Major Restaurant Changes
Shuttered landmark grocery store's thriving restaurant makes bold changes, challenges suburban diners
The process that began when Hubbell & Hudson unexpectedly closed its market in The Woodlands Waterway will reach its next phase on Dec. 1 when the remodeled Hubbell & Hudson Bistro opens to the public.
By taking some of the space that previously housed the market to expand both seating areas and the kitchen, the restaurant has greatly expanded its restaurant capacity from 60 seats to almost 300. Both the dining room and bar will be able to accommodate more people, and it's sporting an updated look.
"The space is more modernized. I think it fits the food better than the old space. I think it’s a little bit more comfortable," Hubbell & Hudson executive chef Austin Simmons tells CultureMap.
In addition to all the new seating, the Bistro's menu has been redesigned, too, with a focus on shareable starters and sides. "I wanted to make the Bistro experience more social and interactive," Simmons says. "I wanted it to be a very hot place to be. Not too pretentious but still really good food in a very interactive setting."
Similar to The Pass component of The Pass & Provisions, Curate will have its own reservations, its own Yelp page and a more intimate atmosphere than its companion restaurant.
During Simmons's tenure, H&H Bistro had evolved into a semi-casual steakhouse at night. While that aspect remains with akaushi steaks sourced from Texas rancher HeartBrand Beef, the new menu also features more vegetable dishes, more seafood and allows diners to save room for desserts from talented pastry chef Nguyet Nguyen.
"I tried to design the menu around more shareable plates that keeps the price point lower. You can get more food on the table and interact, talking about the dishes," Simmons says. "The menu is done in sections. You have the appetizer sections which is a raw section (beef tartare, hamachi crudo) . . . .
"Then you have a vegetable section, which is very playful five bite, cool renditions on vegetable plates you’d see."
At a tasting last week, Simmons showed examples of the vegetables like his reloaded baked potato: Five roasted and fried fingerling potatoes topped with pork belly and house-made creme fraiche. Instead of a relatively anonymous bowl of button mushrooms, Simmons serves five larger trumpet mushrooms that are roasted and served with a fermented black garlic vinaigrette.
Changes to the bar menu include the addition of two burgers: a "backyard burger" that's topped with American cheese and seared onions and a beef tongue burger that's served between two bao-style steamed buns and topped with a kimchi-style Korean BBQ sauce. All of the burgers are now seared on cast iron for the essential char that provides great burgers with a little textural contrast between a crunchy exterior and a soft interior.
A Whole New Restaurant
Servers in The Bistro have used the restaurant's down time for additional training about the new producers, breweries, wineries and distilleries that Hubbell & Hudson is incorporating into the menu. They've taken trips to places like Wood Duck Farms to see where the ingredients come from, and Simmons trusts them to provide diners with tastings through the menu.
While those changes to the Bistro will likely ensure the restaurant's continued success, the biggest innovation is the creation of Curate, a restaurant within a restaurant that will feature tasting menus created by Simmons. Similar to The Pass component of The Pass & Provisions, Curate will have its own reservations, its own Yelp page and a more intimate atmosphere than its companion restaurant. Diners will be able to choose a vegetarian or chef's tasting menu (priced from $95 to $125, depending on ingredients) or sit at a chef's table that looks into the kitchen for a fully custom experience.
"I think if I can bring some of Houston to The Woodlands, I’ve accomplished something."
"What’s so exciting for me with Curate is I finally have the line and the space to express myself the way I never could before," Simmons tells CultureMap. "That’s what the chef’s table is and kind of where the name came from. I was talking to Haydar (Kustu, H&H director of marketing) about how if you book the chef’s table with us it's a curated experience based off of your wants.
"If you tell me you want a predominantly meat tasting, that’s what we’re going to do. If you tell me you want a predominantly seafood tasting, that’s what we’re going to do."
Curate will feature an interactive element as well. "If you book the chef’s table or if you’re in the other part, you can get out of your chair, walk around — there’s a sneeze guard on all the cookware so you can stand behind it. Watch my chefs cook the food. Watch me plate the food and talk to me about what you’re interested in," Simmons says.
Simmons thinks diners in The Woodlands are ready for a more adventurous dining experience. "We kept it small, and we plan on starting out small with one seating a night," Simmons notes. "I think there’s a big portion of people in The Woodlands who are driving to Houston for tasting menus."
Of course, that isn't his only goal for Curate.
"I’m also trying to bring Houston to The Woodlands. A few restaurant down there do it. I think if I can bring some of Houston to The Woodlands, I’ve accomplished something, too," he adds.