HTX Good Eats 2013
Houston's Own Union Square

Houston's own Union Square Cafe? Carrabba's new restaurant goes beyond Italian, touts monster portions

Houston's own Union Square Cafe? Johnny Carrabba's new restaurant

Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Entry and hostess stand
Entry and hostess stand Photo by Marcy de Luna
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Bar or Library area
Bar or library area Photo by Marcy de Luna
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Main dining room, the living room
Main dining room, the living room Photo by Marcy de Luna
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Second dining area, the den
Second dining area, the den Photo by Marcy de Luna
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Enclosed back patio for regular or private dinig
Enclosed back patio for regular or private dinig Photo by Marcy de Luna
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Main kitchen
Main kitchen Photo by Marcy de Luna
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 logo
Logo courtesy of Grace's on Kirby
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 shrimp cocktail ceviche
Ceviche Photo courtesy of © Todd Parker Photography/STP Images
Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Chicken Tortilla Soup
Chicken tortilla soup Photo courtesy of © Todd Parker Photography/STP Images
Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Tiered Tuna Salad
Tiered tuna salad Photo courtesy of © Todd Parker Photography/STP Images
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 beet salad
Beet salad Photo courtesy of © Todd Parker Photography/STP Images
Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Braised Short Ribs
Braised short ribs Photo courtesy of © Todd Parker Photography/STP Images
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 Hawaiian Pork Chop with green beans
Hawaiian Pork Chop Photo courtesy of © Todd Parker Photography/STP Images
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 construction exterior
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Entry and hostess stand
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Bar or Library area
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Main dining room, the living room
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Second dining area, the den
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Enclosed back patio for regular or private dinig
Grace's on Kirby construction October 2013 Main kitchen
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 logo
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 shrimp cocktail ceviche
Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Chicken Tortilla Soup
Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Tiered Tuna Salad
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 beet salad
Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Braised Short Ribs
Grace's on Kirby restaurant with Johnny Carrabba October 2013 Hawaiian Pork Chop with green beans

To call Johnny Carrabba a successful restaurateur is like calling Case Keenum a hard-working underdog. It's technically true, but there's a lot more to it than that.

Carrabba's repertoire of popular eateries includes Carrabba’s (two locations on Kirby Drive and Voss Road) Mia’s and now his latest restaurant, Grace’s, which is set to open in December.

 "It's all things for all people, and all-day type food — come at any hour and we’ll have something for you.” 

The fare at Grace’s promises a range of crowd-pleasing eclectic dishes, American comfort food inspired by three of Carrabba’s favorite restaurants: Mustards Grill in Napa Valley, The Ivy in Beverly Hills and Union Square Cafe in New York City.

Carrabba elaborates, “At Mustards for example, you can get anything from lobster to fish and chips. There’s no rhyme or reason to the menu. It’s just good, fun food. Come to Grace’s and have a bowl of chili and a beer, or grilled lobster and wine.

"It's all things for all people, and all-day type food — come at any hour and we’ll have something for you.”

One thing you won’t find, however, is a single Italian dish. “We’ve done that already,” Carrabba says.

A sneak peek of the list of fare reveals the menu starts with a half dozen appetizer selections like the seafood cocktail, cheesy potato dip, and sticky ribs, boneless and in an orange ginger glaze. A trio of hot and hearty soup options includes chicken tortilla soup, chili with a side of cornbread, and the Louisiana-style Mia’s Gumbo with shrimp, crab and okra served with rice and saltines.

Salads range from classics house and Caesar to the more adventurous fried oyster salad with spinach, onion, pine nuts, bacon and Roquefort in vinaigrette dressing.

Grill and specialty highlights include a 16 ounce Wagyu strip steak with a green peppercorn cream sauce, American lamb chops with a balsamic-mint reduction and grilled lobster in a corn lobster sauce. Other items include Southern fried quail, a traditional chicken pot pie, braised short ribs and the Hawaiian pork chop with a pineapple port demi-glace.

A selection of sandwiches and burgers add a casual touch with choices like the shrimp burger, tuna melt, smoked ribeye sandwich and Merguez sandwich made with lamb sausage.

Large-sized portions will make any meal at Grace’s feel like a feast, Carrabba promises. Prices will range from $8 for a large bowl of soup to $40 for the most expensive entree.

Grace's is easy to spot. It stands in the old Carrabba's space at the corner of Kirby Drive and Branard Street. Just look for the 10,000 square foot bungalow with porte-cochere and gallery porch.

Named for Carrabba’s maternal grandmother, Grace Mandola, Grace's completes Carrabba’s restaurant triplex near Kirby, which is already home to Mia's and the newly expanded Carrabba's.

Carrabba crafted the concept for Grace's with his grandmother’s love of family, hospitality and cooking in mind. His vision is not only to serve great food, but also to make guests feel at home when they walk through the door, just as his grandmother used to do for her guests.

“Sure I feel a need to reinvent myself and grow, but my main reason for opening Grace’s is for my 300 employees," Carrabba says. "Seventy of them have been with me for 20 years or more. They’ve been good to me and I want this growth so they can have more, better opportunities.”

Carrabba worked with Ed Eubanks of Eubanks Architects on the design, asking Eubanks to visit the small brick bungalow where his grandmother once resided. The exterior of her house became an important part of the design — its brick exterior and distinct slate roofs with brick diamond details have been copied to Grace’s. And the garden areas are intended to be residential in character, just like the well-tended gardens at Grace Mandola’s former home.

The interior of the new restaurant features a large bar area with an extended front outdoor terrace, three dining rooms and no less than three kitchens to handle the diverse menu. With total seating for 233, the four rooms are each named for a different room of the house — the bar or "Library"; the main dining room or "Living Room"; a second, smaller and more formal dining area or "Den"; and an enclosed patio or "Porch" available for regular or private dining.

All are decorated with carefully composed collections of vintage paintings, tablecloths, tableware, china and silver, which are meant to typify what would be found in a 1930s, '40s and '50s bungalow.