When we pulled up in front of Lowbrow earlier today, there was a trio of older ladies – I’m an older lady myself, so I can use the term – on the front porch and heading inside. That’s something you would never have seen a year ago.
This spot on West Main at Mandell about a block south of The Menil Collection started life in 2013 as a neighborhood hipster hangout trying really hard to be different. Half-bar and half-cafe, it took over the spot that once was Sophia and, before that, the beloved Cafe Artiste coffeehouse. As the name suggests, it prided itself on being coolly funky. The food was pretty good under the opening chef team, but in the years since it’s become less interesting and less consistent.
That version of Lowbrow is no more. A couple months ago chef/restaurateur John Sheely (of the late Mockingbird Bistro) partnered with wine guy Chris Ray to quietly revamp Lowbrow. They’ve begun redoing the interior – neon beer signs out, understated wood paneling in – added tons of new air conditioning, invented some tasty cocktails, assembled a thoughtful wine list that includes several sparkling wines and roses and, of course, rewritten the menu.
The only thing that remains is the name itself – and the new owners are debating whether to change it or keep it.
It’s in our neighborhood, and today was our third visit to the Sheely-Ray version of Lowbrow. We’ve liked it better each time. The menu will be familiar to anyone who was a regular at Mockingbird. There are the cheeseburger and perfectly cooked skinny French fries ($15 at lunch, $16 at dinner), the Bolognese sauce generously ladled over rigatoni ($16 lunch, $19 dinner, photo at top), fried calamari with two sauces ($12), steak frites ($34), mussels steamed in white wine with andouille sausage ($14) and a slab of foie gras that can be ordered on anything ($9).
New notables include Brussels sprouts with soy honey gastrique ($8), roasted cauliflower with golden raisins ($6), a croque madame topped with the classic fried egg ($14, photo above), red pepper linguine with roast chicken ($14) and the occasional off-the-menu fried shrimp basket.
At Saturday and Sunday brunch, you can order a fried green tomato sandwich ($12), posole ($9) or waffle and wings ($14). It’s sultry August, so be sure to order the wild berry frozé ($6) as well.
Today the best thing I ate was the outrageously delicious veggie burger ($14, photo above). I’m no vegetarian, so not naturally inclined to order such a thing. But I’m glad I did. It’s made with black beans and corn, fried up super-crisp and topped with cotija cheese, tomato, sliced avocado and a schmear of aioli. How did Sheely manage to transform two sturdy ingredients like beans and corn into a not-stodgy burger? Perhaps sometime in the future he will share the recipe with My Table readers.
In the meantime, this “new” Lowbrow has some of the best food in the neighborhood and is the second recent newcomer (the other being Nobie’s, which opened a few months ago) to offer an eclectic American menu worth seeking out, even if you don’t live in Montrose. There’s self-parking or valet, in the lot or on the street.
As for the three older ladies: They joined three more ladies inside at a boisterous table, perhaps celebrating. There was a lot of merriment over there. And at the end, the accommodating waiter approached with six leatherette folders, each bearing a separate check for the guests. Yes, the service has also been sharpened and trained up, too, ready for a new client base that is definitely not lowbrow.
Lowbrow, 1601 W. Main at Mandell, lowbrowtx.com