The general consensus from Tiny Boxwood's fans on the prospect of a West University outpost was to change as little as possible.
The new Tiny's No. 5 has quietly opened in the former JMH in the heart of "downtown" West University. On the surface, the space seems to be as close to the original as possible. A spacious patio with shaded tables beckons, a pristinely manicured lawn provides a relaxing focal point, and an airy, white-walled space feels elegant and classy.
And yet there are differences. At No. 5, a larger and more segmented space gives diners a little more breathing room, with roomy wicker armchairs instead of straight-back seats. Would the original Tiny Boxwood's label the bathrooms with cutesy monikers "William" and "Kate"? (More likely they'd use "Oscar" and "Lynn.") Surely River Oaks would never cordon off a section of the parking lot to hold retro-styled bicycles to lend to residents who don't want to drive even a few blocks after a couple bottles of wine.
And maybe it was the holiday weekend, but you'd surely never see anyone at the original Tiny's in a Tommy Bahama shirt. In that respect there's something about Tiny's No. 5 that feels like a really nice restaurant in Hawaii, chic but unfailingly casual. So in case you're wondering about the difference between River Oaks and West University, that's it, for better or worse.
For dinner we settled in with an order of fried green tomatoes and a sparkling rosé. The tomatoes, which were served with a side of creme fraiche, were excellent, but being cut into small wedges rather than sliced meant that there was a greater fried coating to tomato ratio, making them slightly heavier and less flavorful.
My strawberry and prosciutto pizza was served with plentiful walnuts, tart crumbled goat cheese, a messy whirl of balsamic vinaigrette and a generous topping of arugula. While tasty, the pizza caused an existential crisis: If the food does not contain tomato in any form nor any kind of spreadable base, at one point do you have to stop calling it pizza? At what point is it just a warm salad on flatbread? Regardless, while I'm ambivalent about the decision to cook the strawberries rather than place them post-oven like most fresh pizza greens, but with the prosciutto as a salty counterpoint the strong flavors all worked, albeit in a slightly messy way.
Surely River Oaks would never cordon off a section of the parking lot to hold retro-styled bicycles to lend to residents who don't want to drive even a few blocks after a couple bottles of wine.
The braised short ribs over goat cheese grits weren't much to look at, but the taste was wonderful. I love when short ribs are slow cooked and tender, but not so soft that the meat falls apart, and that's exactly how Tiny's No. 5 cooked them. The glaze gave just enough sweetness while letting the meat take the attention. The goat cheese grits were soft and unassuming, with a slight sharpness that made a nice foil.
Ordering the seafood du jour, we got four choices — shrimp, snapper, salmon, etc. Does that mean all of the four would be cooked and served the same way? Maybe. The shrimp came out nice and plump, but the butter sauteé left them overwhelmingly bland. The bed of risotto was palatable but did nothing to up the game.
Tiny's No. 5, like Tiny Boxwood's before it, knows that people come for the atmosphere and the crowd. The food only has to be familiar enough to satisfy the unadventurous, light enough to seem fresh and somewhat diet-friendly and tasty enough to justify the price tag. It succeeds on every front.