First Look at ERA

Categories: Restaurant News

ERA 005.jpg
The Chupacabra pizza at ERA.
The bar area on the main floor isn't quite finished yet, nor has all the art been hung from the eggshell-white walls at ERA (809 Congress, 713-225-1066), but the four pizzas that arrived at our table last night looked as if they'd come from a long-open kitchen staffed with old pros.

In a way, that's the case at ERA, the new pizza and sandwich restaurant on Market Square in downtown. One of the two new restaurants that are sandwiching Les Givral's Kahve -- the other being Convey, a conveyor belt sushi joint -- it's the kind of casual yet sleek restaurant that should be an instant hit once it has its grand opening. Because if anyone knows how to throw a pizza, it's ERA's kitchen manned by a Pink's Pizza ex-pat.

The pizzas (18 total, all of them "personal" size and costing $8.32) have funny names, from the Salvador Dali Lama to the Purple Rain, names which hint at the unusual ingredients that make up a tapestry of various ethnic cuisines: a Cuban-inspired pizza called the Castro, a Greek-inspired pizza called the Apollonia. The sandwich selection, while smaller, is similarly themed.

And while it may seem like these pizza names are gimmicky, the solidly constructed pizzas themselves show that the food isn't hiding behind any cutesy cleverness. This is good stuff.

ERA 010.jpg
The pizza menu at ERA (appetizers and salads are on the reverse).
To be clear, however, it's fans of Pink's Pizza (and the softer, doughier crust that's found at some other Pink's competitors) who will love ERA -- it's basically the same stuff. And those same fans will likely already be used to some of the more "creative" ingredients that Pink's is famous for, toppings like apples, cranberries and ricotta cheese.

Over at the Chronicle, Greg Morago just wrote a fabulous piece about the rise of high-quality pizza restaurants in Houston. "Some of Houston's most popular chefs are turning into hip pizzaiolis as the city experiences something of a pizza renaissance. It's time to chow down in pizzatown," wrote Morago. And although ERA wasn't mentioned in the piece, I'd add it to Morago's list of great up-and-coming pizza places featuring less-than-mainstream toppings.

The Castro I ordered was my favorite of the evening, showcasing those unusual pizza ingredients with flair: thin slices of roasted pork, fried plantains and queso blanco on top of a slightly spicy marinara sauce. My dining companion's Chupacabra, with fresh spinach, cream sauce, mozzarella, herbed goat cheese and one fat garlic-marinated shrimp per slice, was also stunningly good. Stunning because there was no leftover moisture, no ugly sog, from the spinach leaves that covered the pizza like a layer of kudzu. I'm guessing they pre-cook the spinach ahead of time to get the excess water out, a smart move.

ERA 012.jpg
ERA doesn't have a sign yet, but it's still open.
It's these little touches from old pros that will help ERA succeed. The chic interior with its low ceilings and inviting staff won't hurt, either. And if the full name of the restaurant is to be believed -- Entertainment Restaurant Air -- the eventual live music venue and balcony upstairs could be an additional boon...or fizzle, depending on fickle downtown patrons.

Entertainment venue aside, I'm excited to see restaurants like ERA, Convey and Niko Niko's opening along Market Square. Along with more established places like Treebeard's, Warren's, La Carafe and Les Givral's, this is the shot in the arm that the area needs -- enjoyable, casual restaurants with solid food that's just different enough to draw people up from the tunnels for lunch and into the city for dinner.

Pro-Tips: Parking is free downtown after 6 p.m. and ERA is counter service-only for now. Six beer taps will soon be installed, and the full bar should be up and running within the month.

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ERA - CLOSED

809 Congress, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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35 comments
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Kyle
Kyle

I tried ERA and it's great. Now they need later weekend hours and a website.

JDMKID77
JDMKID77

Era is amazing!!! Great food at a decent price

tree of life jewelry
tree of life jewelry

That's good timing for Tony Mandola, whose eponymous restaurant will move to a new home in a few months with the same menu save for one significant addition: pizza.

Morgan
Morgan

Or you can use this as an excuse to take the lightrail!

I'm not a fan of Pink's — there's something Domino's-like about it despite the interesting combos (not that I don't enjoy the occasional Domino's but I'd prefer not to at Pink's prices). I think it's that Pink's is a bit too bready for my taste. Are these similarly bready or are they thinner?

recycling cell phones
recycling cell phones

Star Pizza on Washington is unbeatable. They will make any combination you ask for if possible, the service is excellent and friendly. It's well worth your time and trouble. Adult children say it's the best pizza they have ever eaten!

