J.J. Watt Delivers Epic Rant After Latest Texans Loss; Watson Seeks Trade (UPDATED)

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 27, 2020 (Updated Dec. 30, Jan. 7)

Photo from Getty Images.

The Texans lost. Again.

It’s not the first time that’s happened this season. Two weeks ago, the Texans lost in a blowout: 36-7, to the Chicago Bears. That loss officially eliminated them from playoff contention.

Last week, the Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts. With less than 30 seconds left, Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee fumbled at the two-yard line. It was the second time this season the team has lost to Indianapolis after a goal-line fumble. The Texans lost to the Colts, 27-20.

Today, they lost again, to the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his shoulder grabbed by Bengal Sam Hubbard, causing a strip-sack with 1:28 left. Cincinnati sealed their historic road win with a field goal. Despite Watson’s three touchdowns, the Texans lost, 37-31.

It’s their fourth straight loss. After a season in which their coach was fired, their best receiver was traded, and their offense stifled, the Texans have lost 73% of their games. They are now 4-11.

Defensive end J.J. Watt was visibly frustrated after the loss. In a postgame press conference, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year delivered an angry, emotional rant peppered with curses. He expressed recognition of his privileged position and sympathy for Texans fans. But Watt also called out his teammates for a lack of professionalism.

“We’re professional athletes getting paid a whole lot of money,” Watt said. “If you can’t come in, put in work in the building, go out to the practice field, work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not  be here. This is a job. We’re getting paid a whole lot of money. There are a whole lot of people that watch us and invest their time and money into buying our jerseys and buying a whole bunch of s–t. And they care about it; they care every single week. We’re in Week 16, and we’re 4-11, and there’s fans that watch this game, that show up to the stadium, that put in time and energy and effort and care about this. So if you can’t go out there and you can’t work out, you can’t show up on time, you can’t practice, you can’t want to go out there to win, you shouldn’t be here.

Because this is a privilege. It’s the greatest job in the world. You get to go out and play a game. If you can’t care enough, even when you’re in week 17 — even when you’re trash, when you’re 4-11 — if you can’t go out there and give it everything you have and try your hardest, that’s bulls–t,” he said. “There are people every week that still Tweet you, that still come up to you and say, ‘Hey, we’re still rooting for you, we’re still behind you.’ They have no reason whatsoever to. We stink. But they care, and they still want to win and they still want you to be great. That’s why. Those people aren’t getting paid. We’re being paid handsomely. That’s why. That’s who I feel the most bad for, are our fans, the people who care so deeply in this city, and love it and who truly want it to be great. And it’s not. And that sucks as a player, to know we’re not giving them what they deserve.”

Watch the now-viral moment below.

UPDATE (Dec. 30): The Texans have closed their facility today after two players (safety Eric Murray and linebacker Whitney Mercilus) tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. According to the Houston Chronicle, players were not allowed to enter the team facility. Instead, they did a walk-through on the practice field and then met virtually.

“Because we have had some positives, we are basically not letting the players into the facility,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said on Zoom from NRG Stadium. “But we are having a walkthrough where we’ll work for about an hour and then they’ll leave. They are not using the facility. They come in. We walk through and they leave. We are hoping to cut down on the interaction with players when you’re not on the football field. Everybody is wearing masks and we’ll get some fundamental work done we need to get done.”

UPDATE: The Texans lost their final game of the season to the Tennessee Titans (who win the AFC South). After the Texans’ 41-38 loss on Sunday, Watt and quarterback Deshaun Watson shared a poignant moment. A video has surfaced of the two walking back to the locker room after the loss. “I’m sorry,” Watt tells Watson. “We wasted one of your years.”

UPDATE (Jan. 7, 2021): Rumors are swirling that Watson may be seeking a trade. NBC Sports’ ProFootballTalk intimates that “Watson has quietly broached with teammates the possibility of requesting a trade.” Trading him would result in a cap charge of $21.6 million. 

