McElroy was actually the second chef of The Durham House during its short lifespan. Original chef Don Schoenburg stepped down in January. Respected bartender Aaron Lara consulted on the initial cocktail menu and after he moved, James Caronna stepped in and did an outstanding job with the program.
The Durham House earned an excellent review from the Houston Chronicle’s restaurant critic, Alison Cook. One of our own reviewers, Nicholas L. Hall, was initially less enthusiastic after he perceived consistency and execution flaws that didn’t seem to justify the menu prices.
However, it was because of The Durham House’s overall positive aspects that Hall selected the restaurant as a top candidate for our first-time-ever “Second Chances” project. He revisited and re-evaluated the restaurant. This time, Hall decided The Durham House had “become the excellent restaurant we could previously see just under the surface.” It makes the closing even more tragic.
The Durham House rarely seemed busy, and the reasons are unclear. Was it the location? The price point? Did people give up on it too soon? Was it inconsistent?
It could be any of those things, but what is for certain is that the leadership staff and owner of The Durham House put everything they had into it.
Don’t count Natarajan out yet, though. He’s already planning a new concept that is slated to open this fall. It will certainly benefit from the lessons learned at The Durham House.