A Disastrous Brunch at Tiny Boxwood's

Categories: Breakfast

boxwood1.jpg
Maybe I should have stuck with the pastries.
It was the resounding statement from all four of my friends as we left Tiny Boxwood's at 11:30 a.m. this past Sunday morning: "What on earth do people see in this place?"

"Maybe you have to be rich to appreciate it," laughed one of my girlfriends. Even after a fairly disastrous brunch, we all had our sense of humor still intact.

It was our first time eating at the little cafe that's attached to the Thompson & Hansen nursery on West Alabama, and the visual appeal was certainly striking: verdant greenery and a neatly manicured lawn flanked by scattered tables. Inside, the whitewashed walls of the cafe showcased an upscale shabby chic aesthetic. Waiting in line for 30 minutes wasn't so bad with this kind of scenery.

But that's where the attraction ended.

IMG_9501.JPG
What red snapper a la Provençal would ideally look like.
I found myself frustrated that the chalkboard of daily specials didn't list any prices. That the sole young woman taking orders at the counter was doing so with a chip on her shoulder and a seeming desire to make the process as dismal as possible. That the clueless servers walked around from table to table -- despite the presence of little order numbers on stainless steel stands -- sounding utterly bored as they asked questions like, "Ummmmm, did you order a number 62?"

Us: "What's a number 62?"

Server: "Ummmmmm. A pizza."

Us: "What kind of pizza?"

Server: "Ummmmmmm. Bacon?"

And when the food finally came, that's when I lost my patience entirely.

I had ordered the snapper Provençal from the chalkboard, and was looking forward to something along the lines of the photo above, incorporating -- at the very least -- tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Perhaps some olives or onions.

boxwood4.jpg
And what Tiny Boxwood's thinks snapper Provençal is.
What I received was a hockey puck sprinkled with garlic salt and pepper over a bed of arugula and other field greens. Aside from my monumental disappointment that the fish wasn't cooked in anything resembling a Provençal style, I was aghast at how tough and hard the poor snapper was, especially after having spent $25 for my meal (including coffee and an Aranciata).

It was one of three dishes we sent back that morning -- for the record, three out of four. And this was a table of ladies who will eat just about anything. The only acceptable dish was a fruit and yogurt parfait. My dining companions' brunch pizzas were as overcooked and tough as my fish. How do you ruin a pizza? Twice?

We took our items back to the counter one by one and explained our issues with them. No apology was offered. The girls taking our food back clearly didn't care and gave us looks that screamed Picky bitches as they snatched the plates back.

When it came to my fish, I asked them -- nicely, I thought -- if this was the snapper Provençal.

"Yeah," came the idle reply.

"What...exactly is Provençal about it?" I asked. "It's just a piece of fish on some field greens..."

"The salad is Provençal," one of the girls responded. Oh, really, Tiny Boxwoods? The mixed field greens barely coated with a vinaigrette are Provençal? Fine. Call it that if you like, but at least have some respect for that poor snapper filet.

boxwood2.jpg
I did like the dining room and the garden, but that's where the attraction ended.
Fifteen minutes later, I received a new piece of fish. It was happily cooked correctly, flaky and moist. However, the filet was so aggressively salted on top that I had to turn it over and eat it from the bottom, leaving the top portion behind.

My friends' breakfast pizzas fared better, with wonderfully salty cheese and pancetta playing off the sunny egg yolk that broke open and coated the thin crust. I began to get a vague glimpse of what brunch at Tiny Boxwood's could be like on a good day.

But that was all ruined by the continued poor service at the coffee bar when one of us tried to get a latte to go. Just as I was tired of being at Tiny Boxwood's by that point, I'm tired of going over all the many reasons that brunch there was a disaster, and will leave this post with just two questions.

What am I missing about this place, Houston? And why should I ever go back?

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Location Info

Tiny Boxwood's Cafe

3614 W. Alabama St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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59 comments
artificial boxwood hedge
artificial boxwood hedge

Maybe I should have stayed with pastels. It was the bold statement of four of my friends when we were Little Boxwood is at 11:30 am on Sunday morning: "What the hell do people see in this place?" "Maybe you have to be rich to appreciate it," laughed one of my friends.

Foodlover07
Foodlover07

Attitude without the food prices and quality

Foodlover07
Foodlover07

This place is a fad and will go as fast as it came. 