Veteran Houston Chronicle sportswriter John McClain seems convinced that Watson’s not going anywhere, and a KHOU sports reporter tonight snarkily remarked that the trade story “was written for some clicks on a website.” But just moments ago, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport revealed that Watson is unhappy with the Texans organization (who isn’t?) after being left out of crucial personnel decisions:

“Watson offered his input on potential general manager candidates, but the Texans neither considered nor consulted with those endorsed by their franchise quarterback, league sources told ESPN. “Additionally, the Texans did not inform Watson that they intended to hire Caserio, and he found out about the hire Tuesday on social media. That contributed to Watson taking to Twitter that night to post “some things never change….”

Albert Breer says that Watson advocated for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to be head coach — but the Texans refused to even interview him, further irking Watson. Over the weekend, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Watson is still angry about the Texans’ “insensitivity to social justices, including hiring practices,” alluding to the team failing to interview Eric Bieniemy. (UPDATE: the Texans finally did request to interview Bieniemy today, Jan, 12. But the window to contact him has closed.)

Rapoport adds that Watson has not spoken to Texans brass in days — though they have tried to call him. This gives new grist to the rumor mill that Watson may be looking for greener pastures. At least one former Texans player is suggesting that some teams may be interested in Watson:

UPDATE: A Texans legend has weighed in on the situation. Legendary Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson set tongues wagging with a tweet today: “If I’m @deshaunwatson I will stand my ground,” Johnson wrote. “The Texans organization is known for wasting players careers. Since Jack Easterby has walk into the building nothing good has happened in/for the organization and for some reason someone can’t seem to see what’s going on. Pathetic!!!”

Johnson’s tweet took a shot at Texans VP of football operations Jack Easterby, which generated lots of online chatter. But former Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins backed Johnson up, quoting Johnson’s original tweet and adding: “When Dre speak listen.”

UPDATE: Former Texans tight end Joel Dreessen also backed Johnson. Asked for comment, Dreessen tweeted: “All I know is when Dre would speak, he was always worth listening to. I don’t know Easterby at all, but it pains me to see how badly the Texans have been put in reverse. Whether it was him or BOB [former head coach Bill O’Brien] who chased off players like Duane, Clowney, Hopkins…& gave up 1st round picks.”

UPDATE (Jan. 29, 2021): Deshaun Watson formally requested a trade from the Texans yesterday, just hours after the team announced they’d hired David Culley as the team’s new head coach. But when Culley was introduced as coach during a Zoom teleconference today, Texans general manager Nick Caserio was clear in his objection.

“I just want to reiterate our commitment to Deshaun Watson,” he said. “We have zero interest in trading the player. We have a great plan and vision for him. We look forward to spending more time with him.” Culley added: “The reason I’m in this position today is because I know he’s going to be a Houston Texan.”

UPDATE (Feb. 2): There are now reports swirling that multiple teams are interested in trading for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Las Begas Review-Journal reporter Vincent Bonsignore is reporting that the Raiders may pursue Deshaun Watson in exchange for Carr: “Increased demand for his services, insiders say, could create a scenario in which a three-team trade allows the Raiders to acquire Watson.”

The Raiders’ moves are not clear yet. But a potential deal could involve the team receiving two first-round draft picks and then pairing them with their own 2021-22 draft picks. They could then present all these picks as a package for the Texans.

UPDATE (March 2, 2021): J.J. Watt has signed a two-year, $31 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. News of the signing broke yesterday, reported by outlets including ESPN and the NFL Network. This move reunites him with former teammate DeAndre Hopkins, who was a wide receiver for the Texans before a controversial trade last year. Today, in an introductory press conference, Watt was asked about Texans QB Deshaun Watson, who remains in a standoff with the team after informing them he no longer wants to play for them.

“The one thing I want for Deshaun Watson is for him to be happy,” Watt said. “He deserves it, and I want him to be happy. Whatever that looks like for him, that’s what I want for him.”

Check back for more updates.

