Public News (Houston) - - FRONT PAGE - by Nick Rama

The first time I walked into 5.ATE Café, I re­ally had no idea what to ex­pect from this walk up counter in­side of a rock climb­ing gym. By the time I left, I was us­ing words like “de­li­cious”, “ge­nius” and “orig­i­nal” to de­scribe my ex­pe­ri­ence. 5.ATE was rec­om­mended to me by a fel­low foodie, Matt Bessey, and it’s a good thing word was start­ing to get out on so­cial media about this café, or I would never have found it. Lo­cated just in­side the en­trance to the In­spire Rock Climb­ing Gym, owner/chef, Char­lie Re­nee Wil­liams and crew are cook­ing up some ab­so­lutely amaz­ing and wholly orig­i­nal dishes from their small, open con­cept, kitchen.

Upon walk­ing up to the counter I was cheer­fully greeted by Shane who af­ter learn­ing it was my first visit to 5.ATE, was happy to tell me a lit­tle bit about two of his fa­vorite dishes. The Viet­namese Banh Mi with Pork Belly is a slow roasted pork belly, spicy pate, mayo, house pick­led daikon and car­rots topped with cilantro and thinly sliced fresh jalapenos, served on a bo­lillo roll. Shane’s sec­ond rec­om­men­da­tion was the Shar-Warma Burger, a crispy patty of freshly ground cer­ti­fied an­gus beef, banana pep­pers, feta cheese, creamy tzatzki sauce an a gar­lic chili sauce on a house made sour­dough English muf­fin, topped with let­tuce, tomato and onion.

Be­ing a fan of Greek/Mediter­ranean fla­vor pro­files, I or­dered the Shar-Warma burger with a side of gar­lic fries. I’ve got to be hon­est, I love a good banh mi and that is nor­mally what I would have or­dered, but I couldn’t help but won­der if I could re­ally find good pork belly in­side of a rock climb­ing gym (a week later I would find out, that I ab­so­lutely could).

I took a seat at one of the four top ta­bles and waited for my or­der to be de­liv­ered while watch­ing peo­ple of all ages and fit­ness lev­els try their hands at in­door rock climb­ing. Once Shane brought out my or­der, the first thing I no­ticed was how in­cred­i­ble the food smelled! I took my first taste of the burger and was in­stantly a fan of Chef Char­lie and 5.Ate Café.

The beef patty had crispy edges, while still be­ing very juicy; it re­minded me of a good gyro, which worked in­cred­i­bly well with the Greek sea­son­ing in the meat. But was still juicy and per­fectly sea­soned. The top­pings and two sauces work so well to­gether with the tart­ness from the banana pep­pers be­ing com­pli­mented by the creamy tzatzki sauce and the brini­ness of the feta and the bit of spice from the gar­lic chili sauce all com­bin­ing to make this one of the best burgers I have ever had. Hold­ing this master- piece to­gether is a house made sour­dough English muf­fin that is thicker and yet a bit lighter than your stan­dard English muf­fin. The tex­ture of this was a welcome change from your av­er­age ham­burger bun and the served to soak up those two won­der­ful sauces rather than hav­ing them just fall out onto your plate as nor­mally hap­pens with other burgers.

My gar­lic fries were per­fectly cooked; slightly crispy on the out­side and ten­der and fluffy in­side. Gen­er­ally, when you or­der gar­lic fries, it’s a sad ta­ble­spoon of jarred gar­lic dumped onto some fries, but not at 5.Ate. Chef Char­lie brushes the fries with gar­lic but­ter and tops the fries with pa­per-thin slices of freshly sautéed gar­lic. These things were the essence of gar­lic.

I fin­ished my meal and went back to work where I told a few of my co­work­ers about my out­stand­ing lunch. A few of them de­cided to make the short drive and try it for them­selves and also be­came in­stant fans. Just as my wife and mother-in-law did when I took them to 5.Ate for din­ner that same night. Yes, this place was so good I ate there twice in one day!

