On the end of an unassuming strip mall in Independence Heights lies Shepherd Park Draught House, the latest venture of Ken Bridge, owner of the Delicious Concepts restaurant group which also operates Pink's Pizza, Dragon Bowl and Lola. As if an empire of pizza, noodles, and comfort foods wasn't enough, Bridge has decided to expand outside of the Heights proper to open a draught house complete with beers on tap and a menu boasting an assortment of foods and cuisines. Located on Shepherd just north of the 610 loop with plentiful food and brews, Shepherd Park might give Petrol Station a run for their money.
One advantage Petrol may have over Shepherd Park, though, is the location itself. Somehow, parking in the lot of a strip mall just doesn't have the same friendly neighborhood-pub feel as parking on a tree-lined street and strolling over to what once was a gas station in its previous life, and is now Petrol. But once I stepped inside Shepherd Park, the vibe was completely different. It was dim, it was crowded, and retro music rocked over the speakers. There was no apparent order, no hostess station, no empty tables at which we could seat ourselves. We were told by a passing employee that there would probably be a 15-minute wait.
Running the length of the restaurant bar outside is a patio that holds many a coveted seat on cool nights. But it was at a booth tucked away in the back of the restaurant where we ended up. The chairs and tables are an eclectic mix, and on the walls hang old music posters from Bridge's own personal collection. It has a retro vintage feel, like a 20-year-old's 1980s abode.
"The interior is very reflective of my personality," Bridge said. "I wanted to build an inviting space that felt like home and represent where I came from." Bridge, who had taken a break from the kitchen to marvel at his latest project, seemed pleased that there was a crowd this particular Friday evening, and he strolled the place in his chef's apron saying hello to diners.
Like the decor, the menu is a hodgepodge: Korean short rib tacos, goat cheese ravioli, and fire-roasted hummus all being pumped out of the same kitchen? I was dubious, having an affinity for places that do only one thing and do it well. What was with this Cheesecake Factory-like menu? Would Shepherd Park become the real-life version of Babu's Dream Cafe? When asked why he devised such a menu, Bridge said he'd wanted to have a dynamic approach to the food while also keeping a sense of familiarity. The only way to alleviate my suspicions was to order a variety, and that we did.
The fire-roasted hummus ($7) came with pita bread and a Mediterranean salad. Made with red pepper and roasted garlic, the hummus had both good texture and taste: not too runny but just creamy enough to scoop well onto the flatbread. "Okay," I thought, "maybe Ken may know what he's doing after all." (As if his other successful businesses weren't enough of a testament.)
Next was the crispy goat cheese ravioli ($10) with a marinara sauce made of plum tomatoes and fresh herbs. The ravioli pieces were huge enough to be an entree for one, but we ordered it as an appetizer and each took a bite. Simple yet delicious. So far, Ken was two for two.
The sea salt pretzels ($4) came with a side of honey butter that I found to be a necessary accompaniment. Decent by itself, the pretzel was exponentially better after being doused in the sweet and savory sauce. Three for three.
The Shepherd Park pie ($10), which came recommended by our waiter, is a casserole consisting of Texas kobe beef, cheddar, smoked gouda, garlic mashed potatoes, and peas. The peas were fresh, not frozen, as articulated on the menu. While very good, this dish is not for the faint of heart--you'd better be hungry and ready to eat a richly dense meal upon ordering. It was chock full of flavor, but I, with eyes bigger than the stomach, could only eat two bites. This combined with a pint might be a recipe for indigestion. But I couldn't hold my fear of tummy troubles against Ken, so I had to give it to him: four for four.
Next were the drunk Mussels ($10): vino blanc, garlic butter, a little cream redux. There were a good number of mussels--this is a dish that's got the bang for the buck--but sadly, it was my least favorite dish. The mussels were a little gritty and not as flavorful as I'd hoped. Four for five.
My friend, who had ordered the Thai chile wings, was disappointed when she was told there were no wings that night. Naturally, she settled on the best alternative: Thai curry chicken. "Thai curry from a restaurant bar?" My eyebrows raised. Again I was dubious that a place like this could serve a decent curry, not to mention all the stomach issues that could ensue. But when the Thai curry chicken ($9) was delivered to our table, I was yet again pleasantly surprised. Sweet and spicy, the Thai curry was a coconut-based version with chunks of chicken, crispy onion, and Thai basil served over rice. The chef was redeemed!
Other options on the menu include burgers and sandwiches, which come with your choice of house-cut fries, bacon mustard potato salad, or just a salad for those watching their carbs. All burgers are made using Akaushi beef. Beers on tap include both your usual local beers like St. Arnold and Karbach (the baby of the Houston brewing scene) as well as other craft beers like Brooklyn Brewery.
As Shepherd Park is still in its infancy, there will occasionally be the hiccup like the lack of wings or ahi tuna the night we visited. We were assured, however, that the menu will expand soon enough with additions including dessert. The place already serves brunch on the weekends. I'll be coming back to see what else Ken Bridge is doing inside the kitchen. A cheddar, baby swiss, and Nantucket pimento sandwich and tomato basil bisque soup combo called the Grilled Cheese O.D.? I'm there.
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