Rockets Trade Star James Harden to Brooklyn Nets

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 23, 2020 (Updated Jan. 13, 2021)

The Houston Rockets were supposed to begin their NBA season at 7:00 pm tonight (Dec. 23), playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston’s Toyota Center. But tonight’s game has been postponed in accordance with the team’s Health and Safety Protocols. The NBA released a statement saying that three of the Rockets have tested positive (or inconclusive) for COVID-19. Four others are quarantined due to contact tracing. Additionally, Rockets star James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of Health and Safety Protocols.

Two days after reportedly hurling a basketball at a teammate during practice, Rockets superstar James Harden is now unable to play. ESPN reporter Tim McMahon tweeted earlier today: “Rockets are working with NBA office to review video of James Harden at a strip club. If the video circulating on social media is verified to be recent, it is a violation of league’s COVID protocols, which could put Harden’s availability for tonight’s opener in jeopardy.”

Harden responded to the report on Instagram, writing (in part): “I went to show love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in position of success and now it’s a problem. Everyday it’s something different.” McMahon responded by quoting the tweet, adding: “By doing so, he violates the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, which prohibit players from going to bars, lounges or clubs or social events with more than 15 people.”

Meanwhile, fellow Rockets John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins may also be ineligible for tonight’s game due to contract tracing. This is despite the fact that Wall, Cousins, and Harden have all tested negative for COVID-19. ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne adds: “James Harden tested negative for Covid-19 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, league source tells ESPN. The league is still reviewing his situation and eligibility for tonight’s game.” So Harden’s night at the club might cost him a spot on the starting roster tonight.

The club in question appears to be very near Toyota Center, where the Rockets will play in tonight’s home opener. The Houston Chronicle adds: “The venue was listed as private, but several Instagram users tagged The Velvet Room on Main, located near downtown about a mile from Toyota Center.” This isn’t the first time Harden’s partying has posed an issue: he missed practice on Dec. 6 because he was in Las Vegas, apparently at a nightclub. Just days before, Harden was seen maskless in Atlanta, celebrating the birthday of rapper Lil’ Baby. Harden gifted the “Emotionally Scarred” rapper with a Prada bag, filled with Honey Buns, bands of cash, and a Richard Mille. “He got me a Prada bag, ’cause he Prada me,” Lil’ Baby said at the time.

https://twitter.com/TheNBACentral/status/1334851330570137601

This is far from the only issue between Harden and the Rockets, though. Harden has requested a trade, and he skirted questions about his future when he spoke to reporters this week. But the writing is on the wall: Harden is visibly unhappy in Houston, and he and the Rockets appear headed for an ugly divorce. But how did we get here?

To hear McMahon tell it, the seeds of trouble had been planted years before, with a Rockets culture that often catered to its star. In fact, one former staffer described the Houston Rockets’ culture thus: “Whatever James wants.”

McMahon’s article asserts that Harden calls the shots on both the playing roster and coaching staff. He also exercised considerable sway on travel and playing schedules, too. If the Rockets had two or three days between games, Harden would likely call for an off day and charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city. He always gets an excused absence from practice after the All-Star break for that very reason.

“If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party,” a member of last season’s coaching staff told McMahon. “But he’s going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they’re OK with it.” Indeed, Harden had his third triple-double in six games back in January 2019. His 43-point performance led to a dominant Rockets win — one of 53 wins in the 2018-2019 season. The previous year had been even better.

Powered by Harden’s brilliant performances, the Houston Rockets won a franchise-record 65 games during the 2017-18 season. Harden was named league MVP, per ESPN. The Rockets jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the Conference Finals. But thanks to 27 missed three-pointers — and Chris Paul’s raggedy hamstrings — the Rockets lost the last two games of the series in their home stadium! That loss to the Warriors marked the beginning of the end for the Paul-Harden era in Houston.

McMahon reports that the relationship soured leading up to the summer of 2019. Paul reportedly grew frustrated that Harden would disengage from the offense whenever the ball wasn’t in his hands. “Harden quickly tired of Paul barking about his concerns, which included lobbying coach Mike D’Antoni to implement more structure and movement,” writes McMahon. Things deteriorated further when the Rockets lost in the playoffs to the Warriors.

