Never let it be said that Clark/Cooper Concepts doesn’t give its customers what they want. After a year of requests, the company has introduced lunch and brunch at its popular Upper Kirby seafood restaurant, SaltAir Seafood Kitchen.
“Part of our business is listening to see what people like. Over the first year of business, one of the main things that kept coming up is when we were going to be opening up for lunch,” co-owner Grant Cooper tells CultureMap. “We’ve had a lot of great success at lunch with our other restaurants. I think people enjoy going to lunch because of our value, first of all with our wine pricing, and the atmosphere we create.”
Lunch at SaltAir offers some overlap with the dinner menu, but the options have been designed to appeal to a wide arrange of diners. Sandwiches, including a lobster roll and a cheeseburger, join salads and starter plates like tuna poke, crab louie, and $1 Gulf Coast oysters. Brunch features egg dishes like a crab cake benedict, a lobster BLT, and a smoked salmon plate.
“It’s a more approachable dining experience,” Cooper says about the new lunch menu. “At lunch, I think you have to have more diversity. At lunch, you may not have a group of people who always dine together. You may have someone who wants a burger and doesn’t eat seafood.”
Since SaltAir opened last summer, a number of new restaurants have arrived that compete for its upscale, see-and-be-seen crowd, including State of Grace and River Oaks District hit spots like Steak 48 and Le Colonial. Still, the restaurant is riding high, securing the 16th spot on Chronicle critic Alison Cook’s list of Houston’s top 100 restaurants.
“There’s always competition. There always will be. I embrace it. I think it brings the best out of people,” Cooper says. “It gives you the creativity you need. The more the merrier. We enjoy that. There’s always going to be restaurants. Houston is growing in the restaurant scene. It brings more attention to the city, which I think is great.”
Even in the face of all those new options, the company has been busy. Over the last few years, it’s opened Coppa Osteria and Punk’s Simple Southern Food in Rice Village, brought SaltAir to Upper Kirby, and opened this year’s can’t-miss lunch and brunch destination at The Dunlavy on Buffalo Bayou. So what’s next? Cooper isn’t quite ready to say.
“We’re always working on concepts. I generally cultivate the concepts, what we like, what we feel like works in the city of Houston. A lot of the inspiration comes from what we enjoy, but we have to think about does it work in Houston? Does it work in a certain location? How does it work in our company,” Cooper says. “We’re about 75 percent ready on our other concepts. When do we feel ready to pull the trigger? When it feels like a sure thing, I’m happy to talk about it. To be talking about it now, would be throwing out ideas that may or may not happen.”
Some diners have expressed an interest in seeing what Clark/Cooper could bring to a steakhouse. After all, the genre remains popular — just look at the crowds flocking to Steak 48 — and a restaurant that blended chef Brandi Key’s deft touch with seafood and vegetables with the company’s signature, barely-over-retail wine pricing could be a real game changer. Cooper isn’t ready to make announcements, but he allows that’s something they’ve considered.
“We always talk about doing a steakhouse with a slightly different twist, more of a local angle,” Cooper acknowledges. “Maybe not as huge or as big as some others. It has to be the right location, and it has to be the right deal financially.”
Whatever Cooper, Key, and business partner-chef Charles Clark decide to do and wherever they decide to open it, expect a crowd — for both lunch and dinner.