Zelko Bistro Puts Female Winemakers and Craft Beer Front and Center

zelko-6379.jpg
Photo by Tam Vo
Chef Jamie Zelko.
Zelko Bistro, although it's only been open for less than two years, has already garnered a reputation for its wine list: Aggressively priced, the list offers an excellent selection of wines between $28 and $46 a bottle. Chef and owner Jamie Zelko wanted it that way when she first opened, in keeping with the neighborhood bistro direction of her restaurant.

But Zelko and partner Jeb Stuart, who put together that wine list, parted ways a month ago, and Zelko has taken a drastically different direction with the bistro's wine list in that short time. While Stuart's list is still in place, Zelko has worked with her partner Dahlia Diaz to create a companion list that's entirely composed of wines from women-owned wineries.

"I'm not a feminist by any means," Zelko said by phone yesterday, "but there has to be something said about this industry and what it takes to make it in this industry. And as a woman, if you don't give that 110 percent you'll fall back in the crowd."

To Zelko, that extra effort makes wines from women-owned and -run wineries that much better. She talks about the subtle nuances and inherent femininity in wines like those of Heidi Barrett from Napa Valley, such as her signature La Sirena, or those of Sara Floyd, one of only 13 female master sommeliers in America.

"The wines are incredible," Zelko says. "I had a meeting today with Kathy Joseph from Fiddlehead Cellars and her wine is just so beautiful, very feminine but well thought out."

But more than just wanting to showcase other women in a very male-dominated business -- just like her own -- Zelko sees this new wine list as "paying it forward."

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
A Pulenta Estate Malbec from Zelko's "regular" wine list.
"I support them for their forward-thinking practices and just because they're amazing," she says of women who have been pioneers in their field, just as she has in her own -- after all, there aren't many female executive chefs in Houston, let alone many who also own their restaurant. "It's about the people who are really, really inspiring to me in their craft and what they do."

It's a smart move at a time when women have now taken over as "core drinkers" of wine in America. In 2010, wine and food writer John Mariani was surprised to learn that 53 percent of wine drinkers and buyers are now women. But Zelko insists that statistics like these have no bearing on her decision to showcase female winemakers.

"I'm not using it as a marketing scheme; I'm using it to support them, not to bastardize the concept."

And in addition to offering a wine list of women-owned wineries -- a first of its kind, as far as my research (and Zelko's) can tell -- she's emphasizing organic and sustainably-grown wines on her regular list as well.

"I've been doing independent, sustainably-harvested produce and agriculture, so I've also conicided that with my wine list," Zelko explained. But she's wary of wine reps who try to pass off any old bottle as "organic," recognizing that it's a nebulous and arbitrary word that can and is inappropriately applied in most instances.

To head them off, she's undertaken all the exploration and fact-finding on these organic wines herself. "I really need to research this stuff. The sales reps just want to sell the bottles," she laughed.

Zelko also recognizes that as independent wineries -- whether women-owned, organic or both -- are making their mark, so is craft beer. And she's expanded that portion of her menu as well, adding selections from Texas brewers like Real Ale, Southern Star and Saint Arnold as well as other excellent craft brewers like Breckenridge Brewery. She's even pairing the wine and beer together in some dishes in a way, recommending an Engine Room sparkling Shiraz with her Saint Arnold's root beer-braised short ribs.

In typical Zelko and bistro fashion, however, not everything on her new list is high end.

"I added Lone Star to the list," she chuckled. "Everyone in the back of the house and all the industry drinks it."

"And," she added with a laugh, "we sold out that same day."



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Zelko Bistro

705 E. 11th St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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20 comments
J.Zelko
J.Zelko like.author.displayName 1 Like

How about this, I am not asole feminist by any means, yes I do believe in equal political, economic, andsocial rights for all, especially women; however, I too agree that the term ismisunderstood. Working in any male dominated industry, the girl card serves no benefit.It would prevent the learning process from the true focus. One unit, one teamand one initial goal....the food. So back to the Hooters comment, hilarious!Kylejack you can pay for a beer in all pennies for all I care, just get yourtail back in here and HEX only dancing on tables has made me nervous:) Thanksfor allowing us to serve you guys; we look forward to seeing you again soon. J. Zelko

How about this, I am not asole feminist by any means, yes I do believe in equal political, economic, andsocial rights for all, especially women; however, I too agree that the term ismisunderstood. Working in any male dominated industry, the girl card serves no benefit.It would prevent the learning process from the true focus. One unit, one teamand one initial goal....the food. So back to the Hooters comment, hilarious!Kylejack you can pay for a beer in all pennies for all I care, just get yourtail back in here and HEX only dancing on tables has made me nervous:) Thanksfor allowing us to serve you guys; we look forward to seeing you again soon. J. Zelko

Martin T
Martin T

Hey chef, feminism has nothing to do with the "girl card." Seems to me that you definitely fall under the big-umbrella definition of the term. But like a couple of other people said, it's your choice to go with a label like that or not.

