Whether you are a typical office worker with a strict 60-minute lunch break or a lady who lunches, executive lunches are an excellent mid-day meal option. Simply put, they're quick and easy and usually designed to give you a decent amount of bang for your buck. In this series, we explore executive lunch options across the city to scope out the good, the bad and the ugly.
For a while now, I've been following The Grove's Instagram account,
drooling at looking at the mouth-watering photos on display, many of which advertise the restaurant's three-course lunch special for $19.
After yearning to try this menu for far too long, I decided that a visit to The Grove was in order. And what better way to kick off the executive lunch series than by visiting a spot that looked promising?
On an unassuming Thursday, I left my Post Oak office and made my way downtown to quiet my curiosity once and for all. My visit panned out like this:
1 p.m.: While I usually have lunch at around 11:30 a.m., I had been successful in curbing my hunger by brainwashing myself, telling myself I wasn't even a little hungry. I smiled proudly at my late departure time, thinking about all of the traffic, both on the road and inside the restaurant, that this would spare me.
1:10 p.m.: Yeah...those were some naive thoughts. The lunch rush on the road had not died down -- not even a little bit. Plus, closed lanes on the highway made traffic advance at a painfully slow pace. I used all my might not to let stupid traffic get to me, but after advancing only a mile and a half, I was officially annoyed. And hungrier.
1:35 p.m.: After what seemed like forever, I arrived downtown. Just seconds shy of doing a happy dance, I remembered I was downtown, where parking on the street could be an issue. And, on that day, of course it was a challenge.
1:45 p.m.: With Mission "parking my car" finally accomplished, I found myself power-walking towards the restaurant, stomach rumbling loudly for food. I eked out a smile upon entering The Grove, only to be turned upside down at the site of a completely full restaurant. "You have got to be kidding me," I grumbled to myself.
1:48 p.m.: "Well, there's a really big oil and gas convention, so we are a lot busier than usual," a hostess replied after I asked if a full house was the norm during lunch hours. I requested a table for one, and the hostess politely asked me to wait to be seated.
1:49 p.m.: I took a seat, thinking about how in that past hour I had experienced such a wide range of emotions: excitement, frustration, hope, dismay, happiness, disappointment, excitement again and then right back to frustration. I was kind of tired, actually.
1:55 p.m.: Little did I know that the roller coaster of emotions was just about to start up again. "Your table is ready," the hostess said as she beckoned me to my table and plopped down some menus.
1:57 p.m.: After examining the entire menu and finding no hint of any executive lunch options, I called my waiter over and asked him for an executive lunch menu. Raising one eyebrow, he replied: "I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm not quite sure what you are referring to."
I answered, "Well, the executive lunch menu is one that The Grove advertises on its Instagram almost every day." When his face did not indicate comprehension, I pulled out my phone to open up my Instagram app and literally show him what I was talking about.
Of course, at that precise moment, my Instagram app decided not to load. I continued explaining, "The executive lunch is a three-course lunch, and I think it includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert, and costs, like...$19."
"Hmmm, I think I know what you're talking about. Give me one second," the waiter told me as he walked off. I was relieved.
2 p.m.: "Okay, I think I do know what you are talking about! Are you talking about our three-course theater menu? Because we only serve that during dinner time," he innocently informed me. By this time, I was pretty sure that my tummy grumbling and blood boiling was at an audible level. I tried to keep my cool. "Nope, that is not what I am talking about. This is definitely a lunch deal that you offer on weekdays." Again, the server went in search of some guidance.
2:03 p.m.: "All right, ma'am, now I know what you are talking about," my waiter returned to tell me. Thank goodness, I thought.
"You are looking for our Downtown lunch. Unfortunately, we're not offering it today because of the high volume of people lunching with us today. If we offered it, ticket times would be way too long." I looked at him in disbelief.
I considered jumping op on the table and screaming over him, "All I want to do is try your freaking executive lunch, is that too much to ask, huh, do you have any idea how hungry I am, it is way past my lunch time, do you know how many times I have stared at those Instagram photos in anticipation on top of everything, I was supposed to write a blog post about this and now I am going to have nothing to tell the good people of Houston because I can't just talk about a nonexistent lunch and my article is going to be a complete failure?"
Of course, I said none of that. Instead, I made my biggest puppy eyes and sweetly said, "But...I really, really, really wanted to try your Downtown lunch."
"Sorry, ma'am," my waiter apologized, "but the chef didn't even prepare one for today since we wouldn't be serving it.
2:06 p.m.: My eyes dropped, and I slouched down in my chair a little. "Okay, give me a moment and I'll be ready to order," I mumbled.
2:09 p.m.: "I'll take the Grove Hamburger ($13) and a side of macaroni and cheese ($6), please," I requested with hesitation. If I couldn't have a real Executive Lunch, I was at least going to make my own.
2:16 p.m.: The menu items hit the table, both looking delicious. My spirits rose. But not for long, as a bite into the large hamburger bound together by two fluffy buns revealed no exciting juiciness, flavor or texture. Save for the bread, which was actually delicious -- seemingly homemade and fresh -- the hamburger was totally forgettable.
The patty was severely overcooked (I had asked for it to be cooked medium rare; it was more than well-done) and oversalted. Its lineup of toppings looked promising -- melted Monterey Jack, a big green chile strip, a small amount of green chile spread, a strip of thick bacon, two slices of avocado, and fresh lettuce and tomato -- yet failed to make an impact due to an overall lack of flavor. The green chile components tried desperately to save the burger but couldn't.
2:18 p.m.: I stared at the fragrant macaroni and cheese and prayed to the macaroni and cheese gods to please not let it disappoint me -- I could not be let down one more time that day. I closed my eyes at the first bite, opening them wide with happiness when I realized that it was absolutely spectacular.
Macaroni, a goodly amount of fresh herbs and bursting-with-flavor oyster mushrooms were mixed together, enveloped in thin cheese sauce that made quite a positive impression. Despite the sauce's thin nature, it was evidently made with a strong cheese. Topping the mac were panko bread crumbs and generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper. No doubt about it, the macaroni and cheese was some of the best I'd had in a long time. I devoured the macaroni with gusto, happy at last.
Each bite of the large "side" dish seemed more delicious than the last. Only increasing its goodness factor was the fact that it was not playing with my emotions -- it was truly making me happy.
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2:37 p.m.: I asked for the check, which was promptly delivered with a smile. Notably missing from the bill was the side of macaroni and cheese. Surely the waiter had sensed my disappointment at the absence of the Downtown lunch menu and he decided to do something nice for me. I was greatly appreciative of the friendly gesture and took it as a consolation for the dizzying back and forth of positive and negative emotions. I was officially over it. And my stomach was, in the end, happy.
Either way, I'm afraid that I can't rank The Grove's Executive Lunch as good, bad or ugly. Rather, I can only rank it as nonexistent, on the day of my visit. I hope that The Grove makes it clearer when they will offer their Downtown lunch so that both you and I can go try it one day.