The Eatsie Boys – chef Matt Marcus, Alex Vassilakidis and Ryan Soroka – have waited a long time to open their eponymous cafe. Over the course of two years they’ve managed to operate a very successful food truck of the same name, score sweet catering gigs all over the city, begin work on a microbrewery (8th Wonder Brewery), branch out into frozen delicacies (which they appropriately term “Frozen Awesome”) and now, the pinnacle of it all, open their very own brick-and-mortar cafe. And it really is something special.
Tucked into a cheerful corner of the same vine-covered brick building as The Black Labrador, the Eatsie Boys took over the space once occupied by Scott Tycer’s Kraftsmen Bakery. The concept is counter service, with a practically beaming Ryan Soroka greeting guests as they filed in slowly but steadily during an afternoon of the soft opening just before Christmas. Soroka fielded questions that ranged from “When is your brewery opening?” to “What is pho?” and he’s got an answer for all of them. He takes orders, rings everyone up and tidies the place when the line is under control.
Diners include curious Montrose-area workers trying out a new lunch spot mixed in with those following Eatsie Boys developments through blogs and social media (like chef Erin Smith who was quietly working on her laptop in a back corner booth). They choose from chalkboard specials like the Eatsie Boys’ famous food truck “pork snuggies” or the already buzzed-about matzoh ball pho (fragrant Vietnamese broth-based soup combined with a giant, delicious matzoh ball) and a limited soft opening menu with salads like the crispy kale – which combines raw and tempura kale, sweet potato chips, pickled golden raisins, tossed with a white miso vinaigrette – and snacks like chicken liver mousse and “new skool” sandwiches.
On that soft-opening Monday, the “maestro,” with its roast beef, caramelized onions, potato chips, horseradish aioli and cheddar piled into a challah bun, was a popular choice, as was the “slow ride” with slow-cooked chicken salad, pickled shallots, quick pickles and crispy chicken skin on a rustic wheat bun. I went for the road less traveled with the “Namaste,” a clever take on pimiento cheese that marries small chunks of roasted cauliflower coated in whipped feta and dotted with pickled red peppers on a buttery brioche. All of the sandwiches were accompanied by a “trust us” salad, which, on the day I visited, consisted of arugula, raspberries and blueberries all tossed in a bright, nicely acidic vinaigrette.
Before 10:30 am, guests are able to experience the most exciting development of all: breakfast. Chalkboard specials have ranged from crème brûlée French toast to “disco” biscuits with chorizo gravy. On my visit there were also breakfast tacos and the “eggman” sandwich with eggs, cheddar and bacon/chicken poblano sausage on a challah bun. Follow that with a cup of Greenway coffee, and that’s a breakfast to sabotage most others. The only thing that could possibly be better is their Shipley’s glazed donut Frozen Awesome, which is indeed, frozen and awesome and beckoning from the case of ice cream/gelato hybrids behind the counter.
Since the soft opening before Christmas, the cafe has been closed as the guys finish some build-out. It will reopen this Monday (January 7) at 7 am. Don’t be surprised if, during the day’s lunch rush, as guests head to the picnic tables out front, the booths and tables within, or the bar seating along the large windows, chef Marcus takes a lap every now and then, checking on the dining area and cycling back through the kitchen to keep an eye on the inner workings. I had to laugh as one guest finished his lunch and jokingly asked Marcus if his dad was John Belushi. (No, his dad is actually Grateful Bread honcho, Al Marcus.) Marcus graciously acknowledged the quip, which he has undoubtedly heard before, and kept on keeping on.
He did stop long enough to tell me that the soft opening was “going better than expected,” adding, “It’s been a crazy two years. We are flattered to be one of the first food trucks to go brick-and-mortar.”
He has it completely backwards, of course. Houston should be flattered to finally have the Eatsie Boys in a permanent location.
Eatsie Boys Cafe, 4100 Montrose near Richmond, 713-397-0072, eatsieboys.com. Open 7 am to midnight Monday through Friday, 8 am to midnight Saturday. Sunday brunch to come eventually.