Outside of the Heights, no part of greater Houston has seen more high-profile restaurant openings in 2015 than The Woodlands.
Driven by the continued growth of the energy industry, the northern suburb has been booming with arrivals that include inner Loop favorites like Local Pour and Del Frisco's Grille at the newly constructed Hughes Landing and a dedicated tasting menu concept in Cureight at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro. Add to that an upscale steakhouse in Robard's and more Houston transplants like Crave and CRISP, and it's clear that The Woodlands is well on its way to ending the dominance of national chains in the area.
"I think The Woodlands is an underserved market. I think somebody has to be a pioneer."
While all of those restaurants have something to offer area diners, one new concept stands out.
Fielding's Local Kitchen, the latest concept from restaurateur Cary Attar and chef Edel Goncalves, builds upon the scratch based cooking of upscale burger joint Fielding's Wood Grill in important ways. Whereas Wood Grill is dominated by its various burger offerings and familiar fare like roast chicken, Local Kitchen offers a more diverse range of dishes that include pizza, pasta and seafood.
"The concept is exciting, new, mostly chef-driven without trying to scare people away," Goncalves tells CultureMap. "It’s a little bit more adventurous (than Wood Grill), but I think The Woodlands is an underserved market. I think somebody has to be a pioneer."
From Attar's perspective, the Creekside neighborhood where Local Kitchen resides offers an intriguing mix of potential customers.
"You have foodies, you have international influence. You also have a lot of families back here," Attar says. "When we looked at the population here, we noticed a lot of international influence driven by the energy community. A lot of people migrating from down south up here. Hence, the Mediterranean, which is very popular, and the spice profile, which is never-ending."
But will potentially conservative diners take to dishes like Spanish octopus with house made chorizo? "I’m not the first one to put octopus on the menu," Goncalves says. "I think it’s one of those ingredients that’s become more approachable . . . That’s something I enjoy, and I love to cook."
Of course, the new restaurant aims to please more traditional tastes, too, with a burger, roast chicken and steaks that are dry-aged in house. Instead of offering an expensive option like a strip or ribeye, Goncalves serves a French-style bavette cut from the bottom sirloin. Sourced from 44 Farms, it offers a reasonable eight-ounce portion of high quality beef for under $30. "It's really exciting to me," Goncalves says.
"The one thing I can tell you for sure, Eric, is we’ll embrace change," Attar says. "If something doesn’t work, we’ll try something else."
Craft beer and cocktail options
In addition to its diverse menu, Local Kitchen expands on Wood Grill's craft beer and cocktail options with 26 taps, over 150 spirits and an extensive wine list that features most bottles priced under $100. "We have some unbelievably values that you and I have talked about before," Attar says. "If a guest looks, they can cherry pick some amazing things: just some off-the-hook values."
The cocktail menu incorporate a full ice program that features different sizes and flavors, as well as a selection of housemade shurbs. Two examples include the bourbon-based Dragon's Breath, which benefits from a cloud of smoke in the glass, and the Strawberry Misdemeanor, which combines Hendrick's Gin, strawberry liqueur and absinthe.
Even as Goncalves and Attar are in the flurry of opening the new restaurant, they're already looking to the future, including the possibility of bringing Wood Grill to both the Heights and the Galleria area. Unfortunately, neither location is a done deal.
"It’s a tedious process. I don’t know what to tell you. The devil is in the details," Attar says. "Then we have a high end concept called Fielding’s Standard. That’s part of our core business plan. We hope to bring that to life here in The Woodlands next year."
For Woodlands residents, the new restaurant represents an exciting new option that brings some serious culinary chops and bold flavors. One warning for inner Loopers who are considering making the drive to visit the concept before a concert at the Pavilion — the Creekside location will take 15 to 20 minutes to reach from the freeway. Maybe just wait until Attar finalizes one of those deals for something closer to home.
Fielding's Local Kitchen + Bar is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to 11 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 9 pm.