When I re­turned that evening, Chef Char­lie rec­og­nized me from my visit ear­lier in the day and warmly wel­comed me back. I couldn’t de­cide which of their stone baked piz­zas to try, so Char­lie sug­gested I try a half and half pizza. I told him to sur­prise me and I’m re­ally glad I did.

When my pizza was ready, Chef Char­lie brought it out and ex­plained that half of the pizza was the Rata­touille and the other half was their Sausage and Pep­pers. The Rata­touille has a layer of roasted egg­plant and gar­lic spread, topped with pro­volone cheese, sweet crushed toma­toes, capers, thin and ver­ti­cally sliced pan dried zuc­chini and squash, fin­ished with Grano Padano cheese. The Sausage and Pep­pers con­tained Chef Char­lie’s Mediter­ranean red bell pep­per sauce and was topped with sliced Ital­ian sausage and pro­volone cheese.

I have never been to Italy; this is what I imag­ine pizza tast­ing like there, with a nice chewy, light and airy crust with slight charred spots from their stone baked pizza oven. I have found that gen­er­ally, when you put too many veg­eta­bles or meats on a pizza the crust be­comes soggy, es­pe­cially in the cen­ter and Chef Char­lie man­ages to avoid this while still pro­vid­ing a gen­er­ous amount of top­pings to his piz­zas. The top­pings were so fresh and of ex­cel­lent qual­ity, with the Ital­ian sausage be­ing the real stand out in­gre­di­ent here. It had a very nice tex­ture, and the fla­vor and the sweet­ness of the sauce com­pli­mented it.

Since that first day and over the course of 10 months, I have tried just about ev­ery menu item and what is so nice about be­ing a reg­u­lar cus­tomer at 5.ATE, is that you never know what type of spe­cials you will find your­self walk­ing in to. So far they have all been in­cred­i­ble. Char­lie had told me that his burgers are sup­posed to

be messy to eat, which is fine with me be­cause his fla­vor com­bi­na­tions al­ways work so well to­gether.

While there are only six burgers on the reg­u­lar menu, I’ve been lucky enough to try about twenty dif­fer­ent burgers at 5.Ate, thanks to Char­lie’s lim­ited spe­cial edi­tion burgers, which are oc­ca­sion­ally posed on the café’s Face­book page (when this hap­pens, get there quickly be­cause they sell out fast). I have been so im­pressed by Char­lie’s of­fer­ings that I chose him as Chef of the year on my 2014 Best Of list (see Public News is­sue #7), along with Best Gourmet Pizza, Best Gourmet Burger and Best Res­tau­rant. We even had a tast­ing with a group of 35 peo­ple for our Spring/Woodlands Foodie Tast­ing and Deals mem­bers. That night was all rave re­views.

Char­lie’s cre­ativ­ity is un­matched in my opin­ion. I would love to see him on a show like Food Net­work’s Chopped and let him go with a bas­ket of se­cret in­gre­di­ents to see what he would come up with. Some of Char­lie’s off menu items have been his over the top spe­cials that have been very suc­cess­ful. Here are a few high­lights: -The Pep­per­corn Burger that is a play on a steak au poivre, and con­sists of a crispy pressed An­gus patty coated in Di­jon and cracked pep­per­corns then smoth­ered in a co­gnac and mush­room cream sauce. -The Chipo­tle Triple-Threat, which had crispy pressed freshly ground cer­ti­fied An­gus beef, spicy chipo­tle cream, chipo­tle tamarind BBQ sauce and chipo­tle gouda cheese with hick­ory smoked ba­con and a dill pickle slice. -Tur­key Day Burger, which was a Thanks­giv­ing time spe­cial. In this one he used tur­key burger patty mixed with dried cran­ber­ries, pecans and Gor­gonzola cheese topped with a slice of flat top grilled corn­bread stuff­ing made with duck broth. cran­berry sauce adorns the top half of the sweet potato bun while the bot­tom half gets a light spread of honey but­ter served with a side of pick­led green ap­ple/red onion slaw. -The Un­der­ground, which is a Wagyu burger topped with ex­cel­lent qual­ity gor­gonzola and topped with a house made caramelized onion and fig ba­con jam. -Pot Roast sand­wich that will make you for­get your grandma’s. It has bone­less black An­gus short ribs braised with South­ern Star Buried Hatchet Stout, per­fectly cooked car­rots on a but­ter roll with pick­led shal­lots in a gre­mo­lata.

