Chicken and Children at Ruggles Green

Chicken and Children at Ruggles Green

The newest Ruggles outpost -- Ruggles Green -- is now open at CityCentre, which is quickly becoming saturated with excellent restaurants, much to the pleasure of culinarily starved west Houston residents.

Ruggles Green (800 W. Sam Houston Parkway) is situated on prime real estate: the grassy main "square" at CityCentre, with plenty of outdoor seating (although no one was braving the heat this past weekend when I was there) and high, airy ceilings inside that trick the eye into thinking you're dining inside the Loop. The original Ruggles Green on West Alabama became Houston's first "green" certified restaurant when it was built in 2008.

Following suit, the lovely new Ruggles Green at CityCenter is also green-certified, meaning that it recycles nearly everything and emphasizes using organic, hormone-free, all-natural ingredients whenever possible. Along with the "Eco-Farmers Market" that's held in CityCenter's main square every Thursday evening from 4 to 8 p.m., Ruggles Green is another attempt to encourage a little more health consciousness in the suburbs. (Although Georgia's Farm to Market just down the street on I-10 still has them both beat in this area.)

Chicken and Children at Ruggles Green

Beware, however: For as lovely as Ruggles Green is inside, this is still the suburbs. Which means that the square footage of any given restaurant is equally populated with children under the age of two as it is with functional adults. To further illustrate my point, the restaurant ran out of both booster seats and high chairs on a recent Saturday evening. Half the restaurant's patrons were squirming, writhing masses of snot, tears and screams. But that's not Ruggles Green's fault, nor is it the end of the world; it's just a warning for those sensitive to high-pitched shrieks.

The menu at Ruggles Green is a bit sprawling. I wish, for their sake as well as for the diners', that they'd edit it down to something a bit more focused. When your line is turning out this many different dishes, the overall quality diminishes significantly. Pick fewer dishes and emphasize making those dishes amazing; it's not a difficult formula.

After taking far too long to decide what I wanted off the immense menu, I stepped up to the counter and immersed myself in the melee that is the ordering line. All the cashiers seemed frazzled, but a look around the extremely busy restaurant excused them for being harried and rushed. Although a Hatterman's yard egg sandwich called out to me, I opted for the chicken curry salad, an iced tea and a Millionaire Pie just for good measure, grabbed my number and took a seat in a comfy, sunlit booth.

When I was in college, I was lucky enough to get housing in a dorm with a full kitchen. I'd just recently gotten into Indian food before leaving for Waco, but was chagrined to find that there were no Indian restaurants in the dusty little town. Nonplussed, I bought some yellow curry powder at the large H-E-B and set about trying to teach myself how to cook Indian food. My first experiment was dumping the yellow curry powder into a pan with a smidge of coconut milk and cooking oil and a few chicken breasts, nothing else. (Hey, I was 17; lay off.) It was unremittingly awful.

Yes, that's a squash blossom on the left, which made me love the salad that much more.
Yes, that's a squash blossom on the left, which made me love the salad that much more.

I offer this anecdote as a means of explaining exactly how terrible the curried chicken breast was that accompanied my chicken curry salad at Ruggles Green. It had clearly been seasoned with nothing but yellow curry powder (no yogurt was detectable, as promised on the menu) before being dumped onto a grill and turned into a curry-saturated hockey puck.

But for as horrible as the chicken breast was, the salad itself was divine. Pert greens and crunchy jicama mingled with sugary shreds of carrot and mango alongside plump raisins in an orange-honey dressing that was both tangy and barely sweet. If Ruggles bottled and sold the orange-honey dressing, I'd greedily buy it in bulk.

Chicken and Children at Ruggles Green

Also wonderful was the Millionaire Pie, a reliable concoction of pecans, coconut, chocolate chips and caramel in a crumbly tart. Both the pecans and the vanilla ice cream on top of the pie were organic, but I'm not terribly inclined to care as long as they taste good. And taste good they did -- the Millionaire Pie is an exercise in a nicely restrained dessert, neither too cloying or heavy. Aside from the chicken breast, it was a perfectly tasty meal.

That said, Ruggles Green at CityCenter would be more my kind of place in the fall and spring months, when you can sit outside on the shaded patio and enjoy your organic hoo-hah al fresco, which seems more suitable somehow. Not to mention, the shrieks and screams of the many small children wouldn't be quite so deafening, echoing off the hard surfaces inside. They would be fitting outside, on a rolling lawn surrounded by softly bubbling fountains and the sounds of the city in the suburbs.


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