Located just a few blocks from River Oaks District, where it's hidden on a side road off of the main Westheimer drag, Eloise Nichols Grill & Bar is a bit off the beaten path, but that’s one of the things that make it so perfect for the type of restaurant it’s trying to be: a neighborhood eatery in the heart of River Oaks serving good ol' American food.
The latest offering by Nick Adair and Katie Adair Barnhart — the brother-and-sister team that conceptualized and opened Adair Kitchen in Tanglewood — Eloise Nichols is named after and inspired by the siblings' grandmother, whom they consider a "no-nonsense classic Texas beauty." Asked to describe the restaurant, Barnhart says the idea was that it be "nothing over the top or fancy. Just a comfortable place for neighbors to meet, eat or get a drink and enjoy themselves."
That said, the space is absolutely charming. Though its bare brick exterior initially gives off a warehouse feel, the interior is soft and feminine, the type of place you can imagine having everything from a girl’s night out or leisurely lunch, to a date night or nice family outing.
The decor is reminiscent of that of a French bistro or cafe, a cross between Brasserie 19’s all-white aesthetic and Toulouse’s more classic brasserie design. Navy blue banquettes accented with brass are complemented by black and cream French bistro chairs. Reclaimed wood floors juxtaposed next to diamond-patterned black and cream tile create pockets of space without walls or partitions. Opaque drop-down orb chandeliers add a fun, pop-culture feel, while a classic, wood-paneled L-shaped bar and community table contribute to the convivial atmosphere.
There are also two walls entirely dedicated to Eloise Nichols — the same black and white picture framed in large and small prints, arranged to make one giant collage of just her.
Eloise Nichols is not a place to go if you want a quiet meal to yourself, though the bar is definitely an attractive spot for a solo diner. With all that tile and wood, the acoustics are such that it can get fairly loud. It’s not something to get too worked up about, though, because it’s a happy noise that goes hand in hand with people enjoying their food.
Speaking of food, the menu is straightforward American with an emphasis on local sourcing and Gulf Coast ingredients. Louisiana-born executive chef Joseph Stayshich, who was most recently at Benjy’s in the Village and Karbach Brewery, keeps things simple and affordable with a menu that you can return to within the same week if you are so inclined.
Lunch is uncomplicated, essentially made up of salads and sandwiches, with a few starter choices and a few entrées, with the bulk of the dishes falling in the $12-to-$16 range. On the low end, you’ve got an appetizer called field pea hummus, a black-eyed pea spread topped with peanut dukkah and feta, with crispy pita chips on the side for $8. On the high end, there’s an eight-ounce chargrilled Texas steak with black garlic-beef butter for $22.
My girlfriend’s Texas seafood cobb salad, attractively arranged to highlight its fresh toppings of avocado and cherry tomato, was pretty enough to give me food envy. A shared plate of Joe’s Hot Chicken — think popcorn chicken tossed in a tangy, sweet and spicy Korean-style hot sauce — was a bargain for $10 and undeniably addictive.
Come dinnertime, the menu is more expansive, with a good selection of plates to share, fresh oysters and dishes from the raw bar, a section called “eat your veggies,” and mains like Texas shrimp and grits. As with the lunch menu, everything is priced so as not to burn a hole in your pocketbook, with shared plates in the $6-to-$12 range, and most entrées priced from $18 to $26.
It’s the type of menu that invites you to order more, to sample whatever you like and not worry too much about the bill that comes at the end of the night. This is exactly what we did when I came back for dinner with a different friend. To share, we started with the burrata, which is not the big blob you envision when you order burrata, but more like an ambrosia salad, the creamy cheese mixed together in a crisp, bright jumble with bites of pink lady apples, hazelnut and sorrel.
We also had a wonderful housemade venison sausage plate served on a bed of butternut mostarda made of little pellets that popped delightfully on the tongue. A seafood campechana was sort of salty and not too memorable, but a daily special of fried green tomatoes topped with juicy pulled pork, queso fresco and barbecue vinaigrette was terrific.
Also terrific? The signature cocktail served in a brass pineapple. Dubbed the “Spirit Animal,” and made of a simple blend of pineapple, vodka and lime, it has already emerged as the must-order cocktail at the restaurant, instantly identifiable and a bona fide Instagram star.
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A Southern-style chocolate cake topped with hazelnut, made according to Stayshich's personal recipe and cut from a sheet pan, was also incredible. Moist and dense, with a heady milk chocolate hazelnut flavor resembling Ferrero Rocher's famous confections, the cake is just one of the many reasons it'll be worth your while to pay Eloise Nichols a visit.
Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors is located at 2400 Mid Lane, Suite 100, and open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 11a.m. to 11 p.m. with a Saturday and Sunday Brunch served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit eloisenichols.com.