When I first stepped into Local Foods I made one of the more embarrassing malaprops of my career. The “scratch gourmet sandwich shop” had very recently opened in Rice Village and although the owners had yet to fully decorate the space, they had managed to affix a very large, illuminated sign that read “Local Foods” in lovely script. “Oh,” I said out loud to no one in particular, “Lo-CAL Foods. Well, that’s good.” Fortunately, only the clerk and a sleepy-looking old man slurping some soup heard my blunder.
Not that I was entirely incorrect, for LOCAL (as in “referring to or characterized by a particular place,” NOT low-calorie) Foods does indeed purvey fast-casual fare that is apt to make your dietician happy. Their main mission, as their name (when correctly pronounced) implies, is to showcase only foodstuffs from Houston-area vendors.
Exclusively using locally sourced ingredients to create a menu is certainly popular among consumers but still a challenge for restaurateurs who are faced with the task of continually having to revamp their offerings to reflect seasonal and regional product availability. From the beginning, Local Foods did so gracefully and seemingly effortlessly, incorporate wares from purveyors such as Blue Horizon Seafood, Atkinson Farms, Utility Research Garden, and Pola Cheese to create a mouth-watering array of soups, salads, and sandwiches.
On my first visit, I became acquainted with what would eventually become one of my die-hard favorites: the buttery truffled egg salad served on a spongy, sour-salty pretzel bun. After that initial hit, I found it difficult to branch out, but I have and much to my delight, discovered other “favorites” such as the crunchy chicken sandwich. The nut-crusted white meat poultry is served with a cloak of melted provolone cheese and buttermilk ranch dressing along with ruby red tomato slices and crisp emerald lettuce. The crunchy chicken sandwich also comes on a Slow Dough pretzel bun, but if this type of roll isn’t your thing (though it really should be), never fear. Other terrific options include the gulf shrimp and blue crab with green goddess dressing on ciabatta and the smoked salmon, which is house-smoked and layered with rich cream cheese and sweet onion jelly on a poppy seed bagel. All sandwiches, btw, are served with your choice of two sides. I heartily recommend the kale with sultanas, pine nuts, and parmesan and the beet salad with wheatberries.
In the colder months, Local Foods is a great place to go for filling but healthful soups and salads. Options change regularly, but varieties such as the thai lemongrass soup and the Asian chicken salad are popular enough to make extended appearances. Nevertheless, Local Foods doesn’t want you to get too comfortable with its menu because eating local means eating what’s here and what’s seasonal. To that end, the shop consistently innovates its offerings with limited-time-only dishes. Recent specials include a spinach salad with local figs, roasted chicken, cherry tomatoes, squash, and a honey mustard-blue cheese vinaigrette and a pork, grilled pineapple, and pimento cheese sandwich.
Although at lunchtime Local Foods is filled with the wholesome chatter of small children and quiet conversations of local workers, in the evening the restaurants has a different kind of energy. It’s still family-friendly and low-key, but patrons are more likely to indulge in the selection of local beers and craft cocktails, which makes for a more festive and playful atmosphere.
Local Foods is reason enough to brave the parking nightmare that is Rice Village, but if you live closer to midtown or in the Heights, look forward to the opening of a second location at Kirby and Westheimer early next year. Just don’t put off trying that truffled egg salad until 2014.
2424 Dunstan Road
Houston, TX 77005