Ziggy's Healthy Grill Gets a Makeover and New Name: gratifi
Pat Walsh, left, and Kevin Strickland at the new gratifi in Montrose.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Ziggy's Healthy Grill has undergone a lot of changes in the past five years: Its location on West Alabama closed to make way for Sorrel Urban Bistro, its downtown location will be closing soon, and its Montrose location is undergoing a significant makeover. Starting with a fresh paint job on the historic manse that houses Ziggy's at the corner of Fairview and Taft, the restaurant will soon be getting a new name, too -- gratifi -- after nearly 20 years in business.
Many of these changes are due to owner Kevin Strickland, who purchased majority ownership in Ziggy's five years ago after a 17-year career in accounting. Strickland has put his personal touch on a business that's now changed hands three times by bringing in a huge craft beer selection, decreasing the emphasis on "healthy" food and receiving the first Paws on Patios permit from the City of Houston. Along with friend Pat Walsh, who founded Paws on Patios, Strickland was instrumental in getting the City to issue permits that would allow dogs on restaurant patios.
These days, he's busy gearing up for a total overhaul of the Montrose location of Ziggy's -- soon the only location left in Houston -- and looking forward to life as new "American bistro" gratifi.
The dog-friendly patio is popular on evenings and weekends.
That's gratifi -- not "graffiti" -- and it's pronounced "gratify." Gratification is the direction Strickland is moving in, with hopes that he'll get away from "the H word" that's plagued him for years: healthy. It's a word he's phased out of the menu over the last six months and is now gone entirely.
Trying to "do healthy," as Strickland puts it, is difficult purely because the term itself is so arbitrary these days. "If you ask somebody what healthy means, you're gonna get a lot of different answers," he explains. "For some people, it's organic -- but organic is not necessarily healthy. And then you've got the gluten-free people and the vegans. It's really hard to accommodate all those people, particularly with a small restaurant."
Despite this, "healthy" is what Ziggy's has been known for for almost two decades.
"Ziggy's has been around since the late '80s, and in the '80s, when Ziggy's started, 'health' food in Houston was sort of a novelty," says Strickland. "It was the city of chicken-fried steak, barbecue, Tex-Mex. But over time, a lot more places have grown smarter about doing healthier food and it's not a niche for us anymore." Customers were ordering fewer of Ziggy's healthy dishes -- the veggie loaves, the spa salads -- and requesting more burgers and pizzas.
"We weren't growing," Strickland says, simply. "It was time to make a change."
The new menu features an increased selection of burgers and sandwiches.
The menu will be somewhat overhauled, starting with the burgers that Strickland has been running as a Friday special to gauge customers' interest. Some will be traditional, but others will be a bit more upmarket. The Fancy, for example, has an Angus patty topped with blue cheese, caramelized onions and honey-pepper bacon while El Gaucho features roasted red peppers, arugula and chimichurri sauce. The latter is Strickland's favorite.
"I didn't go as wild as The Burger Guys or Hubcap," Strickland says, "but I wanted something a little different."
The new gratifi will be keeping its buffalo and grass-fed beef on the menu, as well as the still-popular black bean-and-chickpea patties. Breakfast is only slightly revamped. The same homemade jam and buttermilk biscuits will remain, with options like the stuffed French toast removed in favor of a more decadent pain perdu.
"I take Kraftsmen challah and put a little almond extract in the batter," says Strickland. "Then I make an almond custard and spread it over the challah and bake it so that it puffs up. When the custard sets up, we put toasted almonds on the top."
And accompanying the fresh paint job outside will soon be a new sign announcing gratifi to the neighborhood. (Even if the neighborhood may struggle to pronounce it at first.) But the comfortable, come-as-you-are Ziggy's vibe will remain intact.
"Our goal is to have a place where people can hang out," says Strickland. The restaurant already offers free wi-fi and there's no minimum order per table, while the lush patio grows more inviting by the day, as does the all-Texan craft beer and cocktail list.
"That's really what Houstonians do now. They want a place where they can hang out with friends -- not everybody wants to eat -- some people snack, some people drink. We want to be able to appeal to that."
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