Restaurant Reviews

B&B Butchers & Restaurant Understands Meat, but the Rest of the Menu Has Issues [UPDATED]

At B&B Butchers & Restaurant, meat is king, so much so that thick-sliced bacon is actually listed as an appetizer. When B&B says “thick,” it means it. The meaty strips range in thickness from half to three-quarters of an inch. It makes for a curiously simple appetizer but one that meat lovers appreciate. Smoky, slightly sweet and completely sinful, it’s some of the best bacon that can be had anywhere.

B&B’s stock-in-trade is steak. That’s where the real luxury resides. The selections at B&B include Wagyu from Gearhart Ranch in West Texas, Kobe from Japan and USDA Prime. The website says all are dry-aged and hand-cut daily in the on-site B&B Butcher shop.

(The butcher shop, by the way, sells not only raw meat for cooking at home but also sandwiches ranging from hearty to light. The Yorkville, with Hungarian salami, Black Forest ham, bologna, liverwurst, Munster, onion and mustard, sure doesn’t sound like a bad way to test the waters there. Folks looking for something lighter might prefer to opt for the egg salad.)

One of the more conservative steak options at the restaurant is a 14-ounce USDA Prime sirloin, and it costs $48. Comparing prices at other fine steakhouses is rather enlightening. The Prime New York strip of the same size at Vic & Anthony’s is also $48, but it’s wet-aged. There’s more shrinkage, trimming and overall loss involved with dry-aged beef, so it tends to cost more, which is why B&B’s sirloin costs as much as Vic & Anthony’s strip. Killen’s wet-aged strip is also $48, but it’s 18 ounces, not 14.

Ten-ounce filets at B&B start at $43 and go up depending on the desired sauce or preparation method. Au poivre-style costs two extra bucks, and the popular “carpetbagger” style, with a fried oyster and a dreamy amount of strong blue cheese crumbles in a mountainous pile on top, will set you back $52.

Big spenders can splurge on a 40-ounce porterhouse. It’s for two people and costs $49 per person. That’s $98, or $2.45 per ounce. (On a cost-per-ounce basis, that’s actually a better deal than the $3.43 per ounce sirloin.) At Pappas Bros., the equivalent porterhouse is $99.95 — practically the same price.

So, with that pricing structure, B&B Butchers & Restaurant obviously intends to compete with Houston’s most revered, long-standing steakhouses. The question, though, is whether it’s as good as its competitors. The answer is both “yes” and “not quite yet.”

Steaks are perfectly prepared to order, as any diner would hope. Medium rare comes out with a deep brown sear and beautifully dark pink interior. B&B’s dry-aged sirloin, however, is a little tough — although it has pleasing beefy flavor thanks to the low water content. Spend a few more dollars and upgrade to the New York strip, or go in with a friend and split the big porterhouse option. The rib eye is a more fatty, tender cut, but a 14-ounce steak costs a whopping $76 and that’s hard to recommend to any but the most wealthy die-hards.

At lunchtime, B&B makes a righteous burger and that’s one way to experience the quality of beef it has to offer without breaking the bank. It’s a big rounded patty about an inch thick that’s entirely covered in melted white cheddar. It’s served open-faced and the top bun is piled high with lettuce, a red slab of ripe tomato and a thick slice of a whole onion. Laid in a neat X across the top are two slices of bacon. These are thick, but not the monsters served as an appetizer. (Yes, at B&B, bacon is so important that it’s offered in different thicknesses.) The pile of skinless, thin-cut French fries alongside were good but pedestrian.

B&B obviously understands meat, but diners delving into other sections of the menu may be disappointed. Fish, vegetables and side dishes are almost always lacking. Until the restaurant gets these other areas nailed down, it’s in the non-steak dishes where more venerable steakhouses have B&B beat.

For example, the B&B mac and cheese completely died under a surfeit of truffle oil, and the pasta was overcooked and mushy to boot. The “Wasabi Crusted Tuna” didn’t have a crust and if there was wasabi, there was so little that it was undetectable. The tuna itself, left blissfully rare, was a gorgeous rose color but may have sat in the kitchen too long since the seared exterior was cool by the time it hit the table. The salad of seaweed called wakame that it sat upon, accompanied by a swath of ponzu and miso vinaigrette, was much more interesting, although the shiitakes promised on the menu were missing. It’s a $32 dish and errors like these are hard to overlook.

Lobster fried rice sounded promising and, at $16, it seemed as if there would be at least a few substantial chunks of lobster. Alas, what little was included was scant and in small pieces that seemed like the leavings from some other lobster dish. To its credit, the rice had tons of ginger and pops of flavor from soy and rice vinegar, but ultimately the dish seemed like a rip-off.