Keep up the good work.

Jonathan R. Cohen
Jonathan R. Cohen

Looking forward to this Wednesday w/ the whole YMKM Agency Team for lunch here. #GoodTimes #GreatPeople 

Greg
Greg

"I'm not a feminist by any means"

Given the context of who she is and what she's doing, I'm going to assume she's mistaken about the basic definition of that word

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Like Kyle said above, I think there's a lot of confusion around that moniker and what the word "feminist" actually means. On the other hand, I don't care if someone shuns a label or not as long as they're doing good works.

Larry The Wine Guy
Larry The Wine Guy

No discussion of women winemakers is complete without a mention of Cathy Corison. Her Napa Valley Cabernets are elegant, complex, long-lived, and simply delicious. They are very Bordeaux-like in their structure, and among the finest Cabernets produced in California. 

Nikki
Nikki

"'I'm not a feminist by any means,' Zelko said." You're a strong, successful woman, promoting other women who do good work. So, how are you not a feminist? Feminists are awesome. 

H_e_x
H_e_x

Yeah, that's weird. Some people are afraid of tables, even if they are positive.

Texasota
Texasota

To be fair, I've banged my knee on so many table legs that I can totally understand that fear.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Oh man, late night posting do tend to come with a bit of misspelling. 

David
David

Has great an idea as this is, credit should be given to Monica Pope and Andrea Lazar, who were recognizing wines made by women on their list at Boulevard Bistro over a decade ago.  That said, it's fun and adds a nice story to the list and gives people a better connection to what they are drinking.  

Sorry to see Jeb's no longer part of Zelko as helped give the place it's personality, but hopefully the change is best for all involved.    

Zelko Bistro
Zelko Bistro

True David, Pope too is a given in my mind...:)

Kylejack
Kylejack

Some friends and I had a very bad experience with Jeb Stuart at Zelko Bistro.  We tried to get a few beers to drink while we were waiting for our table.  He only seemed interested in pushing the wine list onto us and seemed genuinely disappointed when we said that we wanted beer.  We each wanted to pay for our own beers, and he took on this exasperated tone like it was a big hassle to take each of our credit cards and close out one drink on each one individually (why wouldn't he just let us each open a tab with the bar?)

It was something like 2 hours waiting, which was fine. It's a small popular place, and it's expected that it will take a while. We were just sitting patiently on the patio waiting for our turn.  He comes out acting pretty much the same and saying our table should be ready soon, but then he starts taking on the same tone he had inside.  Then he asks if there's anything else he can do and my friend tells him that he can check his tone and not be so rude.  He says "I don't think I've been rude at all...but now I'm going to be." and storms back into the restaurant.  About 10 of us, my party and others just stood there on the patio with our jaws dropped.  We left.

Anyway, the Yeti Imperial Stout I drank that night at Zelko was delicious.  I'm glad to see they're branching out into even more craft beer.  The idea of bringing in more female-owned wineries sounds wonderful too!  Jamie Zelko shouldn't shy away from being called a feminist.  A feminist is simply someone who believes that women are entitled to political, social, and economic equality with men.  That's something we all ought to believe in, and we all should be proud to call ourselves feminists! I know I am.

I look forward to coming back to try Zelko Bistro now that Jeb Stuart is gone. Everything smelled really good while we were waiting for our table that night.

formerHoustonite
formerHoustonite

individually wanting to close out on a single beer does seem a little tedious. My buds and I would prob just roll it over to the table and split the check evenly. Also...telling someone to check their rude attitude is not a surefire conflict resolution tactic. I think I would try a little care first, as him how he is, show interest, call him by his first name. A person's name is music to their ears. I can almost guarantee you would be getting much better service with that approach....if not, then bring the hammer down.

Kylejack
Kylejack

We didn't want to close out one beer, though. We were waiting for the bartender to be available so we could each open a tab.  Mr. Stuart interceded with his wine list and insisted on closing just the one beer.

rgwalt
rgwalt

I don't suppose you can control what ads appear on what pages, but in a horrible coincidence, an ad for "Hooters Burger Mondays" showed up when I read this article, complete with a Hooter's girl.  "We've made buns look good for years!", or so it indicates... I think Zelko should respond with its own "Burger Mondays".  No need to dress servers in tight white shirts and skimpy orange shorts... just give us a deal on the Zelko burger and we'll all be happy.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt like.author.displayName 1 Like

Ha! Yes, I've seen some horrible coincidences with ads and content in the past. The most memorable was a post on the absolutely horrible experience I had at The Moghul's in combination with an ad for The Moghul's that appeared at the top of the page almost every time you hit refresh. Yikes.

Ali
Ali like.author.displayName 1 Like

As if I didn't love this place already. I wanna grow to be like Jamie Zelko.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt like.author.displayName 1 Like

Agreed. You want to talk about an awesome role model for young women - that's Jamie Zelko.

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