There are two ways to define a gastropub. Some say it’s a place that equally emphasizes the quality of its food and drink options, while others say it’s simply a bar that serves good food.
Robin Stranahan at Shepherd Park Draught House, 3402 N. Shepherd Dr., stresses three characteristics that make a place a gastropub.
“It’s a public house that offers above-average bar food, a public house being a community meeting spot,” Stranahan said. “I think not only just a bar and restaurant, but having that aspect of community. “
In other words, gastropubs have good drinks, good food and good camaraderie.
Gastropubs have grown in popularity and become something of the norm in neighborhoods such as the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest.
“And that’s something I feel like Shepherd Park really capitalizes on because of our neighborhood and the vibe,” Stranahan said.
The growth of gastropubs in the area isn’t surprising to Stranahan. With the boom of bars and restaurants, a level of quality has to be attained in every product. But as Stranahan pointed out, what sets a gastropub apart from a restaurant or bar is that communal feel.
A pub, short for public house, has long been part of European history. It served as the community hub where people could stop by, discuss an array of topics and have a cold brew. Snacks, or “pub fare,” was served, with options like shepherd’s pie or fish and chips. In general, the fare took a backseat to the brews and conversation.
“Gastropub” was coined shortly before the turn of the 21st century. While pubs may have begun to pay more attention to their food quality before the term gastropub came about, the trend didn’t come to America until the early 2000s.
“That’s the cool thing about Houston. You can’t get away with doing anything subpar anymore. It’s just not going to fly,” Stranahan said. “Everyone has to level up.”
Cuisine served at gastropubs ranges from fine-tuned pub favorites, like elevating the shepherd’s pie with fresh ingredients, to experimental items that push the envelope on what could be considered pub fare.
Gastropubs take pride in their food quality and taste, but as Stranahan mentioned, it doesn’t mean it’s expensive and unapproachable. It’s still a place of casual dining.
Shepherd Park’s menu has a variety of options, with small plates, shareable items, burgers and sandwiches. There is also a brunch menu.
“This is one of my favorite spots. I love getting the turkey avocado sandwich,” said a Shepherd Park patron. “And the staff is always friendly. It’s like the show ‘Cheers.’ Everyone knows your name.”
The Barking Pig, 2307 Ella Blvd., is a gastropub that seasonally rotates its craft beer and menu selections.
“There are a lot of bars, especially trendy bars, in the Heights, but Barking Pig is still a standout,” said Ryan Miller, a patron of The Barking Pig. “The patio has lots of seating and a nice view of the neighborhood. Inside it’s trendy, but still comfortable.”
As The Barking Pig website indicates, the name means someone or something that changes the world for the better. They don’t go along with the norm and they won’t let the world tell them how to act and what they can or can’t do. It is someone who sets the tone, isn’t afraid to show emotion and is a star.
Britney Gomez, a first-time Barking Big visitor, thought the name was a perfect fit for the establishment. She explained how she’s been to plenty of bars in the area, but loved the vibe of The Barking Pig, but more importantly thought the menu had simple options that were given an extra something to make them unique.
Menu favorites include the fried pickles, which are flash fried with parmesan, truffle oil and balsamic glaze, the “OG Burger,” which comes with the choice of beef or grilled chicken, and pizza options such as “The Man,” which comes with ground beef, pepperoni, grilled onions and a red pepper and jalapeno blend.
Many gastropubs will have a signature burger on their menu, a strong showcase of craft beers and plenty of fried food.
Cottonwood, 3422 N. Shepherd Dr., can be considered a gastropub. It has extensive drink and food options, plus the huge patio makes it an ideal spot for gathering with friends.
For snacks, Cottonwood offers fried boudin balls, salmon deviled eggs and chicken fried steak bites. For something bigger, you can grab a boudin burger, which has an 8-ounce patty of boudin fried in crispy panko cumbs on a house-made burger bun with remoulade, lettuce, red onion and sliced pickled.
“The patio is great. I bring my dog with me all the time,” said Nora Little, a frequent Cottonwood customer. “Everyone is so laid back, and sometimes I feel like I’m hanging out in my own backyard.”
The more Americanized the gastropub becomes, the vaguer the definition is. Instead of being a bar at heart that also serves good food, it’s becoming more of a restaurant and bar, serving American classics.
“I’m not concerned with the definition,” another Cottonwood supporter said. “I like this place, and any other gastropub I go to, because I can trust that I’ll be able to eat, drink and hang out and be happy with my experience.”