Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: In-N-Out Willowbrook Open, Bistro 555 and Bottled Blonde Next Week

In-N-Out makes it to the northside.
In-N-Out makes it to the northside. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

In-N-Out Burger
, 7611 FM 1960, Willowbrook, opened September 4. The California-based fast food chain was founded in 1948 as the state's first drive-thru hamburger joint. Its rabid fans feel an affection for its customizable burgers and fries the way Texans worship Whataburger. Perhaps it's regional pride but West Coast transplants to Houston were chomping at the bit when the first two Houston-area stores opened in Stafford and Katy last year. The lines were unbelievably long with police officers directing traffic while employees took orders from the cars of eager customers. We reviewed the Katy location, here in the Houston Press.

click to enlarge
Everyone's masked up awaiting their burgers.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The Willowbrook store was packed in the first few days but a recent visit showed lines that were nowhere near the multitude of cars that bombarded the first two restaurants. In fact, we were able to sail right in and get a photo. There were still long drive-thru lines with employees directing traffic and an ambulance for some reason standing by (in case someone OD'd on Animal Fries, we imagine). Its proximity to FM 1960 does not allow for lines to form the same way they did at the Katy and Stafford locations.

The Animal Fries have a cult following.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

What makes its fans drool? We aren't quite sure. The burgers are photogenic compared to other fast food burger joints and can stand up against the competitors. The menu itself is pretty basic, no chicken nuggets here. Just burgers, fries, milkshakes and sodas. Social media is filled with ordering suggestions and the Animal Fries are always on the list. They are basically just fries topped with its "animal sauce", which resembles the secret sauce of another well known fast food behemoth. It also has American cheese and chopped, grilled onions. We think guests order Animal Fries because the basic fries at In-N-Out aren't so great. The Not-So-Secret menu also offers choices such as the Grilled Cheese and the Protein-Style, a burger wrapped in lettuce rather than a bun.

The menu prices at In-N-Out tend to be a bit cheaper than other fast food chains if you eliminate the value menus. However, if you're opting for the 3X3 or the 4X4, those added patties and slices of cheese will add up in more ways than one.

click to enlarge
Bistro 555 is still cozy and very French.
Photo by Paula Murphy

Bistro 555, 13616 Memorial, opens September 15. The rebranding of Bistro Provence is a major change for owner Genevieve Guy who has transformed the blue and yellow French Country decor of the previous restaurant to teal walls with white shiplap and black beams on the walls and ceiling. The open kitchen looks out on the dining room making guests part of the action.

The new concept reflects Guy's Alsatian roots with inspiration from other French regions where she has traveled, worked and lived. The 555 part of its name comes from the menu's simplicity in offering three courses with five options in each category. The menu will change according to seasonal offerings and local availability of ingredients, a custom that has long guided European restaurant menus and is beginning to take hold in the States as well.

click to enlarge
Genevieve Guy is bringing a seasonal French menu to her new concept.
Photo by Paula Murphy
Guests can expect first course (entree in French) options such as Artichauts Barigoule, artichokes with bacon and white wine, or a Charcuterie Maison with housemade rillettes and hazelnut pate. Traditional dishes such as Salade Lyonnaise may pop up on the menu or escargots in garlic and parsley.

Main course choices might include Quenelle Saumon Haeberlin, wild salmon filet with snapper mousse in a white wine shallot sauce. Hearty fall dishes such as Cuisse de Lapin a la Moutarde, or rabbit leg in oregano mustard sauce, might be on the menu. Desserts like creme brulee, chocolate mousse with hazelnuts and Pavlova Meringue keep it classic.

The new restaurant is still cozy with seating for 40 inside and 20 outside.

click to enlarge
Have a sandwich and crispy fries watching sports at Bottled Blonde.
Photo by Bottled Blonde Marketing Staff

Bottled Blonde Pizzeria + Beer Garden
, 4901 Washington, opens September 17 at 7 p.m. The Arizona-based sports bar and restaurant comes from Evening Entertainment Group, founded by Diane and Les Corieri. The Houston Restaurant is the third nationwide, with two other locations in Scottsdale and Dallas.

