Triniti chef Ryan Hildebrand revealed he'd be opening Brande in the former Ruggles Grill space on Westheimer back in April 2012. Ruggles was torn down in October and things seemed to be moving along, but the lot remained empty for almost a year.
When Brande's expected chef Dax McAnear left to run the kitchen at craft beer bar The Hay Merchant, the restaurant seemed to be in limbo, another one of Houston's proverbial "vaporware" restaurants that's announced but never comes to fruition. But after a year-long wait, Hildebrand now tells CultureMap the project is back on track.
Hildebrand says Brande "started to feel like a Frankenstein of other places. It didn't feel like it was clear or crystallized."
Now called FM 903, Hildebrand says the restaurant's "concept evolved to very rustic, American fare with Southern accents." Modeled after a "Texas dog run," the building will have "an old, rustic feel" and be divided into a restaurant on one side and a full-service bakery and greenhouse on the other. Brande says he never really wanted to use his name for the restaurant and likes that FM 903 pays tribute to Westheimer's history as a farm-to-market road.
Engineers are finalizing the design and preparing to submit the plans to the city for approval. Hopefully, construction will begin by Jan. 1, and FM 903 will open in the late summer or early fall.
As for the delay, Hildebrand explains that Brande "started to feel like a Frankenstein of other places. It didn't feel like it was clear or crystallized." Therefore, the chef and his business partner put the project on hold. "We stopped trying to create something that was popular or trendy," he says.
In the new version, FM 903 will be built around a wood-burning oven that "strays from traditional Texas fare" with the addition of pizzas and pastas. Hildebrand adds that dishes will be "very minimal, very light-handed," with ingredients sourced as much as possible from the greenhouse. "I love it," Hildebrand says of FM 903's menu.
Although he says that McAnear was a "great fit" for Brande/FM 903, the chef's departure "won't slow us down." He wonders whether McAnear "lost faith" in the project but says they've never discussed it. As of now, "I'm going to open it . . . Hopefully, my Greg (Lowry, Triniti chef de cuisine) for 903 will present himself or herself."
One chef who's definitely committed to FM903 is Triniti's 24-year old pastry chef Samantha Mendoza. "She's a total rock star. I want to see her get the recognition she deserves," Hildebrand says.
Beginning Saturday Nov. 2 at 10 a.m., Triniti will host a weekly bakery pop-up featuring items that Mendoza will prepare at FM 903. Although Hildebrand says the project is a "massive undertaking for a 24 year old kid," he wants to "start working on products for Sam's bakery and get the word out." Patrons will be able to buy breads, macarons, cookies and other items.
Maybe it all makes for a new Saturday ritual: Start at the Eastside Farmers Market then go to Trinti for coffee and pastries.