A First Look at Fielding's Wood Grill in The Woodlands

The area where The Woodlands and Shenandoah meet on Research Forest Drive has transformed from small strip centers and rows and rows of trees to a completely new area for residents and those passing through on I-45 to stop and grab a bite to eat.

While many of the restaurants in this area are chains, such as Panera Bread, or fast food, drive-through services -- Raising Cane's and Culver's -- there's a new kid on the block that offers All-American food with a hint of sophistication and a whole lot of flavor.

Growing up in The Woodlands, I have come to know and love its many restaurant offerings, especially ones unique to the area. So, after discovering that Fielding's Wood Grill opened in the developing area on Research Forest Drive near The Woodlands Mall, I decided to give the burger joint a chance.

Fielding's is tucked into a brand-new strip center next to a Valero gas station behind a row of trees separating it from the activity of Research Forest Drive near the freeway. It's surrounded by a few vacant spaces, so one can only surmise that the strip center will welcome a few more stores soon.

The second I walked inside, I was hit with the smell of fresh burger patties sizzling on a grill and french fries being dunked into a fryer; I instantly felt as though I were dining at Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen, just two miles down the road, and that's because the general manager, Cary Attar, is the mastermind behind Hubbell & Hudson in The Woodlands. Anyone who has dined in either the bistro or the kitchen at Hubbell & Hudson will recognize a few similarities in the menu style, ordering format and overall feel at Attar's newest concept.

The environment and atmosphere are fitting for the community. The sleek and contemporary furniture sets the bar and grill apart from other burger joints in town, and the low-lit, modern architecture makes it the perfect place for a late-night bite to eat with friends and family, or a great spot to grab a beer with the buds and watch a game or two at the bar.

There's also an iPad bar for customers to surf the Web, chat with friends or play some games. It's as though they took a portion of the Apple Store and placed it smack dab in the middle of the restaurant. During my visit, only one person sat down at the iPad bar, so I'm not sure how often customers will use it, but it is an interesting component.

Just as my fiancé, my dad and I reached the counter to order, we were greeted by a member of the staff who appeared to be a manager, who promptly explained the process for ordering food: Give the sheet of paper with your assigned table number and number of guests to the register, order food, then have a seat.

Everything is counter service until you sit down at your table; from then on, it is table service -- an interesting concept for controlling where people sit. Unfortunately, the only comfortable place to sit is in a booth; the seats on the high-top chairs are quite small; in fact, they are so small that only children can fit. Hanging off a hard metal seat is not an ideal way to enjoy dinner. If they want to clear tables quickly, there is a better way to do it than to force people to sit uncomfortably.

Fielding's Wood Grill offers a variety of burgers made with 44 Farms 100 percent Black Angus beef, as well as "alternative burgers" made with different protein sources, such as rotisserie chicken, ahi tuna, grass-fed American bison and gulf shrimp. While burgers are the main focus at Fielding's, the restaurant also dishes up bison chili, served in a skillet, whole and half rotisserie chickens, entrée salads, a variety of fries, and thick, creamy (and boozy) shakes.

The Wood Grill burger is a classic: a milk bun encases lettuce, grilled onions, tomato, b&b pickles, and mayo all set atop a 44 Farms Black Angus beef patty. Not only is this traditional burger just $7.65, but the beef is juicy, perfectly seasoned and bursting with flavor. The milk bun adds a nice sweetness to the overall burger.

Out of all the "alternative burger" offerings, the Bayou Burger, with a Gulf shrimp patty, andouille sausage slices, creole spices, holy trinity (onions, celery, bell peppers), tomato, and garlic rémoulade between a wheat bun, sounded the most intriguing. I've never had a patty of shrimp before, especially on a burger, but I was surprised how flaky, soft and flavorful the shrimp was. Combined with the spicy andouille sausage, it was like eating a bowl of gumbo in burger form.

Fielding's serves a variety of fries -- plain with house blend spices, truffle and Parmesan, chili cheddar, and baked and fried Idaho potatoes in a skillet. The truffle fries have a distinct truffle oil taste, but could use a bit more Parmesan cheese on top; they seemed a bit dry in comparison to the ones Bernie's Burger Bus creates. However, the fries themselves are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside -- just as they should be.

Sometimes onion rings can be overly battered, leaving you wanting more onion, but Fielding's serves properly portioned rings. The black sesame seeds not only make the batter appealing, but they also add an extra crunch.

Fielding's describes its salads as "progressive." At first, this didn't make sense to me, but once I read the descriptions for each salad, I understood -- Fielding's offers a twist on classic salads and uses a combination of ingredients not normally used in most salads, such as in the Un-Ceaser salad (yes, it is supposed to be spelled this way), made with avocado, manchego, pimento Caesar aioli, garlic chips and Spanish chorizo, or the Baby Kale salad, made with roasted beets, chickpeas, feta cheese, pink grapefruit, and sunflower seeds, all tossed in an orange chipotle dressing.

I decided to try the Pad Thai salad so I could taste the rotisserie chicken, which was tender but lacked seasoning. While it was tossed in a salad with radicchio, edamame, bean sprouts, cashews, vermicelli, cilantro, scallions and a tamarind dressing, it wasn't as flavorful as I had expected it to be. Hopefully this isn't the same case for the half or whole rotisserie chickens.

One glance at the options for shakes can make it difficult to reach a decision, but our friendly waiter convinced us to try the Nutella, banana and peanut butter shake, and it was as rich and sweet as it sounds. The thick, creamy and smooth chocolate-hazelnut shake has a slight hint of banana and peanut butter, just enough so it isn't too overwhelming. Topped with whipped cream, chocolate syrup and what appeared to be crushed peanut butter cookies, this indulgent shake is perfect for sharing...which we did.

There's so much more to try at Fielding's, like the kimchi burger with a grilled short rib, red chile pepper paste and Korean barbecue sauce, or the Burnt caramel, toffee and bourbon shake reserved for those over 21. Fielding's is off to an excellent start. Just fix the chairs.

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