Guest
Guest

Tiny's is best when you get there at 9-10 a.m. Breakfast and coffee are great, and my dog loves the patio. No wait either.

CL91
CL91

Well this all went to hell in a bucket.

PoohAnna
PoohAnna

Houston has way too many nicer places than Tiny Boxwoods. The service is horrible, lack of parking irritates you, and the food is too expensive. I live about two minutes from there and I avoid it at all costs.

laura
laura

I tried to go eat there one weekend at I believe 1 pm, and was told by a very snooty server, that they couldn't seat us because they would be closing soon. Glad I didn't decide to give them another shot.

Anonymous
Anonymous

i stopped eating there after a muffin with a nice curly hair inside, which "doesn't happen here" according to the wait staff.

littlestar05
littlestar05

I was there this very Sunday that this reviewer was and I got to chatting with one of the girls who was running food while I was waiting in line (she is a friend of my sisters). Anyway, not that this excuses bad service or food, but FOR THE RECORD: all three of the food runners were new that day and were being trained. It was their first day. Clearly other people here have experienced bad service consistently enough and this little fact doesn't change that, however I think it is something to take into consideration. Keep in mind, there are often many things going on behind the scenes in a restaurant. Of course, it should be the goal of the restaurant to make sure customers never know.

gaston
gaston

Once again, Ms. Shilcutt, you have dispelled the common assumption that the ability to accumulate wealth automatically confers one with superiour taste buds.

Mike
Mike

I'm so glad you wrote this. My wife and I have waited in line there twice and been driven off by the popped-collar crowd before ordering. This cements my inkling that it was never worth trying in the first place. Thank you.

Rufus
Rufus

I've been to Tiny Boxwoods twice now because I've heard good things and left both times disappointed and baffled at the devotion this place gets. I ordered a fish dish that was similarly cooked. I should have sent it back but just shared my friend's burger, which was better. You are right, the service is horrible and the staff is criminally rude. I'll never go back. Why on earth would I spend money to be treated this way and served such food. And don't even get me started on the parking. What a shame that the clientele, often with ample money, doesn't give more deserving establishments their business.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

I can see why the experience was less than stellar, but I'll go out on a limb and be one of the few to proclaim that I love Tiny's. For me, it's a place out of time. There's no where else like it in Houston. Am I rich? No. Do I live in River Oaks? Uh, no. I agree, there are annoying things about it. The parking sucks. The food could be better and the prices could be better, but in the grand scheme of things, the prices aren't that bad. But I don't go there for the food, really. It's the setting, which is gorgeous, the people watching, which is generally quite interesting, the impossibly large cafe au lait cups, yummy warm cookies, fresh lemonade, the French-speaking patrons that allow me to make believe I'm somewhere in Europe, and the fact that it's not all grey and concrete, not flat and brown. Maybe it's the verdant green grass that attracts me. All I know is that I will actually drive all the way into town on my day off to brunch at this place. I like to go there with a book, have a coffee, breathe a semblance of clean air. Or go with a girlfriend and hang out on the patio dishing about goodness knows what. I brought my girlfriend from Germany here for breakfast one morning, who was amazed she could find such a cute place in Houston and it's one of my go-to places to bring out of towners who have a honky tonk image of Houston.

chef504
chef504

Ok, I have been a chef for years and the picture you posted of the sad filet on sloppy dry greens is an abomination. A restaurant can't just pick pretty names out of their asses and sell pathetic dishes that don't deliver. Thats just straight out lying. Katharine, I would love to cook for you and your gals one day. Here is a rule of thumb that I stand by. I don't treat bad meals like boomerangs. If I throw it I want it to stay gone and not come back in different form and hit me in the tummy later. I simply request that they take it off my bill and comp me a drink. I leave hungry, but buzzed and in the ready to pounce on street food. The experience you described in your review can not just be placed under an off day file.

karamash
karamash

I went there once recently and had a similar horrible experience. No prices on the menu, rude disorganized staff. There are simply too many good restaurants in this city for a place like this to survive. Thank you for the honest review!

Guest
Guest

The one time I went, it was on a corporate card, and I still thought it was overpriced. The service was awful. When you pay that much for "bottomless mimosas", I expect the server will come by more than once during the meal for a refill, or at least leave a carafe somewhere we can get to it. Some of the food was pretty good, some of it was pretty bad, I don't really remember which but I do remember about half the table being annoyed at the food and the other half being annoyed at the service.