Desserts run the full gamut from excellent to disappointing. There were high expectations for an open-faced ice cream sandwich, which turned out to be just a scoop of ice cream on top of a big cookie. Granted, it was a big, chewy, fudgy cookie, but the presentation was a letdown. Crème brûlée rice pudding is a very clever idea, but it looks exactly like a normal crème brûlée with run-of-the-mill rice pudding underneath. Let’s face it, rice pudding is rarely exciting.

On the other hand, the carrot cake was a lovely surprise. Instead of being a slice carved out of a bigger cake, it’s made in a little round pan, which gives it a slightly crunchy exterior. It’s served warm, and the dark, rich, bready cake bears more than a slight resemblance to sticky toffee pudding. Instead of being slathered on top, the cream cheese frosting is neatly piped into a tall swirl, like the top of a vanilla ice cream cone. Frosting haters will love being able to remove it easily, and frosting lovers will appreciate being able to control how much of the creamy stuff they’ll be able to get in every bite.

There’s an intriguing-sounding lavender gin and tonic on the drink list, but on every visit, B&B was out of it. A server explained that the kegs just aren’t big enough to last very long. Eighteen dollars seems like a dear price for B&B’s dirty martini, but it was admittedly crisp, balanced and cold. The two truffle-laced Sottocenere cheese-stuffed green olives added sufficient luxury to make the martini almost seem worth the cost. Almost. 

Updated, 8/27/2015, 12:34 p.m. Well worth a gander is the remarkable wine list by head sommelier Jane-Paige D’Huyvetter, who was a junior sommelier until March 2015 is also in charge of the program at The Inn at Dos Brisas, the upscale -resort in Washington, Texas. California-heavy lists have become old and tired, and D’Huyvetter’s is mostly modern and invigorating. It was thrilling to see J.P. Brun’s FRV 100 as a bubbly option, and a glass of 2010 Château du Coureau from Graves, France, with deep red berry notes and a bit of funk, made it a fitting companion for steak.

B&B Butchers really does have to work on its coffee, though. It is a miserable, taupe-colored liquid that tastes powdery and thin. With so many excellent roasters in Houston, there’s no excuse for any restaurant’s coffee program to be so bad.

Each area of B&B has its own distinct personality. The main dining room has a utilitarian feel thanks to the exposed red brick interior. The upstairs, with its own bar area and large balcony, is reminiscent of a sprawling New York rooftop bar. (Thanks to the big balcony, B&B is able to offer a premium cigar program.) On the other hand, the main bar area downstairs is all shiny and chrome, with gleaming ceiling tiles, sparkling bar tools and a polished, stainless steel counter. It’s a credit to the design that the spaces feel complementary rather than disjointed.

The food flaws and inventory problems are symptomatic of a restaurant that’s enormously popular right out of the gate. B&B Butchers has been besieged by diners since opening this past May. That sounds like it would be good for a new restaurant, but being swamped from the get-go is not an easy path to tread. Having no downtime means there’s no choice but to smooth out the wrinkles in the processes on the go.

Diners wanting a 7 p.m. reservation will need to make it days in advance. Early evening and late-night time slots are easier to come by. B&B Butchers is packed just about every night. Who knew Washington Avenue was so hungry for a steakhouse?

There are few dishes as easy to cook at home as a steak, so the key to steakhouse success is about more than good meat. It’s about the confluence of the best in service, environment and food.

B&B has nailed the first two of those elements and about half the time succeeds on the third. While the kitchen may be forgetful when swamped, it does still manage to crank the dishes out in a timely fashion. The front-of-house staff also does a commendable job, managing not only to stay on top of the rush but to do so with humor and friendly courtesy all the while. It does feel as if one out-of-sync cog could throw the whole machine into disarray, but everything held together nonetheless.

If you want a good steak and are willing to shell out the cash for it, B&B Butchers is a worthy choice. The remarkable burger is easier on the wallet and should not be ignored. A noteworthy wine list is in place and the cocktails are good albeit pricey. Other dishes need to be shored up, but once B&B Butchers & Restaurant has done a little aging of its own, it’s likely to rank right alongside the elders it seeks to emulate.

B&B Butchers & Restaurant
1814 Washington, 713-862-1814. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays (kitchen closes at midnight); 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Mac and cheese $12
Bacon $12
Grilled asparagus $12
B&B meatballs $13
Butcher Shop burger $14
Lobster fried rice $16
Crab Louis $24
Wasabi crusted tunaLunch $29/Dinner $32
Carpetbagger filetLunch $44/Dinner $52
Sirloin $48
Carrot cake $9
Crème brûlée rice pudding $9
Open-faced ice cream “sandwich” $9
D.F. $13
East 89th Street $14
B&B Martini $18
Coffee $3.50
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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook