Houston Restaurant Dilemma
Is the Houston restaurant scene too successful for its own good? Squeezed out little guys raise concern
The July trip to Highland Village is turning into an expensive annual ritual. But a tasty one.
Last July, in the midst of Houston heat, a move to a new condo and a major freelance project, my computer died. After a frantic phone call to my IT guy, I rushed the sad Mac to the Apple Store in Highland Village.
I love that place. All the light, the cool gadgets and friendly staff. I wish everywhere I shop had more staff than customers, all asking to help you and whipping out their iPhones to get your products delivered right to your hand — and out the door you go. Only last year those friendly techies told me that my laptop was fried. Oh, they could fix it but it would take about three days.
Why do so many fancy chain steakhouses have two names anyway? Smith & Wollensky, Vic & Anthony’s, McCormick and Schmick's?
As the panic attack escalated (I didn’t have three days, I was on a huge deadline), I started to hyperventilate and wound up buying a new MacBook Air. At that point I needed to de-stress fast. I needed a glass of wine . . .
And there, right across the street from the Apple Store’s gleaming glass wall, was Smith & Wollensky.
I didn’t walk, I ran across the street, clutching my new computer, slid into a booth in the bar and ordered wine and a steak.
I hadn’t been there in years, and never for lunch wearing shorts and flip-flops, but it was all good. In fact, it was just what I needed.
This July, it was a much nicer trip to Highland Village. I had finally persuaded Dad to get an iPad. He had an old PC laptop that was acting up and neither I nor my IT guy could do anything. We Mac people are clueless when it comes to the other side.
So, he tries out the iPad, loves it, buys it, asks where I want to eat lunch. Duh.
Issues In Paradise
So, another July trip to Apple paradise and a wonderful steak lunch. A bottle of Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio, those hot pull-apart rolls dusted with sea salt and smothered in butter and the beef tenderloin duo (which we split) two medallions of meat, one Cajun seasoned and one topped with gorgonzola. And fries. Good times.
Now let’s just say that a trip to Apple followed by lunch at a high-end steak joint is not for the faint of heart when it comes to the bottom line. July is turning out to be a very expensive month (and that’s not counting the utility bill).
But I don’t mind paying out the nose once in a while for a fine meal, which is what you get at Smith & Wollensky. Why do so many fancy chain steakhouses have two names anyway? Smith & Wollensky, Vic & Anthony’s, McCormick and Schmick's? But I digress.
I don’t really like chain restaurants (despite a guilty pleasure for Whataburger, but hey, that is Texas). And I can’t imagine why anyone would chose to eat at a chain when they could eat at a locally, chef-driven eatery where the produce is locally sourced and fresh.
I’ve heard a rumor that the old Ninfa’s locale at Kirby Drive and Richmond Avenue is leasing for $60,000 a month. A. Month.
Those are the restaurants that have made Houston a hot culinary destination the likes of which national magazines are raving about.
But steakhouses seem to be the exception to this rule. (And the exception to that rule would be Pearland’s Killen’s Steakhouse.)
But it is interesting to see more and more national chains, some with mediocre fare, moving inside the Loop, where Houston’s local chefs have put our culinary scene on the national map.
The only problem with this is that the chains are driving up the rents. In a recent CultureMap article about the closing of Taco Milagro, one of the owners put it succinctly.
“A lot has happened to Kirby in the past decade,” Candice Schiller said. “It has become a street of upscale restaurants; most of them well financed multi-unit groups. Our little counter service taco shop can't pay those kinds of rents.”
It wasn’t so much the food I liked at Taco Milagro, but the patio. But I do miss the other two Schiller Del Grande restaurants that also departed that corner area, Ava and Alto.
I’ve heard a rumor that the old Ninfa’s locale at Kirby Drive and Richmond Avenue is leasing for $60,000 a month. A. Month. Although, hopefully, that space is going to a fabulous local restaurant.
But it does make you wonder if the city’s culinary scene might be so successful that it is taking a toll.