Wandering through the greenery after lunch was the best part, and the biggest reason I see for people coming back.

CL91
CL91

That is so strange. This is one of my favorite places to go, and I go there frequently. Everything in your review is exactly opposite of my experiences. The food is usually very good, and service friendly. You must have gone on a very, very off day. How weird that an "off" day could be SO bad.

I've had that same brunch pizza, and it's great - when done right. I'd really suggest trying it again, you're bound to fare better. Or at least it sounds like there's almost no way you could have a worse experience the second time around.

guest
guest

I've only been a few times, the food wasn't bad, but the staff there are absolutely horrendous I haven't gone back. Our waiter didn't know the menu and when asked his suggestion about a bottle of wine he literally said "um...it's a red". Asking around to other staff we decided that they must train everyone there to ignore the customer.

Carriebwc
Carriebwc

i, too, was unimpressed with the experience the one time i ate there. i don't live close enough to go back and deal with the parking and the wait to see if it gets better. too many good places to have a meal here in houston.

Uc7houtx
Uc7houtx

Finally...someone pops the bubble about Tiny Boxwoods. Haven't eaten there in a while, exactly for the reasons you encountered. Not posting the prices is just...annoying as crap. I guess the message is if you have to ask...you shouldn't be there.

Sad part is that there are lots of places in this city with mediocre food which are a lot busier than they should be because they somehow get the right vibe working.

Tiny Boxwoods always reminds me of a Martha Stewart set for her TV shows but missing food that's as carefully constructed as hers.

And for the record, this is why I hate places with counter service that try to do any menu beyond simple cafe food. Because waiters won't work behind the counter and many of the people who do counter service have exactly the attitude problems you encountered. If Tiny Boxwoods switched to waiters...I guarantee some of these problems would disappear.

KnittingReader
KnittingReader

My mother is a slender lady who lunches, and she complained about the small portion size and the prices. That was enough to keep me away.

brandius
brandius

The straight up black coffee is good. It also allows you to avoid the dense waiting staff because it's self-serve.

And that's all I have to contribute in their favor.

Louie
Louie

Tee hee, they misspelled croissants on the chalkboard sign.

Matthew
Matthew

the time i ate there it was fine, and the food was enjoyable. the atmosphere is the interesting thing, though. at lunch during the week it was filled with women that i guess i assumed were mostly a work of fiction; obviously not taking their lunch break from work, dressed fabulously, and lunching fabulously. it was strange to see such a large number of this rare creature that has no care in the world but what to get for lunch that day, and if her tennis lesson needed to be canceled so she could have another bellini.

Apea
Apea

ok, i so agree. i have been several times and i love the beet burger but that is inconsistent and often they are out of it and when i have asked if i could have fruit instead of orzo or potato salad with my burger the lady at the register could not have been ruder. it is the same girl all the time and she is sososososo rude. it is clear that customer service is really offensive to her. ok so then she told me the don't have fruit for sides and i asked can i order fruit alone then to which she said no and then i saw it on the counter, a dish with fruit on the side. for real????

KatieF
KatieF

Ok, have to stick up for Tiny's. Although I really don't like the "ladies who lunch" scene, I've never had a bad meal here. Been there at least a dozen times with friends, on dates, by myself at the bar, and for parties. Goat cheese salad, cheese plate, French picnic, burger, and sandwiches are all excellent and perfect for a relaxing outdoor lunch. Sangria and white wine mimosas refreshing. Atmosphere beautiful (if you turn your chair towards the grassy area and away from the over-Botoxed River Oaks folk).

Agree with one criticism, though: they could definitely post some prices. Every time I go, my eyes bug out of my head when I see the receipt. They are definitely proud of their food. If they're that proud, they should stand behind how friggin much they charge.

Schwarzestiefel
Schwarzestiefel

It might be fun if you treat it like a transportation device to some snotty place in California. You know what it's like when a California friend takes you to some "amazing place" and after the wait and the crappy service and the so-so food, you're thinking "In Houston, I could have had twice as good at half the price, and with a smile as well."

PatriciaO
PatriciaO

I never go there during the day if I can help it. The line is long and waiting for a table is longer. I just walk up to the bar area on the side and get my order to go. The bartenders are friendly enough. I have been there for dinner before, agree w/ the other readers, parking is hectic, wait is ok, the waiters at night are nicer because they are working for tips. Pricing is definitely overrated, but occasionally got some good food from the night menu.

