Mr. Martin (referring to the Jonestown mass suicide): "And then all these people drank the toxic brew, and they all died! Tell me -- Kevin -- what can be learned by this incident?"
Kevin: "Um . . . um . . . BYOB?"
Some of my best memories of wine with food have been at a little restaurant where I have had a 1990 Chateau Margaux, a 1996 Turley Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel, and a 1997 Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon. No, I did not have those 97 and 100-point wines at Pappas Brothers or Cafe Annie. I had them at a pizza joint on Richmond -- Colinas Italian Restaurant. Although some of those wines sell in restaurants for over $600, my tab at Collinas was between $20 and $30. I saved a lot of money, had a good meal, and experienced some great wines -- all because Collinas is BYOB.
Restaurants typically sell wines for two to three times retail price. You can save money, and have your favorite wine, when you can bring your own. Unfortunately, Texas law prevents a restaurant with a full liquor license from letting its customers to bring wine. Fortunately, there are a few restaurants who have chosen to forgo the liquor license and allow customers to bring their own. These are my favorites:
Collinas serves very basic pizza and pasta dishes. Last night I had an outstanding special -- a chicken breast covered in a cream sauce with sundried tomatoes and prosciutto. I noticed on a recent visit that the restaurant was full and every table in the restaurant had brought their own wine. Recommended wine: Zinfandel is my favorite wine for pizza and pasta. It has the spice and acidity to stand up to the acidity of tomato sauce, yet unlike so many Italian wines with the same characteristics, it has wonderful fruit.
La Vista is another Italian restaurant near Tanglewood (Warning: slightly outside the Loop). It serves the finest food of any Houston BYOB restaurant, such as a variety of fish dishes and an excellent fillet mignon. Unfortunately, it is very popular and does not take reservations. Recommended wine: California Cabernet Sauvignon goes very well with their grilled meats.
Ruggles Cafe in Rice Village serves burgers, salads, pasta, and some killer desserts. Recommended wine (especially for the burgers): a big fruit Australian Shiraz, California Mourvedre, or California Charbono.
Alfredo's European Grill in Montrose is easily the best sausage house in Houston. Ok, Houston does not have many sausage houses, but this is great stuff, especially the massive combo platter for 2 or 3 people, which has german sausages, weiner schnitzel, spicy mustard, sauerkraut, and the best potato salad I have ever had. Recommended wine: Reisling.
Skewers is a fast-food middle eastern restaurant at Weslayan and Richmond. They do a good job of grilling meats -- especially lamb and chicken -- which they serve on top of a salad, on a plate with rice, or in a pita wrap. Recommended wine: Cotes du Rhone goes well with the Middle Eastern spices and the grilled meats because of the spiciness and earthiness of the wine.
La Fendee is another fast-food Middle Eastern restaurant on lower Westheimer. Some critics say they have the best hummus and baba ganouj in Houston. They may be right. Recommended wine: Cotes du Rhone (see above).
Update: Istanbul Grill. I love this Turkish restaurant in the Rice Village. Someone just told me that they are BYOB. I hope that information is correct.