The open-air concept offers 10,000 square feet of space including a 1,500 square foot patio. It's a blend of German bier garden with East Coast Brewery details, contemporary Italian cuisine and vintage-style pin-up girl art.

click to enlarge
Pizzas at Bottled Blonde are personal-sized.
Photo by Bottled Blonde Marketing Staff

The menu features starters such as burrata cheese, chicken wings, housemade mozzarella sticks and pizza rolls. There are sandwiches like The Italian, Chicken Parmesan, Turkey Porchetta and Caprese. There's also a selection of ten-inch pizzas ranging from $13 to $16. Beer lovers will find plenty of local and craft favorites including brews from Saint Arnold Brewing Co., Karbach, Eureka Heights, Spindletap and Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. There's a menu of monthly rotating cocktails and bottle service as well.  The famous 100-ounce Mimosa Tower will be on the Houston menu, too.

click to enlarge
The sports bar gets an upgrade at Bottled Blonde.
Photo by Bottled Blonde Marketing Staff

Les Corieri, owner of Bottled Blonde and co-founder of EEG said, " We love Texas and can't wait to bring our Italian-inspired cuisine and contemporary, upbeat concept to the city of Houston. Houstonians are serious about their food and even more serious about their sports so Bottled Blonde is the perfect place to have it all."

For the sports lovers, there will be 40 HD televisions and two 24 foot projector walls with college and professional sports plus UFC fights.

The restaurant offers a more nightclub experience later in the evening. It will launch its weekend brunch September 26 and will be available Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

click to enlarge
The staff in Stafford are ready to serve.
Photo by Ava Hernandez
Raising Cane's, 12627 S. Kirkwood, opened September 9. For now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant will only offer drive-thru service. Raising Cane's is keeping its dining rooms temporarily closed for the safety of its crew members and customers. However, the drive-thru is open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight, a good thing for Caniacs.

The ONE LOVE chicken finger meals are available in several sizes with sides like crinkle-cut fries and coleslaw plus Texas toast. Its proprietary Cane's sauce is a secret recipe and comes with each combo. Besides the chicken fingers, there is a chicken sandwich as well. That's pretty much the menu, but who doesn't love chicken fingers?
click to enlarge
The Plush Puppy program raises funds for local animal shelters.
Photo by Ava Hernandez
The new location is the first in Stafford and the 37th in the Houston area. Raising Cane's has 515 stores system-wide in twenty-eight states plus locations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Founder and CEO Todd Graves along with Co-CEO and COO AJ Kamaran have instituted its "NO CREW LEFT BEHIND" policy which avoids laying off or furloughing any of its crew members despite the current crisis. The only restaurants that have closed have been ones with no drive-thrus so employees were transferred to new stores and a few were even paid to sew masks to donate to local hospitals.

The new Stafford location is still hiring.

Howdy Hot Chicken, 19922 Southwest Freeway, opened in early August in Sugar Land. The halal chicken  joint serves Nashville Hot Chicken with heat levels from Harmless to Have Mercy. Diners can choose the sandwich with either a brioche bun or Texas toast. The sandwiches are topped with coleslaw and pickles.There's also a chicken finger basket.

Sides include mac 'n cheese, coleslaw and waffle fries. For dessert there are brownies or ice cream.

The Bomb Wings and Other Things, 5549 Richmond, celebrated its grand opening August 17. It serves a variety of chicken wings and tenders in classic flavors such as Buffalo and Lemon pepper but also creative twists like TexMex Enchilada, Mole, The Big Kahuna (grilled pineapple, jalapenos and brown sugar) and Lumberjack (maple sriracha). The KFC wings are Korean Fried Chicken-style. The dipping sauces are an additional 99 cents and include choices like buttermilk ranch, spicy cilantro, blue cheese, avocado ranch, curry mustard and BBQ.

There are appetizers such as Bomb Fried Gizzards and sandwiches like the Angry Bird, a chicken breast sandwich with Carolina Reaper hot sauce. The Bomb Fries are loaded with cheese, chicken tinga, ranch dressing and pico de gallo. There are burgers, quesadillas and a kids menu plus Mini Churros and Crispy Bunuelos for dessert.