BayouBuzzard
BayouBuzzard

I've eaten at Tiny's semi-regularly since it opened (and no, I don't live anywhere close to this ZIP code or its income levels). My most surreal moment there was when I couldn't find a table inside on a Saturday two summers ago because the entire Bush clan was having lunch at the community table and the Secret Service were occupying most of the smaller tables. Parking isn't that bad, really, and at least they have a lot in the same block rather than make you use a valet <cough>Haven</cough>.

Sure, there are some low points in service (and some of these seem to be structural). Sure, the line can be long. Sure, not every item on the menu is a home run. It definitely sounds like your visit was a "3 strikes and out" moment. But here's why I keep coming back:

* Wonderful seasonal specials (I'm already looking forward to next winter's rabbit stew)

* The best buffalo burger in Houston (but ask for the aoli on the side)

* The best lamb burger in Houston (ditto the aoli from above)

* Great baked goods (esp. the blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies)

Great coffee (when you can get someone's attention): some of the baristas there split their shifts at other places in town with great coffee reputations

CL91
CL91

Popped collar crowd? When was the last time you and your wife tried going, Mike?

Though the aforementioned "popped collar crowd" now flourishes in Sugarland, Katy, Cypress and a few other select areas under its current moniker, the "281-er", they really haven't been present in this part of town since the mid-2000s.

Equestria
Equestria

Tiny Boxwood's is to restaurants what Hudson Lounge is to clubs.

Poissant2
Poissant2

So, it's basically ok food, but a little overpriced, and the atmosphere is what really drives the place. Atmosphere, as in green (btw: verdant = green) and lotsa pretty folk that are fun to watch?

Sounds like what Katharine wrote, except for the really bad food and really bad service.

Fiorucci34
Fiorucci34

I wanna hang out with you, Mai Pham! maybe not at Tiny Boxwoods, but somewhere. Maybe Marfreless? We could sit upstairs, sip drinks in the candlelight and make believe ....hmmm...let me ponder that one. Are you free later this week?

littlestar05
littlestar05

In defense of the salad...

Honestly, I understand where everyone is coming from with the whole Provencal thing but please remember this is a new age of culinary outputs and interpretation. Tiny Boxwoods is by no means a traditional French restaurant and a lot of the menu item (like the Provencal salad) were simply inspired by the chef's time in France. Sure, when you see something described as Florentine, you will expect spinach. But with provence, lets remember the connotation is much wider as this region is known for many things INCLUDING their crispy baguettes, goat cheese, wine vinegar, and delicious olive oil (all things that are in the original Provencal salad). However, the Provencal for Sunday Brunch is a special that just takes the base of the Provencal (without the goat cheese baguette that it is served with for dinner) and adds fish. So, just because you as a customer (addressing the reviewer here) have a preconceived notion of what you are ordering, does not mean that is what you are getting. Perhaps next time you should ask instead of applying culinary generalizations unfairly only to be disappointed. As I noted above, the region is known for MANY things so it would be impossible to know how exactly this chef interpreted the cuisine. The salad is simple, lovely idea in my opinion for someone who is looking for something uncomplicated and straightforward for a meal. If you can't appreciate the simplicity of the idea, then it is lost on you. However, it is unfortunate that the execution of the dish was subpar. Such a shame, because it is a great idea and as I've had the dish before, it can be very very delicious! Also, bad service is unexcusable and I hope Tiny's gets that in check as it seems many, many people feel this way.

Also, as I noted above, I was there on this very Sunday and knew one of the food runners. She was very stressed because not only was it her first day, but also the two other girls who were working. So yes, I do think this was Tiny's on a bad day.

Chalfont232
Chalfont232

Yeah, right. Must have been a terrible off day. When the food was completely sub-par, and the service was clueless and had an attitude of utter diffidence. Just the wrong shift of cooks and staff, I guess?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

You know what the crazy thing is? The morning we were there, the soundtrack to L.A. Story was playing on the speakers (specifically, music from the parts where Steve Martin is rollerskating through the museum and where they're all lunching and eating "California cuisine.") How uncanny is that?!

beer_chris
beer_chris

Comparable buffalo burger to Bubbas TX Burger Shack? Ditto on lamb burger and Petrol? I doubt that, but now I want to try it.

