired eats, peppered with her own Mexican and El Salvadoran heritage.

“I incorporate my background. I’m not trying to be authentic whatsoever.  I do my own style,” Garcia says, who has spent lots of time cooking at Southeast Asian restaurants.

The Chopped champion has come a long way since her reality competition days, but she owes a lot of where she is now to that experience.

“I think it was important to kind of validate that I was doing the right thing. I always knew cooking was my thing, because I’ve always loved to cook. It was always in my mind that I was going to become a chef,” Garcia says.

It’s where she truly began to define her cuisine.

“Winning that show, having only 20 minutes to create a dish and thinking — is it going to come out Southeast Asian or are my roots coming out? It was a mixture of both — it validated that I was on the right path and doing what was right for me,” she adds.

It’s the combination that counts.

“I try to showcase techniques and balance the flavors that make Southeast Asian cuisine so delicious — you get sweet, sour, salty, spicy. That’s definitely all part of my philosophy,” she adds.

politan row kin spread
Kin is Southeast Asian with Texas ingredients.

She shines a spotlight on these flavors while also shedding some light on local ingredients. “I’m a proud Houstonian,” she laughs. “A lot of our products are locally sourced because our weather is a little nuts, but it’s good to grow things.”

The chef pieces together memories to curate her menus, reflecting on her travels through Southeast Asia over the years and trying to see how she can put them on a plate with the help of Texas ingredients. “It’s a little bit of both,” Garcia notes.

You can expect lots of scratch-made curries, Garcia’s personal favorites and fresh salads as well as many shareable dishes designed for mixing and matching.

This chef wants to expand diners’ minds, sharing that there’s more to Southeast Asian cuisine than pad thai and papaya salad.

Ate Kitchen

The foodie mastermind behind Ate Kitchen in Montrose is at it again — in an all-new way. While the full-on restaurant on Colquitt has a whirlwind of a menu that changes weekly, Ate Kitchen at Politan Row will have a constant stream of Caribbean eats, meaning you can satisfy your Trinidadian cravings any day you want.

“I’m from Trinidad, so my food is inspired by the island. It draws influences from India, Africa, Europe, Asia. My inspiration comes from everything because Trinidad is an island that draws influences from everywhere,” chef Keisha Griggs says.

She focuses on fresh, local and sustainable ingredients for dishes with classic Caribbean flair — Trinidadian curries, flavorful stews, jerk chicken and updated, elevated street food.

Especially doubles. “Americans aren’t very aware of that. It’s the most popular street food in Trinidad — you can only get it there. I’m excited to introduce people to authentic Caribbean cuisine,” Griggs says.

“And I call it ‘cuisine’ because typically when people think of it, they think Styrofoam and eating it on the street with wax paper. But I want to introduce Trinidadian food were I feel like it deserves — fine dining, a very refined application.”

Doubles are a fried flatbread topped with curried chickpeas, an assortment of chutneys and pepper sauce. “When you get off the plane in Trinidad, if someone is guiding you, they’ll take you to the doubles stand or KFC,” Griggs laughs.

Best of all? Doubles are entirely vegan. In fact, for every meat option on the menu, there’s a vegan dish. That even means there’s a vegan short rib alongside the braised short rib.

The classically trained chef incorporates French techniques in her cooking, which started back in her childhood.

“My mother is the resident cook of the family. Being with her and being in the kitchen and seeing how her food affected people in such a positive way, it was just kind of ingrained in me,” Griggs tells PaperCity.

If you’ve been to an island, she wants Ate Kitchen to make you feel like you’ve just got to go back. And if you haven’t, well, it’s like this: “I want people to come in, eat and say ‘I need to go to the Caribbean, I need to go to Trinidad because what this girl’s cooking is unbelievable.”

PACHA Nikkei

To chef Masaru Fukuda, fourth-generation Japanese-Peruvian, “Nikkei” isn’t just a cuisine. It’s a culture.

At the start, the large population of Japanese transplants in Peru started cooking Japanese food with Peruvian ingredients.

“And then, with time, people started doing more Japanese ingredients and Japanese techniques in Peruvian food, doing the opposite. This fusion is called ‘Nikkei,’ ” Fukuda explains.

His mother cooked both Japanese and Peruvian food during his childhood. Fukuda’s culinary career has spanned both Japanese and Peruvian restaurants, and now he’s ready to bring the as-yet-unknown Nikkei cuisine to Houston.

“That’s just the food I grew up with. When I was here in Houston, I didn’t see any other restaurants doing it. My type of Nikkei is going to be the first in Houston, and I’m really excited about that,” Fukuda says.

He wants to dispel any misconceptions and be clear that Nikkei is not strictly Japanese cuisine. There’s so much more to it.

“I will try to educate people about this type of cuisine. We’re in Texas, so you see Tex-Mex. But it’s not from Mexico, it’s from Texas, because you made it here. I compare it to that,” he says.

Some critical components of his cooking: consistency and presentation. This chef enjoys playing around with color, even incorporating edible flowers like violas in all types of shades.

politan row masaru fukuda
Masaru Fukuda brings Nikkei to Houston.

Dishes will range from Peruvian fish and lobster ceviches to tiraditos — raw fish in a spicy sauce — and myriad rolls that look Japanese in flavor but have unexpected Peruvian twists.

Fukuda’s favorite Japanese ingredients include uzu, soy, rice vinegar and kombu, or dried kelp. He even uses kombu stock in his ceviche in contrast to the typical fish stock.

As for Peruvian ingredients, he stocks his kitchen with all the regulars, especially choclo — corn — aj Amarillo, cilantro and more.

He was thrilled at the chance to join Politan Row, for its chance to get his name out there. “And being around other talented people working is very, very inspiring.”

More than anything, he wants diners to love it so much that it leaves them wanting more.

“I love to see people when they eat it. I love to see their reaction right away,” he says. “That makes me want to cook and become more.”

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