Friday, September 9, 2016

Previewing Cafeza in Houston's First Ward

Cafeza, in Houston's First Ward, is finally opening (tomorrow) Saturday, September 10, at 6:00 AM. Now, I'm not sure if there will be any sort of prize for anyone camping out before dawn (a-la-Chick-fil-A), but you'll have the distinction of being one of Cafeza's first customers. Neighbors have (or at least this neighbor has) long been anticipating the opening of the neighborhood coffee shop, which will join the adjacent Cafe Brussels and Stanton's City Bites as the only dining options along Houston Avenue in Houston's First Ward. This is a welcomed addition, especially given the increase in the number of people living in the neighborhood over the past few years.

The owners of Cafeza, Ryan and Keisha Hazen, who live in the First Ward, spent a few years wishing that someone would open a coffee shop in the neighborhood. Since no one else had, they did it themselves, drawing influence from time spent in Barcelona, particularly at La Granja Viader. They hope to bring to Houston the same quality and simplicity of food that they experienced in Barcelona. They hope Cafeza will be a place for locals to gather, listen to local musicians, and support the First Ward's artistic community. Kyle Buthod will act as Cafeza's operations manager.

Ryan and Keisha Hazen

Earlier this week, Cafeza hosted the First Ward community, including neighborhood and civic club leaders, real estate personnel, and many of the artists in the neighborhood. Yesterday my wife and I got a sneak peek of Cafeza during a menu preview party. We joined a number of other neighbors and guests who were excited to finally see the space at 1720 Houston Avenue, and to give their food and drink menus a try. The staff has had a few dry-runs this week, so their service was already very good, something that is usually an issue with new restaurants or shops. Aside from a small cash register issue early in the night, things ran smoothly, as orders came out from the kitchen quickly. Cafeza has drawn from the experience of other local coffee shops, including Boomtown and A 2nd Cup, so coffee service should be great. In general, Cafeza bills itself as a "European-style coffee bar"... featuring "a simple menu influenced by Spanish and Latin American cooking."

Cafeza's menu includes coffee, tacos, churros, cocktails, bocadillos and a number of other options. We had the opportunity to try a few items from the menu, as well as the whole line of breakfast pastries. The chocolate croissant was my favorite among the breakfast pastries, along with the chorizo quiche.

My wife and I sampled the Bernil bocadillo and a chai (we're 3 weeks away from having our first child, so drink options are limited right now!). The food was fresh and flavorful. I was most looking forward to trying the churros. They didn't disappoint. The looped churros were served with both chocolate and guava dipping sauces.

Churros, with chocolate and guava dipping sauces

The interior of the space pays tribute to the First Ward's artist community. A Wiley Robertson piece adorns the wall to your right as you enter. (Here's a condensed video of the painting process) There are a number of other works from local artists throughout the interior of the shop. A majority of the interior work was done by those connected to Cafeza, including the seating and bar counter. Now, Cafeza's space is quite cozy, so posting up there all day may not be as comfortable as somewhere like Boomtown (whose coffee is served at Cafeza), A 2nd Cup, or Paper Co. But, this week a few additional outdoor seating spaces were added to provide a bit more capacity, and there's an open air porch at the rear of the shop that provides a bit more seating. I'm particularly fond of their marquee sign at the corner of Houston Avenue and Crockett Street.

We're really looking forward to Cafeza's addition to the First Ward. It will be a place that offers a presence throughout the day, as hours will be from 6AM-11PM on weeknights, and closing at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. I hope that residents of the Near Northside will also find Cafeza's location convenient, as it's a short ride or walk along Hogan / Crockett Street.

This is one business that will certainly add to the vibrancy of the Houston Avenue corridor. As an urbanist, I can't help but want the Houston Avenue corridor to develop into a Main Street of sorts, as there are a number of opportunities to incrementally add to the streetscape and character of a community. The Houston Avenue corridor leads into Downtown Houston's western edge, but is relatively void of businesses and attractions, especially those that can be easily and repeatedly accessed by neighbors. It will be nice to have a "third place" in the neighborhood.

The service, food and atmosphere were all wonderful last night. I hope you'll give Cafeza a try. I know we'll certainly be back.

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