As the club scene along Washington Avenue fades into obscurity, I've been glad to see that the restaurant scene has done the exact opposite.
Stalwarts such as Laredo Taqueria and Los Dos Amigos have remained in business while pioneers like Max's Wine Dive and Molina's -- two of the first "new" restaurants to move into the area back in 2007 and 2008 -- stay busy night after night. Other restaurants have taken concerted steps to reinvigorate themselves: Branch Water Tavern is undergoing a transformation of sorts into Federal American Grill, while Soma Sushi recently hired the talented Mark Gabriel Medina away from sister restaurant Kata Robata, revamping both the menu and the underutilized side patio simultaneously.
And when one restaurant drops out, another moves in to take its place. That's what happened when Chris Shepherd left Catalan and its owners changed culinary tactics before reopening as Italian-influenced Coppa. Its neighbor, Cova Hand-Selected Wines, closed last year but has now been replaced by a second location of Hollister Grill, the latest entrant in the busy dining scene between Houston Avenue and Westcott.
The original location of Hollister Grill in Spring Branch is much beloved by its devoted patrons, who flock to the unassuming restaurant for well-made comfort food like chicken fried rib eye steak and homemade meatloaf. The new location riffs on Hollister favorites such as these, with a more modern twist conferred by chef Jason Kerr.
The menu is a combination of owner Chuck Pritchett's focus on comfort-food classics and Kerr's own adventurous twists on these dishes. Kerr is perhaps best known for his work onboard food truck Zilla Street Eats, where he routinely rolled out deliberately crazy creations like the Garbage Burger, which came topped with hand-cut fries and macaroni and cheese -- among other things. But Kerr (also a former contributor here at Eating...Our Words) has a classical streak, too, honed from years in the kitchen at Cafe Rabelais.
As such, the unlikely pairing of the elegant, straightlaced, well-dressed Pritchett and the be-mulleted Kerr -- who once memorably crashed an Anthony Bourdain talk at Jones Hall -- seems to be working quite well, even though Hollister Grill Part II has only been open for a week.
Neither this nor the temporary BYOB policy prevented Hollister Grill from filling up quickly last week when I visited for dinner. Fans have found their way to Pritchett's new location and are already packing in.
I tried the short rib pretzel crostini on recommendation from my waiter, who said it was his personal favorite. I should have known better than to expect simple short rib debris on crostini from Kerr, however.
Instead, the dish came out as salty hunks of pretzel bread cut into strips and covered with half a pound of tender short ribs. The bread was thirstily soaking up the meaty juices, which were enhanced with the addition of a perfectly fried egg and some garishly pink beet barbecue sauce that was tart, earthy, smoky and downright fun to behold.
At $10, the dish was big enough for a main dish although it was technically an appetizer and well-priced to boot. I couldn't resist supplementing it with some lovely macaroni and cheese, which also bore a very Kerr touch: crumbled Cheetos on top, in addition to salty hunks of bacon.
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I wasn't as taken with an arugula salad that bore ricotta, grapefruit, pine nuts and a sweet onion dressing accented with lime and chile. The sweet onion mixture was too viscous and too sweet, and ended up clashing with the buttery ricotta pretty jarringly. That said, I was still intrigued to work my way through the rest of Pritchett and Kerr's menu; I didn't even get to such entrées as Texas quail with butternut squash miso mash and sorghum, nor desserts like chocolate Butterfinger mousse cake with pretzel cream.
Sure, the idea of jazzing up comfort food isn't anything new, but I've always enjoyed both of the underpinnings present at Hollister Grill the second: Kerr's crazy, lowbrow-pop-culture takes on classics and Pritchett's attention to detail that ensures dishes are made to the highest standards. I'll be interested to see where these two men take the new Hollister Grill and where new restaurants like Hollister Grill take Washington Avenue in the coming years.