In June 2019, Yahoo! Sports’ Vincent Goodwill reported that the relationship had become “unsalvageable”: “Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said. The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.” Harden denied the report, saying: “Me and Chris had constant communication, and we’re good.”

Yet Paul was gone a month later. The Rockets were reportedly willing to go another season with its unhappy stars…until Russell Westbrook became available. Harden pushed hard for a deal, saying he’d demand a trade if Houston didn’t make it happen. The Rockets agreed, trading Paul for two draft picks and some swap options. Harden was soon reunited with Westbrook, his OKC teammate (and childhood friend).

Initially, things worked beautifully. In a February game vs. the Boston Celtics, Westbrook and Harden combined for 62 points. That capped a month where they were ranked second and third, respectively, in NBA scoring. Westbrook averaged about 33 points during the month, while Harden averaged 31.9. They’re the first pair of teammates in NBA history to average 30 points and 5 rebounds apiece.

Everything seemed to be working — and then the pandemic happened. COVID-19 forced the league to suspend its season in March 2020. Over the spring and early summer, a plan was formed to return to play. The NBA resumed play on July 30 in the “NBA Bubble” — the sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida. There, the Rockets lost in the conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Lakers (the eventual NBA Champions).

On Nov. 11, a bombshell report in The Athletic revealed that Rockets star Russell Westbrook wanted out of Houston. Why? “Westbrook has informed team officials that he has been uneasy about the team’ accountability and culture,” three Athletic reporters wrote. “Westbrook, sources say, has made it known for quite some time that he would like to see significant changes to the Rockets culture. Specifically, his desire for more team-wide accountability, discipline, and culture have been the focus of talks with team officials.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon put it more bluntly: “Houston’s casual culture appalled Westbrook. In Oklahoma City, despite the fact that he enjoyed the same sort of superstar privileges as Harden has had in Houston, the Thunder operated with the discipline of a military unit under Westbrook’s watch. The Rockets were a stark contrast,” McMahon wrote on Dec. 16. “With the Rockets, scheduled departure times were treated as mere suggestions by Harden and others.”

“Nothing ever starts on time,” a former Rockets staffer told McMahon. “The plane is always late. The bus is never on time…it’s just an organized AAU team.” But that laissez-faire attitude didn’t sit well with Westbrook. McMahon asserts: “Westbrook didn’t tolerate tardiness.” Case in point: on one occasion in “the bubble” in Florida, Harden waited to undergo testing for COVID-19 until just before the Rockets began watching film. Westbrook grew impatient: “Start the film!” he barked. “Start without him!” Then-coach Mike D’Antoni explained that they’d just have to start the film over when Harden arrived, but Westbrook was still peeved. But that was the way it was…

Once the pandemic began and “the bubble” was filled, Houston’s bubble burst. After yet another player loss (this time to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers), the Rockets were at a crossroads. Westbrook wanted out. Within days of the bombshell Athletic story about his quest for accountability, Westbrook requested a trade. The Rockets acquiesced. They traded Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a lottery pick in early December.

Now, the may have to do the same with James Harden.

UPDATE: After back-to-back losses to the Lakers — including last night’s 117-100 Lakers win — it may be the end of the road for James Harden in Houston. In a Zoom postgame interview last night, Harden was blunt about the 3-6 Rockets: “We’re just not good enough,” Harden said. “Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It was clear these last few games from the beginning of the game. [The Lakers] were just aggressive. A veteran team, obviously, a championship team. One of the best teams we have in this league.”

Harden also expressed a belief that the situation may be unsalvageable. “I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can,” Harden said. “This situation is crazy. It’s something I don’t think can be fixed. Thanks.” With that, Harden rose and left the room.

One of Harden’s teammates had a lot to say about that. When asked how he felt about Harden’s comments, newly acquired Rocket DeMarcus Cousins was blunt: “Obviously, it’s disrespectful. But everybody has a right to their opinion. You know? We feel a certain type of way about some of his actions. You know, this is — this is the nasty part of the business that kind of gets swept under the rug. You deal with these type of things, and you know, when guys are in positions of being, you know, franchise players and whatever that may be, it’s usually sometimes a nasty breakup. Like I said, that’s all part of the business,” Cousins continued.

