While there's nothing groundbreaking about the new Adair Kitchen in the Galleria area off Sage and San Felipe, there's something refreshing about that. I found myself charmed by the fast-casual restaurant -- run by brother-and-sister duo Katie Barnhart Adair and Nick Adair, second-generation Houston restaurateurs -- and its commitment to simplicity. If I still worked on San Felipe, this is the kind of place I'd likely find myself for lunch on a weekly basis.
Adair Kitchen is, first and foremost, useful. The topic of useful restaurants has come up here before, with places like Paulie's (which, coincidentally, is another family-owned joint run by a second-gen restaurateur, Paul Petronello) mentioned quite frequently as examples of this underrated genre. At Adair -- like at Paulie's -- you can get a wide enough array of food that it's easy to please a varied group of diners, but not so broad a selection that the emphasis on quality is lost. The food should be well-executed and perhaps a bit creative, but mostly just solid stuff.
Adair also does itself a favor by setting itself apart from other restaurants in both the useful and fast-casual oeuvres by offering dishes unique to its menu: a creamy lemon-artichoke soup that bridges the gap between summer and fall, for example, or the opportunity to create your own salads and omelets from a large selection of interesting ingredients.
I did just that on my first visit, crafting a spinach salad with goat cheese, red onions, bacon and pumpkin seeds that I was quite happy with. A judicious amount of lemon vinaigrette finished it off and I was pleased to see that the greens were neither over- nor underdressed, a common ailment in restaurant salads. A bowl of lemon-artichoke soup ordered on the side made a surprisingly filling and well-balanced accompaniment, with neither the lemon nor the artichoke overpowering one another.
The only disappointment came in the form of a quinoa-black bean burger, ordered by my boyfriend (who admitted to asking for it, especially when there were options such as sirloin burgers and honey mustard-avocado chicken sandwiches on the lunch menu instead) in a misguided attempt to "eat healthy." The patty had a decent amount of flavor, but the consistency of slightly mealy spackle.
I mused on the ways Adair could improve the patty, all of which focused on texture: Make it a Southwest-style burger (the black beans are already there) by adding a corn salsa, crisp red onions, tortilla strips (which are already on the salad fixings menu) and a chipotle sauce. Or go the Texan route and treat it like faux barbecue: white onions and housemade pickles for crunch, plus a tangy barbecue sauce on top.
On the other hand, the fries that accompanied the quinoa burger were terrific and carried a hint of familiarity with them: If you grew up in Houston, you likely grew up eating at Skeeter's. The fries at Adair Kitchen are nearly identical to those at the mesquite grill, which is no surprise as Katie Barnhart Adair and Nick Adair's parents operated the Skeeter's and Los Tios chains here for years.
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And despite Adair Kitchen's large, lofty dining room, it feels as inviting and cozy as any Skeeter's or Los Tios from my childhood. Part of this is the wide-open kitchen and the bank of windows that nearly surrounds Adair on two sides, while another part of it lies in homey touches like the raised wooden booths on one end of the dining room and the chalkboard menus near the entrance.
The dinner menu is still being developed while the restaurant gets its legs underneath it, but breakfast is already up and running. And judging by the sounds of dishes like a prosciutto breakfast pita and baked peaches with cottage cheese, I think that an early weekend morning be my next visit to Adair Kitchen.