Almost two months to the day after signing a lease to transform the former Kipper Club Test Kitchen into a brick-and-mortar home of the Luv Me Tenders food truck, chef Jason "Big Sexy" Hill (H-Town StrEATs, Hugs & Donuts) and business partner Cyrus Nasr (Sandtrap Grill) will open their doors to the public Thursday at 5 pm.
Although the space doesn't have a sign, the location next to a popular Shell station at the corner of Crosstimbers and Yale makes it easy to spot. Inside, a fresh coat of light blue paint (to match the truck) and a conversion for a quick service ordering give the space a welcoming atmosphere. The use of reclaimed metal fencing to separate the kitchen from the dining room adds a slightly rustic touch that matches next door neighbor Barbecue Inn.
At Tuesday's invite-only friends and family service, Hill featured the basic menu that had been featured on the truck since it launched last year: chicken tender baskets (five pieces with fries for $10), four tacos ($4 to $7), three sandwiches ($9), and chicken and waffles ($8). Off-the-menu specials included crab hush puppies, boudain egg rolls, chicken tender poutine, and the "Hot Mess" sandwich (tenders topped with nacho cheese, lettuce, jalapeno, guacamole, and pico de gallo). For dessert, the restaurant offers gelato pops made with locally raised goats' milk from All We Need Farm.
The menu will expand with additional items in a couple of weeks that build on the concept Hill describes as a cross between Raising Cane's and Torchy's Tacos. The brunch obsessed can look forward to a number of creative waffle ideas Hill is experimenting with, like a S'mores variation with toasted marshmallow and melted chocolate.
Despite the crowd, Hill and his crew turned out orders quickly, and the sympathetic diners appeared to enjoy the dishes. Even in his days as the co-owner of pioneering food truck H-Town StrEATs, Hill's dishes always get the details right, and Luv Me Tenders is no exception. The tenders themselves are well-spiced, and the companion sauces are carefully made. Luv Me Tenders's honey mustard balances sweet and sour, and the buffalo sauce is spicy, buttery, and thick enough to coat the tenders. Boudain egg rolls have a welcome livery funk. Even the roma tomatoes used in sandwiches were dark red and juicy.
The gas station location may be pretty modest, but Hill and Nasr have big plans. Ultimately, they'd like to open as many as half a dozen Luv Me Tenders across the Houston-area. The first night is too soon to form any definitive opinions about their prospects, but they seem to be poised for success.