A reporter asked Cousins: “As someone who signed here as a free agent, do you feel betrayed? Do you feel like it was unfair to you to have chosen to sign here […] and then have the star player want to leave?” Cousins was equally forthright in his answers.

“Me, personally, I don’t feel betrayed at all. My interest was playing with John Wall to be brutally honest,” Cousins said. “With that being said, the disrespect started way before any interview — just the approach to training camp, showing up the way he did, the antics off the court. I mean, the disrespect started way before, so this isn’t something that all of a sudden happened,” Cousins said. “Like I said this is the nasty part of the business, Cousins said. “It is what it is.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon asked: “At this point, is there any way that you guys can play with James harden again?” Cousins answered: “I don’t really think that’s a question for us. I think that’s a question for him: will he ever be willing to play with us again? I don’t know. Quite honestly, don’t care.” Follow-up question: “And when you talk about disrespect, what specifically are you talking about?” McMahon asked.

“I just feel like there’s a way about handling business,” Cousins responded. “He can feel however he wants to feel about the organization or whatever his current situation is. But the other 14 guys in the locker room have done nothing to him. So for us to be on the receiving end of some of the disrespectful comments and antics, it’s completely unfair to us.”

“I wasn’t disrespectful to anyone,” Harden now claims. “I just made a comment that the team as a whole wasn’t good enough to compete for a title.” But those comments came days after The Athletic reported that at least two teams are interested in acquiring Harden. The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers both made offers to the Rockets, per reporters Shams Charania and Sam Amick. But only one of those teams would prevail.

BREAKING (Jan. 13, 2021): The Houston Rockets have traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive blockbuster deal. The Rockets will receive four first-round picks and four pick swaps, all of which will come from the Nets — except for a 2022 Milwaukee pick currently owned by Cleveland. Houston will also receive Caris LeVert, Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs, according to CBS Sports.

UPDATE (Feb. 20, 2021): Five weeks to the day after Harden was traded, reports have surfaced that former teammate DeMarcus Cousins is also headed out of Houston. Athletic writer Shams Charania says Cousins and the team plan to part ways in coming days. “Houston wants to go smaller, younger in frontcourt when Christian Wood returns and this allows Cousins to find an opportunity elsewhere,” Charania wrote on Twitter.

This begs the question: will Cousins return to Los Angeles, where he (technically) won a ring with the Lakers earlier this year? (Cousins suffered a season-ending knee injury after getting signed, but he was still on the roster when the Lakers won — meaning he is technically still eligible for a ring.) Will he head back to LA?

Stay tuned.

Houston Restaurant Weeks Extended Through Sept. 30

Photo courtesy of Houston Business Journals.

By Terrance Turner

Sept. 1, 2020 (Updated Oct. 30; revised Nov. 15)

News broke yesterday that Houston Restaurant Weeks has been extended through the end of the month. It typically runs from Aug. 1 through Sept. 7, but this year it has been extended through Sept. 30. The annual fundraiser allows people to order from local restaurants and donate to a worthy cause.

The late Cleverley Stone, shown here holding a box for the Houston Food Bank. (Photo from Twitter.)

Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW) was founded by Cleverley Stone, who hosted a food radio talk show on Houston’s CBS 650 AM (KIKK-AM). According to the HRW website, “The Cleverley Food Talk Radio Show” became the longest-running on CBS 650, running for over 13 years. Stone also worked as a food service contributor to Fox 26 Morning News, beginning in 2008. Stone founded HRW in 2003 as a fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank, which is the largest food bank in the United States (per its website).

Stone died at 68 in May from uterine cancer. Her final wish was that HRW continue in perpetuity in her name, per the Houston Chronicle. Her daughter Katie Stone now chairs the event, and she remembers that her mother felt compassion for those suffering from hunger. “Her life’s mission was to end hunger and to feed families in Houston,” Stone told the Houston Business Journal. “She was really driven by stories she would hear in Houston about people not having enough to eat.” That drive helped make Houston Restaurant Weeks the largest annual fundraiser of its kind.