I could go on and on about the spe­cials I have had, but another as­pect of this place that re­ally I love is the friend­li­ness of the staff. You re­ally don’t ex­pect any fol­low up care in a ca­sual en­vi­ron­ment like this, but they will ask to get re­fills for you, ask how ev­ery­thing is with your meal and if Char­lie has time he will even come out and check on and chat with his cus­tomers. If you are look­ing for a fab­u­lous gourmet meal and don’t want to get dressed up to go dine out, I highly rec­om­mend check­ing out 5.ATE Café… you just never know what yummy good­ness he will have on the menu on any given day. If not, get my new fa­vorite burger the Gar­lic But­ter and Kale Burger.

I got to sit down with the mas­ter­mind be­hind 5.ATE Café and here is what he had to say.

What made you de­cide to open your es­tab­lish­ment in a rock climb­ing gym?

Fam­ily. When my brother-in-law fi­nally got the go ahead for the gym, there was ex­tra room and he called my wife and me. The rest is history.

Please ex­plain where the name 5.ATE Café came from?

5.ATE is a play on the rock climb­ing dif­fi­culty scale. 5.1 - 5.15

What are your most pop­u­lar menu items?

We sell quite a few ham­burg­ers. I planned to be a pizza res­tau­rant but we are in Texas. Folks love to try the un­ex­pected so any­thing off menu goes quickly.

So, you set out to be a gourmet pizza joint in­side a rock climb­ing gym. Tell us more about your style of piz­zas.

Dough is the key. I love thin hand tossed Ital­ian style piz­zas. To be chewy but light and crisp. The sour­dough gives outs a lit­tle ex­tra Fla­vor as well.

I see you have some quirky names for some of your reg­u­lar menu items. How did you come up with those names?

I try to keep with rock climb­ing re­lated names if pos­si­ble such as the Hueco Tanks. A climb­ing site near El Paso. Also the Shar- warma is named par­tially af­ter a fa­mous climber.

You have some off-the-wall crazy spe­cials weekly. What is your in­spi­ra­tion to come up with them?

I shop for gro­ceries ev­ery day, some­times twice a day, and I see all the fresh pro­duce. That’s one. Sec­ond would be great mem­o­ries of food grow­ing up and things I’ve eaten while trav­el­ing.

I have per­son­ally had quite a few of your burger/sand­wich spe­cials, my fa­vorite be­ing The Pep­per­corn, The Un­der­ground and The Chipo­tle Triple threat. How do you de­cide what will even­tu­ally go on the menu and for how long you run a spe­cial burger?

Hummm, some burgers are over the top and I love them but they might not work in a quick ser­vice set­ting like we have at the gym so they wouldn’t last long as a spe­cial. Sim­ple fla­vors are more likely to stay on for the long haul.

I see you have pork belly on a few menu items. Tell us about your cook­ing tech­nique on this?

Dry rubbed for a few days and then 4 hours low and slow af­ter a quick hot sear.

What is your fa­vorite meal here? What has been the most suc­cess­ful menu item?

I love love the Banh Mi. It’s not tra­di­tional bread but some­times food takes on lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. Our Banh Mi uses a sta­ple of the area, the bo­lillo. I like to use the best of what’s avail­able, plus the roof of my mouth prefers the softer less crumbly Mex­i­can style roll. We also use a large 1/4# por­tion of our slow roasted pork belly which isn’t as com­mon tra­di­tion­ally The Clas­sic is our most pop­u­lar item. 1/4# fresh ground An­gus chuck, white ched­dar and pick­les on a freshly made English muf­fin style bun drip­ping with home­made 1000 Is­land (aka Cafe sauce).

