The city of Houston is home to what we consider one of the very best small specialty coffee roasters in North America: Greenway Coffee Company, owned and operated by longtime BF & GF team David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto. Greenway’s flagship cafe is on the first-floor food court of an immense commercial high-rise plaza in Houston, but as of this week, they’ve got some pretty amazing fresh digs open to the public. Meet Blacksmith, a collaboration between Greenway Coffee and a like-minded crew of bars and restaurants in Houston’s crazy-imaginative Westheimer Street food scene.
We had a chance to sit down with David Buerher and pick his brain about the project, his coffees, and Blacksmith’s super-serious food program. If you live within striking distance of Blacksmith, you should run, not walk, and go check this place out.
Sprudge: David! We’re so stoked you’re open at Blacksmith. Let’s start with the shout outs – who are you collaborating with on this project?
David Buerher: Hay Merchant, Anvil, Underbelly – three of my favorite places in Houston. My new shop is what it is because of my partnership with these guys. So much knowledge and expertise came to me from them, and it’s on things I would have never thought to think of…like putting 6 inch concrete curbs on every single wall in the shop. If it floods, or something gets spilled, nothing gets damaged.
Also, our coffees at Greenway are sourced via a collaboration with InterAmerican Houston. They go out of their way to get the coffees we need. It’s a relationship we’ve had for several years and the coffees just get better and better…they make it so I can buy such beautiful coffees. And I have to shout out John Letoto, a barista who moved here from Louisville to help us open Blacksmith. He’s gone above and beyond to do this shop.
Sprudge: Talk us through your opening day coffee menu. What style of service do you guys offer? Which coffees?
DB: Lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites, cortados (which are big down here in Houston), Valrhona chocolate ganache for mochas made in house, caramel for drinks made in house…we keep an open door policy for thinks like caramel and chocolate. We’re happy to say yes, happy to take your order, and that’s very important for us. I put as much time and care and effort into a mocha as I do a single cappuccino or espresso, because that customer is worth it just as much as anyone else. The coffee we’re using for these drinks is Greenway’s seasonal espresso, which we call “Scrimshaw” – right now it’s a 50/50 blend of Guatemala Bella Carmona from Antigua and Fazenda da Lagoa from Brazil, but that’ll change next month when some of the sweet Daterra coffees come in from Brazil.
We also have a “coffee bar” menu, which offers a bartender-style of customer and barista interactions. Right now, the menu for this part of our shop is very focused on hand-made coffee, single variety coffees, which we’ll brew for you in any way you like. The coffee we’re featuring here is from Steve Mierisch’s Pulley Collective - it’s their Honduras Finca El Trapiche, from the Marcala region. This coffee was used by Tyler Hawks of Velvet Espresso in his competition routine at Big Central Regionals.
The menu on the bar service side will change each month, as directed by a new barista. I’m running it for the first month, but in the coming months it will be run by others, and they may choose to not even serve our coffees. The goal is to give people an opportunity to get personal with their barista, and create a relationship.
Sprudge: So you love gear, we love gear, everyone loves gear. What coffee brewing gear are you guys using at Blacksmith?
DB: My big goal with the bar is to have a wide diversity in the equipment we use. We have Robur, Anfim, and competition-standard Mahlkonig K-30 Twin grinders; a fantastic 1 group modified pump La Marzocco GS3, a rebuilt La Marzocco AV Linea 2 group, and a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia T-2. My hope is to be able to really train and learn on all of this gear, and to be able to give that access to different gear to our baristas.
For manual brewing, we have Chemex and Clever on the bar, and will soon have some Kalita brewing equipment as well. We use a Fetco Extractor for batch brewing, but Chemex is our preferred method. We got a rocking Everpure water system that I think works fantastic.
Sprudge: Talk to us a little bit about the food situation at Blacksmith. We know food is very important to you as a person, so we’re guessing it’s pretty important at the shop?
DB: Houston has a really cool food community, and I’ve been able to get a lot of exposure and experience from folks who make it great. The food program at St. Ali in Melbourne is a huge, huge inspiration for me – that shop is focused on coffee, but their food is just awesome. It begs the question, you know, “if the food isn’t as good as the coffee, then why are we doing food?” St. Ali does such a great job with their food program, and I wanted to try and emulate that here in Houston, but the problem is…I can’t cook.
We hired Erin Smith to be our chef at Blacksmith. She’s formerly of Per Se and Babbo in New York City, and she came back here to do a wine bar concept, and that’s how we got her. She’s making yogurt from scratch, almond milk from scratch, granola from scratch…every chance we get, if we can make something here in house, we do it. Marlowe & Sons in NYC is another huge influence – their food has the ability to make you feel awesome after you eat it, and that’s what we want to do here.
Sprudge: Tell us a couple of favorites on the menu.
Erin Smith makes these biscuits from scratch with marmalade from scratch and they’re really special. Our menu is just nine items long, but it’s kind of the best nine items ever. We definitely pull from some Houston-area ethnic influences…there’s this Vietnamese steak and egg dish we do, called “Bo-ne”, which is a cast iron marinated steak, two fried eggs, chicken liver pate, french bread, greens, and savory garlic & salt mayo. You serve open faced as kind of a make-your-own-banh mi. This is super working class food in Vietnam and in the vibrant Vietnamese community here in Houston; sort of like a ploughman’s lunch, this is perfect if you’re only going to eat like one big meal in a workday.
Sprudge: Dang dude.
DB: Yeah it’s really good. You have to come try it!