This year, the event will look different, due to COVID-19. But it is arguably more vital than ever. “This year’s Houston Restaurant Weeks is probably the most important year that we’ve ever seen,” Stone told ABC 13. The HRW fundraiser has raised over $16 million for the Houston Food Bank, which distributes food to those in need. This takes on new significance in the wake of Hurricane Laura, which hit Louisiana hard last week. According to KPRC, the Houston Food Bank has sent trucks of water, cleaning supplies, and ready-to-eat food to a Second Harvest Food Bank in Vinton, Louisiana.

A map of the 18 SE Texas counties the HFD serves. (Photo courtesy of houstonfoodbank.org.)

The Houston Food Bank serves 18 counties in southeast Texas, including Harris, Liberty, Chambers, Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Austin. (It also provides food for localized food banks in Montgomery and Galveston counties; those banks, in turn, provide food for their residents.) Founded in 1982, the Houston Food Bank distributes fresh produce, meat and nonperishables and prepares nutritious hot meals for kids. According to houstonfoodbank.org, the charity distributed 104 million meals in 2019. It does so via a network of 1,500 community partners, including schools, shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries.

One of those pantries is in the mostly black Trinity Gardens neighborhood. Chef Jonny Rhodes, who grew up in Trinity Gardens, called the area a “food desert” in a Houston Chronicle article in Oct. 2019. The article also defined nearby neighborhood Kashmere Gardens as a “food desert” — a low-income area where residents struggle to find healthy, affordable food. In 2010, the USDA reported that 18 million Americans live in food deserts — places more than a mile from a supermarket in urban/suburban areas and more than 10 miles in rural areas.

One food pantry helping to bridge that gap is in Trinity Gardens First Baptist Church, which shares its name with the surrounding neighborhood. On one Saturday morning per month, food is delivered and distributed. The pantry is headed by Sis. Barbara Brown, who has worked with the Houston Food Bank (HFD) since 2010. She says the Houston Food Bank is essential for the pantry’s operation.

“The Food Bank is 100% of where we get our food,” Brown says via phone. She adds that the pantry is not easy to maintain. “I have to take classes; I have to do online meetings,” she says. “We come in; we have to get inspections.” With the start of the pandemic, trainings and meetings have moved offline. And now, workers and volunteers must deliver food to people’s cars in order to minimize contact.

Mrs. Brown also mentions that she has to have paperwork in multiple languages — and serve people from multiple locales. “We get people from Pasadena and La Porte,” she says, “and we cannot turn people away.” She estimates that the pantry serves around 125 people each month (not counting the pantry’s volunteers, who are often allowed to take home leftover food items.)

Those that come will be given mostly non-perishable food — canned corn and green beans, walnuts, cereal, boxed spaghetti. But the Houston Food Bank truck also delivers some perishables: gallons of milk, bags of ham, even some eggs. And last month, Brown says, fresh vegetables were added to the mix: “We gave out eggs and meat, onions and bell peppers.”

Pantries like these benefit directly from the HFD — and indirectly from the HRW fundraiser. Typically, restaurants would donate $3–$7 from each meal sold to the Food Bank. But with so many restaurants struggling due to COVID-19, this year they will donate $1 per meal. Each dollar can provide three meals for those in need.

For the first time, diners can order using pickup, takeout, or delivery options. Some restaurants allow walk-in orders. According to the website, brunches and lunches each cost $20. Dinners cost either $35 or $45 (for a four-course meal). The featured restaurants are located in Harris, Galveston, and Montgomery counties. (Please call or visit the website of each chosen restaurant to verify dates and times for meal service. Be sure to mention that you would like the HRW special menu.) For more information about HRW’s participating restaurants, please visit https://houstonrestaurantweeks.com. To donate or volunteer with the Houston Food Bank, visit https://www.houstonfoodbank.org.

UPDATE (Sept. 16-19): With just two weeks left until the end of HRW, I decided to do a quick overview of notable brunch and lunch spots in the area. Given the comparatively low cost of these menus (just $20), I’m presenting those options first. (Dinner is another story — literally; I’ll cover the $35-$45 dinner spots in another post.) Only some of the over 100 HRW participants offer brunch, but I did manage to find some participating restaurants in various areas.

If you’re in the downtown area, you could start with Hearsay Market Square (218 Travis St.). Hearsay serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am until 3 pm. Menu options for the first course include deviled eggs with candied jalapeno and bacon. The second course offers choices like fried chicken & waffles and bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp with grits.

In Midtown, Nuksy’s Table (1926 W. Dallas St.) only serves brunch on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm, per its website. On the bright side, Nuksy’s also serves up plantain beignets with each meal. (They’re deep-fried, with caramel rum sauce — or chocolate bourbon sauce — and berries.) The entrees include crab cake eggs benedict (lumped crabmeat, poached egg, and hollandaise sauce, with sautéed spinach and kettle chips). The breakfast platter has bacon, pork sausage, eggs, and hash browns. Nuksy’s “Shrimp and Orange Corn Grits” include seasoned Gulf shrimp “with Cajun gumbo gravy, served over orange corn grits”. Nuksy’s beverages include mimosas in classic, strawberry, mango,
and raspberry flavors.

When I first visited Nuksy’s on Sept. 20, demand had picked up so much that the place was fully booked! Nevertheless, the owner took me on a tour. One room can seat 10 people (at two socially distanced tables). Another room seats four (but usually just two). It’s typically booked for dates. “I don’t know if you know this,” the owner told me, “but in Houston, Tuesday is date night.” (Really?)

Each room has a “dot” for music control. You can ask Alexa to play whatever song you like — whether it’s Kirk Franklin or Fantasia — and hear it (if available). I tried out the device when I revisited Nuksy’s Table a week later, on Sept. 27. My room was furnished elegantly, with a plush white couch against one wall and fluffy rugs on the hardwood floors. In the center of the room, a dinner table was topped by eye-catching golden centerpieces.

The breakfast platter at Nuksy’s Table. (All Nuksy’s photos taken by the author.)

After finishing my mimosa (which was a great start to brunch), I ordered Nuksy’s breakfast platter, which came with eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and a surprise: a pair of strawberries on the side. The food was uniformly good (and better than it looks in the photo). I visited Nuksy’s on Sept. 27; I had visited Napoli’s a week earlier.

In Montrose, Napoli’s Wine Cafe (4601 Washington Ave) offers a varied three-course brunch menu. For the first course, there’s an array of options, including fried calamari, a “meat board” with imported and domestic meats, and a “formaggi board” consisting of both domestic and imported cheeses. Also available was a “brochette board”, in which the diner chooses three options from the following:

  • Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil
  • Cheese, Bacon, Arugula & Tomato
  • Smoked Salmon, Cheese & Capers
  • Almond Hummus & Fresh Tomato
  • Fire-Roasted Eggplant & Walnuts
  • Ricotta, Almond & Dates
Sassy Italian Ricotta Pancakes at Napoli’s Wine Cafe. (Photo from YouTube.)

But that’s just the first course. Napoli’s offers lobster bisque, soup and salad for the second. But the third course is where things get really interesting. Options include “Sassy Italian Ricotta Pancakes”, topped with maple syrup, banana slices, strawberries, walnuts, a dollop of whole milk ricotta cheese, and whipped cream. The “Brioche French Toast” comprises freshly baked brioche topped with vanilla custard, banana slices, strawberries and walnuts. Alternatively, there’s “Napoli’s Breakfast”: “two poached eggs served over sautéed spinach, potatoes, onions and mushrooms, topped with hollandaise sauce served on a toasted biologiques loaf bread.”

I visited Napoli’s amidst pouring rain, which failed to deter patrons from dining outdoors. While I watched the Giants vs. Bears game inside, I sampled the brochette platter. From a bevy of options, I chose: a) fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, b) cheese and bacon with arugula and tomato, and c) smoked salmon, cheese, and capers. Each delicacy was served on a slice of toasted bread. The array of salty, savory textures provided a perfect foil for my second course: a house salad.

