Eats & Greets: Viking Restaurant In Montrose Features Big Mead Selection And Hearty Fare
A unique Viking-themed restaurant, Ship & Shield, is now open in the former Byzantio spot at 403 West Gray. It’s a new project by Hans Gerner, who’s known for Hans Bier Haus (now closed) and Scottish pub The Kelvin Arms. While some might be inclined to assume the idea is about goofy fun, rest assured the intent to serve quality cuisine is very serious. In addition, Ship & Shield features what is probably the most extensive selection of mead in Houston, including one on tap.
Why Viking-themed? Gerner—who says he is half Norwegian—explained, “I wanted to open something new and different in Houston. I was looking for something from my heritage and became a fan of the TV show Vikings on the History channel. One day, I was laying on the couch thinking, ‘What am I going to open?’ and it just clicked!”
He says there are no other Viking-themed restaurants in the country (although there are some Norwegian ones), so Houston has the first. Also, Gerner says his research only turned up one other—in Denmark—that serves this kind of cuisine.
Ship & Shield’s chef is Daniel Pecoraro, formerly of Morton’s The Steakhouse. He invited us to check out the place and try a few dishes as guests. Gerner provided insights into the cuisine, saying, “Norwegians are big fans of open-faced sandwiches, a lot of seafood and root vegetables. That’s why a lot of our sides are parsnips, turnips and things among those lines. You’re not going to find those at a lot of restaurants as side dishes. The Vikings of the eighth century would forage in the springtime to find good root vegetables, berries and things of this nature. So, you’ll find berries in our cuisine as well. There are game meats—things that they would hunt. They were farmers as well, so we have pork, boar and reindeer.”
Not everything is as exotic as it sounds. The New World Strip is a 14-ounce prime steak from 44 Farms all dressed up in an excellent triple peppercorn sauce. At $33, it is reasonably priced, too. (By comparison, a 14-ounce strip at nearby Vic & Anthony’s is $49 and Pecoraro’s former employer doesn’t even list the price online.)
With the hand-varnished wooden walls, fur-covered pillows, antler chandeliers and a crackling, wood-burning fireplace, the restaurant has a hunting lodge feel about it It seems like an ideal place for groups to have a glass of mead and hearty food while playing card or board games.
The long bar constructed to look like a ship with an ornately carved dragon’s head at the bow. Gerner said he had a man in Canada known as “the Viking carver” make it of spruce, then Gerner stained it to make it look antique. The doorway is adorned with carvings of the Viking gods: Thor, Odin, Freya and the like.
As far as Loki the trickster god goes—he may not be carved on the doorway, but he shows up on the menu in the form of Loki’s Sauce, a raspberry chipotle concoction. It’s used on the bison burger as well as “Loki’s Ankle,” a slow-cooked pork shank. It’s also on the dish with perhaps the strongest nods to Gerner’s list of the elements of Norweigan and Viking-era fare—a Wild Boar Tenderloin sandwich with sautéed cabbage, lamb bacon and cranberries.
Of all the dishes, though, the Viking Stew is one with the strongest tug on our memory and it might send us sailing back through that carved doorway soon. Pecoraro says it incorporates sausage, venison, duck, elk, rabbit and pheasant. It’s meant to evoke an impromptu stew made when hunters are able to procure a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It’s thick, warming and, as if to dare the culinary gods, topped with green onions and whipped cream cheese—not that it needs extra richness.
To close out the meal, the signature parsnip cake (which includes carrots and is, by extension, very similar to a carrot cake) was so thoroughly studded through with toasted walnuts that it made us lament that these don’t get more love in Houston. The cake is also accented with tartly sweet dried cranberries and the icing earns interest with an infusion of blood orange mead.
Also of note is what is probably the most extensive mead selection of any bar in Houston. Gerner specifically sourced Texas meads to include on the list, such as Thorin’s Viking Mead and those of Griffin Meadery in Willis. On tap is sparking mead from Redstone Meadery in Boulder, Colorado.
Ready to gather a bunch of friends and visit? Call ahead to (346) 701-0555 ask for the feast table. It seats up to a dozen people and can be reserved in advance. Or, visit at will and take your place at one of the many round tables—painted like Viking shields, of course.