Fiorirose
Fiorirose

...and these 'adult children' who love Star Pizza were fans of Chuck-E-Cheese just a short while ago......

josh
josh

Anyone who complains about downtown parking hasn't been to a real urban area any time in the last two centuries. I drive past market square every day and every day there is street parking within a block. Even if there weren't it's $5 to park at a lot. It costs $40 to park for an evening in Chicago. FORTY.

Shut up and walk a half a block from your free street parking fatty.

pearl leather bracelet
pearl leather bracelet

Robert Del Grande is just as intent on making outstanding pizza. His new Pizzeria Alto is invested with years of pizza experimentation and contemplation on his part.

Matthew
Matthew

great phrase: "pizza experimentation and contemplation"

Flagelots
Flagelots

PREDICTION: all these places will not pull additional people into the downtown space; rather they will divide the current pie into smaller pieces and we will witness more available real estate very soon.

Kyle
Kyle

The pie is getting bigger, though. There's new lofts opening downtown, vacancies on HAR are way down, and then there's the townhomes and apartments popping up down Washington.

Pidgieoops
Pidgieoops

wishful thinking that this will fuel downtown dining, but I hope you're right. parking is the main impediment. if angelika went belly-up and that whole center still sucks wind, maybe you would say that the axis is moving to a real historic square with a new dog-park?

Kyle
Kyle

Regarding Bayou Place, we'll see. Samba is doing well, and I'm excited about Blue Fish House, which replaces a very bad sushi restaurant. There's rumors that they might be moving Sundance Theaters into Angelika's slot. The bars coming in upstairs sound absolutely hideous, though.

Market Square does seem to be drawing people, whether from downtown or elsewhere I couldn't say. It was a virtually unused park before, and now it gets pretty busy, even on the weekends.

Guest
Guest

I attended the soft opening. They have Killer gnocci as well and good sangria.

jodycakes
jodycakes

Will they do GF crust like Pink's is currently offering...I think that would be great.

Craig
Craig

Wow. They sell pizza. Wow.

Jackmon
Jackmon

They don't just serve pizza, there are soups, salads, quesadillas and pasta dishes in addition to daily specials and desserts.

Kyle
Kyle

How many more restaurants do we need in this area to push Cabo under? I hate that place.

ec
ec

Ditto for Les Givral

Mary
Mary

I really like their beef pressed sandwich drizzled wit their hot sauce. Have you tried that?

simplyrick
simplyrick

What happened to Market Square Bar & Grill?

Lorena V.
Lorena V.

ERA is next to La Carafe! Market Square Bar & Grill is next to Warren's on Travis.

Grocerylist
Grocerylist

I like classic pies... not a fan of the "gourmet" ingredients. Pink's Pizza is ok but they load too many foofoo ingredients and then the crust is all soggy.

Maybe this will pull from Frank's and when I go to Frank's now they won't be out of pizza slices.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

That's why I was surprised at how unsoggy the pizzas were last night, especially the one with all the spinach on it. I hope ERA keeps this up.

Kyle
Kyle

This looks fun.

Matthew
Matthew

did you have to use the widest aperature when taking a photo of the menu?

Old Salty
Old Salty

If you really want to read the menu just go to the restaurant.

Matthew
Matthew

i could get an opinion of the food by going there myself as well, but the great thing about restaurant reviews is that you can find out that information before you actually make the trip!

Kelli
Kelli

What a dipshit you are

Matthew
Matthew

well i think you're just swell, kelli!

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Do you really want to discuss aperture on a food blog? We can get into f-stops and shutter speeds, too, and really bore the shit out of everyone else here. Yes?

Long story short: My Canon broke and is in the shop. I'm borrowing cameras when and where I can right now. Last night, it happened to be a Canon that had a 50mm lens attached to it, hence the DOF you see above. If you'd like to buy me a new camera or loan me yours while mine is being repaired, I am ready and eager to discuss this proposition.

Deal? :)

Matthew
Matthew

i wasn't critiquing you on the quality of the photo, rather voicing my disappointment that the full menu wasn't readable.

i've got a 50mm canon lens as well; that focal length makes things difficult for subjects that close.

either way, that pizza looks really good, and i'm glad you wrote about it. i most likely wouldn't have heard of the place otherwise.

MC
MC

I don't even know why you answer some of these....

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