"That's right, we're glad to be out of the 'Hole,' " says Raymond Edmonds, jokingly. "After 25 years in the Hole, you know, we were just tired of the sound of it."
Many of the Hobbit's loyal customers, who suffered so long without their beloved smoothies and tabbouleh salads, have already honed in on the new spot without any trouble, despite a last-minute change of address from Portsmouth to Richmond. Strictly speaking, the property has more frontage on the narrow, curving side street of Portsmouth. "But you can get to us from Richmond, too," says Edmonds, "and we thought surely a Richmond address would be easier to find."
The Hobbit's new home is a spacious white cottage with plenty of windows, seating about 60 inside and another 50 or so outside on the pleasant deck, shaded by an old oak tree, which loomed large in negotiations with the new landlord. "We really wanted the deck, and we wanted to save that oak tree. Without it, we just didn't want to be here," Edmonds says firmly. "It took so long to work that out, but it was worth it."
The cafe's name and address are really the only things that have changed from the old Hobbit to the new. The menu's basically the same, and many of the faces on staff are familiar ones. "We were so blessed," says Edmonds, "that the majority of our kitchen employees could come back to us after a year. We didn't take any of [their] recipes with us, and told them all last year that we'd rehire them just as soon as we could. Everybody came back and brought their recipes with them."
You Bet Your Budda, Bubba
The Edmonds brothers await the arrival of three new neighbors, including Lizzard's Pub and a new hybrid Thai/Texas barbecue place that'll be called -- I swear! -- Budda Bubba. This good-humored fusion concept is the brainchild of Thai Spice owners Orasinee and Pat Ratana Arporn, who operate their more traditional restaurant in the Village [5117 Kelvin, (713)522-5100] and the Thai Spice fast-food outlet on Bellaire [8282 Bellaire, (713)777-4888].
"I thought of this name a long time ago, because this is something I have always wanted to do," says Orasinee Arporn gleefully. "But I was careful to misspell the name, calling it 'Budda' instead of 'Buddha,' so as not to offend anyone or their religion," she adds quickly.
In time-honored Texas tradition, Budda Bubba will slow-smoke beef briskets and chicken in a giant barbecue pit fired up with genuine mesquite and pecan wood. The Thai twist, Arporn explains, is marinating the meats first, in her special Oriental five-spice blend spiked with garlic and lemon. The requisite side dishes will also get an Asian spin: There'll be seaweed in the mashed potatoes, sesame seeds in the coleslaw and more special spices sprinkled on the french fries, plus a self-serve bar of Thai barbecue sauces, incendiary in varying degrees.
"My idea is a lot like Luther's or Goode Co.," explains Arporn. "But I am not competing with them. My goodness, they're the originals. We have our own unique identity, so Thai barbecue will be a very different thing."
The city has finally approved Budda Bubba's permit, and the barbecue pit is on its way. The Arporns expect to open the doors at 2241 Richmond in about two months. Meanwhile, back in the Village, they plan to open the downstairs of Thai Spice as a tiny showroom for Thai crafts. Look for it sometime in early November. So stay tuned, Bubba.