Walstinb
Walstinb

I love rabbit stew too.....but I gotta wonder: Why wait till next winter for it??I can have it at Jeannine's Bistro anytime I'm in the mood.

As far as lamb and buffalo burger: you've got to be pretty talented to mess those things up. It's a cakewalk.

Vanessa
Vanessa

If you want a good lamb burger, go to the Petrol Station in the heights. No snooty baristas, no Bushes, and you can even get a growler of beer to go.

Windcheater
Windcheater

...except at Tiny Boxwood's, that is.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

@Poissant2 generally, i pay no attention to the service because it's not a full service restaurant. You order at the counter and someone brings you the food later. The bussers were slow to clear the tables but if I flagged them down they would do as I asked. The staff could definitely try harder, but I never experienced any rudeness.

While I was not impressed with a steak salad I had there once, the breakfast pizzas are good, the baked goods are good-excellent, and on the occasions I've had their soup of the day, it's been excellent. I always order the club sandwich, which is consistent, hard to mess up and comes with a tangy aoili spread that hits the spot every time. I happen to like it that their portions are not over-sized. And I like that there's a bar where you can order a coffee or a glass of a wine in the middle of the day.

I do love the people watching, but it's not just pretty people, though there are definitely some of those. You get a nice cross-section of fresh faced couples on a first date, groups of women dressed up and down, young families with kids, business people, and yes, the River Oaks set with fancy bags and other things that are great to watch!

But you're right, by and large, the reason I go there is for the setting. Tiny's is secluded. They've built a fence with climbing vines to hide the concrete, the grass is lush and bountiful, and the grounds are so well manicured that on a bright sunny day, I want to be enjoying nature on Tiny's patio.

Shart
Shart

A hunk of overdone fish plopped on top of some greens with a bit of vinegar dribbled on top does not in any way, in any world, in any cuisine EVER equal anything Provencal. Ever. This mess sounds indefensible and it's ridiculous for you to try to excuse this disaster. Seriously. Good Lord.

BayouBuzzard
BayouBuzzard

Once again, I love Bubba's buffalo burger (esp. the Bubba Melt), but Tiny's Buffalo Burger is big enough to share. Plus they're using fresh ground Buffalo (last time I checked, from Pete's Fine Meats) where the buffalo that Bubba's gets is prepared for them in Colorado by special arrangement. Great that they have their own source, but it means frozen buffalo. The buffalo burger at Tiny's is quite a bit bigger than Bubbas. Not that you always want a burger that big, mind you.

BayouBuzzard
BayouBuzzard

Rabbit stew gives me a reason to try out Jeannine's. Thanks for the tip. If burgers are so easy to do right, why do the food writers for both the Press and the Chronicle spend so much time on them? I guess that's another story...

Caggie05
Caggie05

Just to clarify.... Petrol Station is in Garden Oaks, not the Heights... Totally opposite side of 610

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Ooh, I've had that lamb burger and you're right - it's wonderful.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

@Kagan3, i can't seem to get it right. Instead of saying "green green grass", I say "verdant green grass" and someone tells me "verdant" means "green." Now you take issue with "lush and bountiful". Hmm, how bout saying the grass is prettier and nicer than some of the most expensive golf courses I've ever been to? Is that a better description?

Kagan3
Kagan3

"the grass is lush and bountiful,"

-Mai, are you ok? this sounds like something Charlie Sheen might utter.

littlestar05
littlestar05

Did I say I excused the actual execution of the dish? No, I don't think I did. In fact, I think I said it was unacceptable. You say this mess "sounds" indefensible so I am guessing you have never tried the salad when it was done properly, no? What I said about people's view of traditionalist cuisine was my point and if you think it is ridiculous then we are on two separate sides of the river. I was trained at a french culinary school so I get your point. But hey, its 2011. No need to be so hostile, huh? It is a salad and we are talking about FOOD. When did people stop learning how to have a conversation without hostility?

Clemguffner
Clemguffner

Re the Burger coverage, aside from the widest appeal possible: Because most places make burgers either to make money (mass-produced crap) or to show-off (egotists in search of an audience).

And because it gives them a whiff of populism while writing about Tony's.

BayouBuzzard
BayouBuzzard

I'm a big fan of the PS, but Tiny's lamb burger beats theirs: more lamb, for one thing. I'd also point out that PS has its own problems, and those are largely similar to Tiny's: non-existent parking and bad service when the place gets packed. Their beer list, though, could take down just about any place in town.

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