The small restaurant also offers combo deals. The Number Four ($18.99) will feed two with a dozen wings, six tenders, large fries and two soft drinks. There are boba teas and smoothies, plus Kool-Aid.

click to enlarge
Eight Row Flint welcomes diners back.
Photo by Julia Gabriel
Eight Row Flint, 1039 Yale, has reopened for dine-in service. It received its Food and Beverage Certificate from TABC, a move that many bars and breweries are doing in order to reopen their businesses. Eight Row Flint reopened May 22 when the restrictions were lifted on bars and nightclubs only to close again when restrictions were reinstated June 26 after the surge in Texas coronavirus cases. Eight Row Flint has been doing to-go orders and cocktails kits in the meantime.

Now, patrons can make their way back to its patio for tacos and frozen cocktails. With its food and bev certification, we've been told that fajitas and tamales will also be making their way to the menu. It is still doing curbside pick-up for those who rather eat and imbibe at home.
click to enlarge
Mai Tai is opening a second location.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Mai Tai Express, 11800 Jones, is expected to open within a month or so, according to a spokesperson for the restaurant. It is an expansion of Pho Mai Tai at 9344 Jones. The new location will offer some different menu items than the original. Customers can expect banh mi, boba tea and coffee drinks.

Karbach Brewing Co. is joining forces with two of Texas' best chefs (The James Beard Foundation says so) to launch a new beer. Houston's Chris Shepherd of Underbelly Hospitality and Austin's Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ have been long-time supporters of one another with Franklin bringing his pitmaster skills to the annual Southern Smoke festival, helping to raise funds for the organization which has contributed millions of dollars to restaurant and hospitality workers during crises such as Hurricane Harvey and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The new beer, Horseshoe Pilsner (4.5 percent ABV) is a smooth. light bodied brew meant to be enjoyed with Texas barbecue. It was originally brewed for Franklin's Hot Luck Festival. Now, Karbach, Franklin and the Hot Luck organizers are teaming with Shepherd to raise funds for Southern Smoke with sales of the Horseshoe Pilsner.  They estimate that the launch of the beer could raise up to $100,000 for the foundation, to be distributed to hospitality workers in need.

It will be available beginning October 5 in grocery and liquor stores and select restaurants and bars.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, 375 W. 19th, is rolling out a fall ice cream that's sure to give a little autumnal thrill to lovers of pumpkin desserts. Beginning September 10, the ice cream shop is selling its Pumpkin Cake Roll made with sweet pumpkin ice cream, spiced sweet cream cheese ice cream and cake. The pumpkin ice cream is made with Buttercup pumpkins grown exclusively for Jeni's.

click to enlarge
Oh, Luby's, don't take your love away.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Luby's Inc. is dissolving and liquidating its assets, according to Houston Business Journal. The company's board of directors made the decision after being unable to find a suitable buyer for the multi-restaurant business. Luby's Inc. currently operates 80 Luby's Cafeteria and Fuddruckers locations and Culinary Contract Services. There are 19 Luby's Cafeteria locations and thirteen Fuddruckers restaurants in the Greater Houston area.

Luby's was founded in 1947 by Robert Luby in San Antonio. It has been a Texas tradition for Sunday family outings, lunchtime workers, people with nowhere else to go on Christmas or frustrated matriarchs tired of doing Thanksgiving every year. The cafeteria-style service and plain, honest cooking has struggled to survive in a world of foodies who are always looking for the next best exotic cuisine or trendiest chef. However, this writer has never seen any of the local Luby's Cafeterias without a car-packed parking lot, so it still has its die-hard fans.

click to enlarge
Luby's may not be going for a long time, yet.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
This may not be the end for Luby's or Fuddruckers, however. The board could abandon the liquidation plan if a buyer is found.

All of this has gotten folks riled up on social media, fearing the loss of their Lu Ann Platters and for some mind-boggling reason, liver and onions. In response, COO Todd Coutee tweeted, "I appreciate the calls, texts and notes regarding our recent press release. Although these are shocking statements, we have 80 Luby's and Fuddruckers locations open to serve you. We are here today and plan to be here a long time."

Saving Luby's begins with you.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.