What can some­one ex­pect walk­ing up to or­der at 5.ATE Café if they have never been there be­fore?

A smil­ing face, a com­puter screen with our menu and prob­a­bly one of the only gyms they’ve ever walked into that smells of gar­lic and onions.

Qual­ity seems im­por­tant to you, from the meat that you use all the way to the house made English muf­fin buns and bread. Can you tell us more about what spe­cial in­gre­di­ents you use and a lit­tle more about the meat and buns?

I only use the fresh­est most health­ful in­gre­di­ents, which is the main rea­son I shop so much. The meat is Cer­ti­fied An­gus and is hard to beat for fla­vor and qual­ity. The buns and pizza dough are sour­dough but the rest is a closely guarded se­cret.

Where did you learn your craft?

I’ve had a few food re­lated jobs dur­ing high school and col­lege, BBQ and fast food, also run­ning a grill at the din­ing hall in col­lege, but I’m mostly self/TV taught. I started watch­ing Great Chefs of the West when I was lit­tle be­fore there was a Food Net­work.

What drives Chef Char­lie Wil­liams?

What a great job I have mak­ing peo­ple happy. I al­ways want to work to the best of my abil­ity like I was cook­ing for the Lord. I want to bring glory to God by the way I run my busi­ness, how I treat my em­ploy­ees and how that trans­lates into food. This is the best I can do.

Tell me about your staff. You have some culi­nary school stu­dents work­ing with you; what do they bring to the team?

We have three ba­si­cally full time kitchen staff. Elisa Go­d­ina de Chavez has com­pleted the first half of her culi­nary de­gree and Natasha Jiminez has grad­u­ated, both from LeNôtre here in Hous­ton. My Sous Chef Jared Hob­son has grown up in kitchens with nearly 10 years in the busi­ness. When you have a small res­tau­rant, its in­valu­able to have a group who con­sider this a ca­reer rather

than a job. They all bring pas­sion, ded­i­ca­tion and a range of culi­nary back­grounds which inspires and frees me to cre­ate more!

I over­heard that what you wanted to ac­com­plish in three to five years you did just in one. What do you con­trib­ute your growth and suc­cess to?

I ob­vi­ously be­lieve we’re here for a rea­son and I’m grate­ful for the gym’s suc­cess as well since it brings in so many un­sus­pect­ing climbers! So­cial media has played a huge role in bring­ing Food­ies from Spring and the Woodlands to a place many never thought they’d go.

What is the fu­ture of 5.ATE Café? Do you see your­self ex­pand­ing or mov­ing to a larger space?

We hope to some­day open a sec­ond lo­ca­tion with a few more ta­bles.

What are your hours?

We are open Mon­day thru Satur­day 11am – 9pm

You have spe­cialty cof­fees and smooth­ies too. What makes your cof­fee and smooth­ies dif­fer­ent from the na­tional chains?

Our Cof­fee is from Se­gafredo, an Ital­ian im­porter very pop­u­lar in Europe and grow­ing in the U.S. You get hand­crafted at­ten­tion from us that you might not get from a big chain. Our smooth­ies are Is­land Oa­sis and although they aren’t fresh fruit they are high qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and con­sis­tently de­li­cious.

I heard that you have done some cater­ing and spe­cial events. Do you plan to do more of those in the fu­ture?

We catered a wed­ding last fall for 200 and had a great time! This sum­mer we have another for 200 as well. Cater­ing is fun be­cause we get to think out­side the Café box and cre­ate what­ever the cus­tomer wants, so I hope there are many more to come!

5 words to de­scribe 5.ATE Café?

Al­ways bet­ter than you re­mem­bered!

5.Ate Cafe is lo­cated in­side the In­spire Rock Climb­ing Gym lo­cated at 403 E Lou­etta Rd in Spring, TX 77373. Their tele­phone num­ber is 832-980-5283 and you can check them out on the web at www.5ate­ They are open six days a week Mon­day through Fri­day from 11am to 9pm and closed on Sun­days.

Nick Rama

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