Dining in Sugar Land Town Square can be a hit-or-miss experience, but one restaurant group seems to have a knack for knowing what works in the bustling suburb. Robert White and Victor Litwinenko own three popular concepts that feature unlikely mashups: Japaneiro's Sushi Bistro & Latin Grill, Guru Burgers & Crepes and Jupiter Pizza & Waffle Company.
Located in the former Capriotti's space next to Blu, The Ginger Mule is a cocktail bar and restaurant all rolled into one. As White explains, "It started out wanting to be a bar (with a) brown spirits focus. (Then) food started taking over. Now, I don’t know what it’s going to be, because I’m really liking the food. Now it’s a full restaurant with a pretty complete brown spirit bar and pretty solid classic cocktail menu. I guess we want people to come for both."
Before diving into the details, let's consider The Ginger Mule's unusual name. The cocktail connection of a "mule" as a drink made with ginger beer is obvious, but naming a restaurant after a pack animal seems like an odd choice. Of course, White doesn't see it that way.
"We basically asked ourselves, is there anything the neighborhood needs? We thought this is what it needed and would make sense for this tiny space."
"Before technology and machines and stuff at the turn of the century, the mule built everything," he says. "If you think about it, you couldn’t have built this country without mules. The mule has all of the qualities: hard work, loyalty, perseverance and just chugging along, carrying the load. I thought it was cool, because of what it represents."
As for how he decided to launch his fourth business, White says the center's landlord approached him about the 1,400 square foot space and asked if he and Litwienko had a concept for it. "We basically asked ourselves, is there anything the neighborhood needs? We thought this is what it needed and would make sense for this tiny space."
Just as he did with Guru and Jupiter, White used his training as an architect to design and fabricate all of the wood and metal elements for The Ginger Mule's interior. The result is a retro-styled interior with a comfortable, familiar atmosphere. "When it’s dark out and we dim the lights, it just feels so cozy," White says. "We’re pretty happy with how it takes people."
On the culinary side, The Ginger Mule's menu features different sections of dishes that are all the same price: Bar Bites and Bar Snacks like drop biscuits, potato sticks (yes, like the ones people used to buy in a can) and garlic mushrooms for $4 or $5, "Morsels" like bacon clams Rockefeller or barbecue pork shanks for $7, "Bowls" like clam chowder and Waldorf salad for $9 and, finally, "Meals" like two different hashes, chicken fried steak and beef stew for $12.
Portions are sized in such a way that two people could split a snack or two or delve into something more substantial like a morsel or meal without breaking the bank.
"There are two words for the food and drinks: nourishing and comfort," White says. "That’s what the menu is based on. Slow-cooked stuff. Nourishing stuff."
White suggested a couple of dishes to try, and, sure enough, they're consistent with both Guru and Jupiter's reputations for well-executed food. In particular, the barbecue pork shanks have the right balance of sweet and smoky, and both hashes have a hearty, breakfast-for-dinner quality that should make them real crowd pleasers.
If the food menu delivers familiar flavors, the cocktails may be new for Sugar Land. Co-general managers Joe Biro and Dave Parsons have developed a menu that brings the craft cocktail ethos of seasonal ingredients and fresh-squeezed juices but can also be executed quickly. Furthermore, all of the cocktails on the opening menu cost between $8 and $10, which is a value when new places inside the Loop are in the $12 to $15 range.
One aspect that may surprise people who are familiar with Guru and Jupiter is that craft beer is only a small part of the program. The Ginger Mule only has two taps, which it will supplement with a few bottles and cans. Of course, an outpost of The Flying Saucer is only steps away for beer enthusiasts who aren't in the mood for cocktails.
Between the intimate space and well-executed food and cocktails, The Ginger Mule looks poised to be another successful venture from two operators who've figured out what Sugar Land wants. It's also a worthy choice for inner-Loopers who find themselves in unfamiliar territory and need sustenance before facing the drive back into the city.