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Grace's, Which Serves Everything, Is Johnny Carrabba's Last Hurrah

A confusing menu and sky-high prices make Johnny Carrabba’s tribute to his grandmother good, not great.

Slightly more expensive but also worth it is the lobster tagliatelle, the only pasta dish available from the man who created an Italian-food empire. Rather than tasting like classic Italian food, though, it has a Southwestern sensibility thanks to the poblano and corn cream sauce coating every noodle and sweet hunk of lobster tail meat. The dish is served with the pasta stuffed into and overflowing out of the emptied lobster shell for dramatic effect.

Grace's also does salads well, something I'm always pleased to find at restaurants that seem to specialize in heavier fare. The roasted baby beet salad with micro-arugula, pumpkin seeds and crumbled goat cheese tossed in a pancetta vinaigrette is served with jewel-colored slices of beets dotting the plate. It's not a big or fancy salad for the price, but it is fresh and well-balanced. Even better is the Gulf fried oyster salad, which features nearly a dozen large oysters fried until crisp on the outside and still soft and briny on the inside.

For every tasty salad, though, there's a mediocre plate of meat. The short ribs are good enough, but they lacked any pizzazz to make them stand out in my mind. Same for the smoked rib eye sandwich — not bad at all, but nothing particularly special, either. Even the burger made with house-ground wagyu beef was somewhat ho-hum, and I was momentarily shocked to find that it costs $2 extra to add sharp cheddar to an already $15 burger.

Grace's is decorated to resemble Carrabba's grandmother's bungalow, only on a much larger scale.
Yuri Peña
Grace's is decorated to resemble Carrabba's grandmother's bungalow, only on a much larger scale.
The gumbo starts with a good, dark roux, and it's just spicy enough to necessitate a glass of sweet tea.
Yuri Peña
The gumbo starts with a good, dark roux, and it's just spicy enough to necessitate a glass of sweet tea.

Location Info

Map

Grace's

3111 Kirby Dr.
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Details

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 12 to 11 p.m.; Sunday 12 to 10 p.m.

Seafood cocktail: $19
Mia gumbo: $11
Gulf fried oyster salad: $18
Smoked rib eye sandwich: $16
Grace's burger: $15
Braised short ribs: $28
Lobster tagliatelle: $35
American lamb chops: $45
Roasted baby beet salad: $16



Want to see more of Grace's? Check out our slideshow, "Grace's: A Closer Look."


The clientele don't seem to bat an eyelash at the high prices, though, nor do they seem concerned with the occasional uninspired dish and questionable presentation. After all, when you're eating at Grandma's house, she doesn't artfully arrange your food and top it off with microgreens. She just plops it on your plate and tells you to eat up.
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In the nearly 30 years that Carrabba's has been in business, it's developed quite a following. I have no doubt that even without the massive chain of restaurants to carry on the name, Grace's will achieve the same success. It's pricey, yes, and it's not gourmet, but there's clearly a market for that sort of food in Houston. Johnny Carrabba, keen businessman that he is, has opened the right kind of restaurant in the right location for the crowd he hopes to attract.

Even though he's been hugely successful with past endeavors, Carrabba was still nervous about opening Grace's. It meant a lot to him that the restaurant succeed.

"This business is tough," Carrabba said. "It's kind of like an entertainer coming out with a new album. You like it, but you don't know how the public is going to accept it. You're kind of putting yourself on the line, and you feel very vulnerable. There's a lot of anxiety, but that's kind of why we do this."

And now that Grace's is successful? Carrabba said he's done. No more new restaurants. This is it.

"I think this is going to be my last hurrah," Carrabba said. "When I started off at the original Carrabba's, we had to go to 11 banks to get the money because ten banks turned us down. If I look at that and where we are today, it's been a very interesting run. But again, I'm not the kind of person who wants to sit back and celebrate."

In that sense, Carrabba differs from his grandmother, famous for her three-hour lunches and festive family gatherings. Though Grace passed away several years ago, Carrabba is intent on keeping that part of her legacy alive through the restaurant. He imagines she'd "get a kick out of the food," the odd fusion of Cajun with Italian and Mexican and Asian cuisines. An assemblage of different cultures, just like Houston, just like Grace.

Want to see more of Grace's? Check out our slideshow, "Grace's: A Closer Look."

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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14 comments
carriebwc
carriebwc

I thought it was just meh.  After eating there , I can't imagine ever bothering to go back.  Maybe if I lived closer?  I don't know.  Really, just meh.

Dabrams
Dabrams

You're right, dang good gumbo, up there with Danton's to be sure. Good bar too, separated as it is from the restaurant. But I found the Chinese fonts on the menu to be symbolic of the pervasive racism that informs the entire Carrabba clan.

Just kidding. Really.

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

I suppose the more unusual dishes help to distinguish Grace's from Ouisie's and Backstreet, maybe Frank's, restaurants that have perfected the art of serving this demographic. I'll keep an open mind and try Grace's soon.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

So its an overpriced Luby's ......

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Must resist urge to point fellow readers to the far funnier review over at the Houstonian; this review captures the middle of the road mediocrity that is Grace's perfectly though just without the humor.

densmore
densmore

@Dabrams  lol, the ordinarily empty comment section erupted with anger over that review and Houstonia had to block a bunch of folks from giving her a piece of their mind

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@texmex01  I'd equate it more to Chili's but with an older clientele. 

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@gossamersixteen  You're welcome to point people over there. I thought it was a fine write-up. 

Verghese
Verghese

@densmore  That would be the same Houstonia that regularly lectures CM about journalistic integrity, suddenly blacklisting commenters during a controversial piece of restaurant writing. Oh the irony.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@frustratedreader I think the price point of Grace's was made abundantly clear. Not sure what you ordered, but if you stick with gumbo and salad and maybe pasta, you should be good. Poor, but well-fed.

frustratedreader
frustratedreader

@KaitlinS @gossamersixteen I wish you hadn't been so tactful and kindhearted.  My wife and I tried Grace's for lunch yesterday.  $100 and several food/service faux pas later, we cannot for the life of us understand why we did it.

 
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