After I wolfed down the tomatoes and leafy greens, I feasted on the third course. Those Italian ricotta pancakes were just as decadent as you would imagine: at least four broad, fluffy pancakes under sliced strawberries and bananas, topped by rich ricotta and whipped cream. I was also served a small container of syrup, which I only used sparingly. Too much would ruin what is already a glorious dish.

In the Galleria area, 51Fifteen Cuisine and Cocktails (5175 Westheimer Road) delivers an array of brunch selections. The first course serves up items like garbanzo soup and chopped wedge salad; the second course delivers braised short ribs benedict (two poached eggs on English muffin, hollandaise sauce, braised short ribs, asparagus, sliced tomatoes). Also included in the 2nd course is a 6-oz. New York strip steak and eggs combo.

Bon appetit!

 

Texas COVID Cases Reach New High (Again)

Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference on Tuesday.

By Terrance Turner

Today, 2,622 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Texas. It’s the highest one-day total the state has ever had. According to the Texas Department of Safety and Health Services, an additional 1,476 cases “were previously diagnosed among Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates, but that had not been reported by local health departments.” (Why?)

That makes for a total of 4,098 positive cases of COVID-19 since yesterday. Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace wrote today that Texas is also reporting 46 deaths. That’s the most since May 20. Total deaths from coronavirus in Texas now number over 2,000.

For five consecutive days, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have reached all-time highs, with each day topping the day before. Today, Texas reported 2,518 patients are in hospitals with lab-confirmed coronavirus. That’s a leap of 192 since yesterday and up 67% (!!!) since Memorial Day. Wallace delivered the news earlier today on Twitter:

From Twitter.

As usual, Harris County and Dallas County continue to lead the state in cases. They total 17,282 and 14,537, respectively, at press time. (Data from the Texas DSHS is preliminary and is subject to change.) Thankfully, there are still roughly 15,000 available hospital beds and around 1700 ICU beds, according to The Hill. But hospitalizations in Texas for COVID-19 have risen for six straight days and broken records for five.

Texas reported 2,518 patients with positive coronavirus tests who are hospitalized today. That is a record high. This graph shows the number of current hospitalizations has been trending up in recent days.
Courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

Dallas County reported 306 new COVID-19 cases and 8 deaths today, according to the Dallas Morning News. Hospitalizations are also increasing. (Speaking of hospitalizations, there’s been a shooting at the Dallas Galleria Mall. At least one person has been shot. Dallas police spokeswoman Melinda Gutierrez told CNN that the suspect is still at large, but added: “This is not an active shooter.”)

All of this is happening as Texas continues to reopen. Restaurants were allowed to open at 75% capacity last week, and on Friday, amusement parks will be allowed to open at 50% capacity — just like nearly every other business in Texas. Phase 3 of reopening began on June 3, a month after Phase 1 commenced on May 1.

But a growing trend is emerging in data: infections are rising among people under 30. Per the Texas Tribune, more 20-to-29-year-olds make up 24% of all cases and 8.3% of the hospitalizations in Travis County and the city of Austin. At a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said that in Lubbock County and Cameron County, a majority of new cases are in people under 30.

He suggested that the results were related to Memorial Day celebrations or bars, that “certain counties where a majority of the people who are testing positive … are under the age of 30, and this typically results from people going to bar-type settings.” (Does he mean the very bars that he ordered to reopen on May 22?)

“It’s hard to tell exactly where those people contracted COVID,” Abbott said. “All we know is that because these people are testing positive at a higher rate who are age 30 and under, it informs us about certain strategies to take to make sure that we are able to reduce the number of people testing positive.”

One strategy that he won’t be using is ordering face masks. The mayors of Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, along with five other cities, sent Abbott a letter yesterday. They’re asking him to let these mayors require the use of face masks in their respective cities. But the governor rebuffed their requests. (His executive order bars Texas cities from issuing fines or jail time to those who violate the mask requirement.)