Paleo and keto diners across the Inner Loop are rejoicing. Houston’s bigger, better Ruggles Black has opened its doors.
Originally opened in 2014 by chef Bruce Molzan and his partner Neera Patidar, the restaurant relocated last week to 2245 West Alabama St., the one-time Mission Burrito space that has been empty since craft beer Hops Meets Barley closed in 2018. The move keeps the restaurant in the Upper Kirby area that has always been fruitful for Molzan and the Ruggles brand.
For those unfamiliar, Ruggles Black represents an evolution of the eclectic, globally inspired comfort food Molzan has been serving Houstonians since the original Ruggles Grill ranked among Houston’s best restaurants in the ’80s and ’90s. Its menu offers a wide range of dishes designed to meet the requirements for those following either the keto or paleo diet, kicked up with Indian flavors that honor Patidar’s heritage.
“We have kind of a niche: good, healthy, high quality, gluten-free,” Molzan says. “I don’t think there’s anybody in town who does this kind of stuff.”
Molzan has a controversial history with a well-documented past of lawsuits and an allegation by Texas Parks & Wildlife that he bought illegally caught fish (a representative tells CultureMap he paid a fine). In 2018, he was charged with indecency with a child — allegations his attorney vigorously denied to ABC13 and which Molzan declined to comment on. The case has been listed for disposition in February, but it has been reset for various reasons multiple times since January 2019, according to online records.
Since the allegations, he’s stayed out of the spotlight and focused on serving Ruggles Black’s customers. His partnership with Patidar has been a fruitful one, achieving enough success that the restaurant has relocated to a significantly larger space with an expansive patio.
“We’re different. Opposites attract, I guess,” Molzan says about Patidar. “We have our differences. Everybody does. But she’s loyal to me. I’m loyal to her. It’s been a good relationship.”
“One of the things I respect about Bruce is he’s always evolving, he always wants to learn,” Patidar adds. “One thing that works so well is he’s very French-American, and I’m very Indian-Asian. When we get in the kitchen together, as much as I’m nervous to cook in front of him, he’s so humble. [He’ll say], ‘how did you do that? Teach me.’”
Those collaborations have produced some of the menu’s most popular dishes, including a lamb pizza and the Angry Shrimp appetizer that uses a yellow curry sauce. Patidar adds that she’s working with Molzan on vegetarian items and egg-based dishes for a brunch menu that will roll out in the spring.
As for the space, it’s not only larger but also more attractive. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling; Patidar jokes that they’re inspired by the oversized earrings she frequently wears. Other elements include a glassed-in kitchen that gives diners a view of Molzan and his team at work and paintings by a Mexican artist on the walls.
The new location also puts Ruggles Black next door to Bellagreen, a restaurant Molzan helped found in its original iteration as Ruggles Green. He sold his interest in 2016, and the restaurant rebranded in 2017.
“We’re totally different,” Molzan says about his neighbor. “That’s more like a Cafe Express. We might have some similarities. I did kiss the menu over there. We don’t really think about it.”