The Low Down on Down House

Categories: Leftovers

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Photos by Troy Fields
Like this guy, I'm happy to drink anywhere that has the three C's: coffee, cocktails and craft beer.
While I'm still not entirely sure what Down House wants to be -- restaurant, coffee shop, bar, a combination of all three? -- I'm also not so sure that's a bad thing. The little place in the Heights is hopping along quite nicely without being pigeonholed, so perhaps a niche isn't what's needed here.

What is needed, however, is attention to service. Like another favorite, Brasil, Down House suffers mightily in this department.

Brasil was smart, though, in implementing a counter service system: Order your food and/or coffee, then linger as long as you like in its massive space. This removes some of the emphasis on the "restaurant" aspect of Brasil, mitigating any possible criticisms of its service in this area. It's easy to understand and navigate, and your food is delivered via a simple number system. (Of course, you still have to deal with the often surly employees behind the counter to actually order your food, but that's neither here nor there by this point in Brasil's long life.)

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Where Down House goes wrong is by having table service, believe it or not. You'd think this would be a bonus -- people waiting on you at a coffee shop/bar? Sure! -- but not when it's the only way of getting menus, silverware, drinks, food. Because the table service waxes and wanes from superbly attentive to blitheringly oblivious, you're never quite sure how long you're going to wait for your meal or even the best way to get your waiter's attention.

It's a stumbling block, to be sure.

But where Down House does it right is in every other area: good food from a small, constantly changing menu; expertly drawn espressos and other coffee drinks; a clever cocktail list and a craft beer list that should be embraced by even the most hardcore beer nerds; a warm and welcoming interior that encourages you to linger (whether you want to or not).

In this week's cafe review, I was more or less won over by all of these high points in the end, but I still have to ask: Am I putting too much emphasis on service at what is, essentially, a low-key cafe? Or has the "service industry" done itself a gradual disservice over the years by overlooking the operative word in its very title in favor of cute decor, clever menus and faddish foods?

To see more photos from Down House, check out our slideshow.



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Location Info

Down House

1801 Yale, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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26 comments
OtherDavid
OtherDavid

I loved the food and drinks, but the service was a killer.  The staff was nice and attentive when we had them, but it took about 15 minutes to get menus, then 15 minutes before anyone came by to take our order (though that was followed within the next two minutes by other waiters offering to take our orders).  My favorite moment of the night was when three different waiters topped off our water glasses in under 5 minutes, with no one at the table actually drinking any of the water in the meantime.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Stopped in Down House last week with two friends to support them after the recent unpleasantness, and were finished with our meal before the cocktails arrived.  It wasn't even very busy.  The bartender was chatting up people at the bar and smiling in our direction every occasionally, keeping my hopes high, but it was all in vain.  Instead of apology, we got a joke about "dessert" when they finally arrive, first two, then the third and last one 10 minutes later.  They need to step up the level of service here if they hope to survive in this competetive environment.

Marsminute
Marsminute

Don't let Forrest DeSpain see your less than stellar review of Down House!  He'll ban you from the establishment!  I hear they'll soon be serving North Korean fare!

Ali
Ali

I've only been once, but I had a terrible experience which sparked a loooong thread on Facebook. A lot of my friends have been and loved it. However, I have a laundry list of issues.

We were seated at the tiniest table possible with no menus or silverware.

I ordered coffee that was brought out with no sweetener or cream. I flagged someone down to ask for it and it took another 10 min to get so they had to bring out fresh cup for me, which took another 5 min.

My fiance ordered a peach ice-tea and was clearly given raspberry but we were told it was peach. Um. I know what peach tastes like.

My pulled pork has was flavorless.

My fiance's bacon was cooked at too high of a temperature so parts of it were burned with the fat still undercooked.

And about those tiny tables- all of their food comes on the most gigantic plates known to man. Mike ordered the waffle and asked for a side of bacon. Instead of them adding it to the waffle plate, they bring it out on another ginormous plate. They had to remove things from the table and the plates were still hanging off.

Also, that berry syrup for waffle? Gross. No maple syrup is just lame. 

Add all that to the supremely inattentive service and I was completely put off. All of my friends have been begging me to try it again and I probably will... after my food feelings stop being so hurt.

Katy
Katy

I'm so surprised by this review. We clearly had a different experience. My coffee was dreadful, but the service was fantastic. I really wish I could remember the name of the fantastic women that waited on me at the bar. She recommended adding avocado to the Gouda sandwich and was fast, attentive, and obviously thoughtful. I think we both need to try Down House again.

pmcclard
pmcclard

I've seen a couple of reviews/comments that complain about service, but Down House is currently my favorite local (Heights) restaurant.  The food has always been outstanding and my only service complaint is that at one lunch, they served two of our three orders and the last one took a bit too long to show up.  I haven't been to many restaurants more than a few times and not had at least one slightly unpleasant service experience.  The late order in one out of several times just wasn't enough to color my attitude towards this really great cafe with local product.

Christine Ha
Christine Ha

Funny that your experience seems to be opposite of mine. I've always had great service but maybe that's because we come at the same time every weekend, and so the hostess recognizes us. But the food IMO is often mediocre.

leslie
leslie

I've been 3 times, all in the breakfast/lunch time frame.  Once the service was perfect; the other times it was actually just too much.  People stopping by every third bite...my companions and I could barely chat.

The coffee is good.  The food varies, from great to miss.  I want to go for cocktails, but haven't yet.  Their beer list is outstanding.

I can't figure the restaurant out either, but I'm glad it's part of the scene.  It's a really welcome addition to the Heights.

Nicole
Nicole

In my three times there, the service has been inconsistent.  Most recently for dinner and brunch, service was very prompt and attentive.  The one time I went for breakfast, however (which, in all fairness, was soon after it had opened) I had to ask for a refill on my coffee even though several servers were standing around chatting and the table behind me had gotten more coffee.  I have loved the food more, so if it can just improve a bit on the promptness of their service, I think it will do really well.

Kylejack
Kylejack

How about people just having coffee or drinks is counter service but people ordering food get a waitstaff?  I'm not sure how you would set this up, but it seems to make sense...

HeightsJP
HeightsJP

Had a great weekend brunch there – highly recommend the killer Pulled Pork Hash. Service was adequate. Of course, with a coffee house vibe I wasn't expecting 4-star restaurant service. Definitely laid back, but I think justifiably so.

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

Poor service shows a disregard for the customer.  If that's the attitude of management, what other examples of lack of concern are happening that we can't see?

Ryan
Ryan

My opinion is that if you're providing any service, then it should do what it is supposed to do. So either the waitstaff is falling short somewhere or the vision of what the Down House is supposed to be is not very clear.

I'm all about laid back... but laid back is different than poor execution.

I've heard great things about this place and hope they can put a finger on what is causing the perceived inconsistent service.

Zippy
Zippy

Why does the "Location Info" map at the bottom of the article point to Brasil?

Jeff
Jeff

The time I went, service was nice but awful. Took forever, had food for other diners brought to us and then yanked away with no explanation, brought warm drinks (I'm not remotely close to a wine snob, but warm white wine is just yuck), etc. Food was highly mediocre -- quesadillas had little flavor (seemed almost stale) and the tempura vegetables were only giant, watery eggplant wedges that were, quite frankly, gross.

H_e_x
H_e_x

A bit off topic, but I would love to read some interviews from current and former staff from Brasil. Why are they always in such a shitty mood?

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

I've only experienced superbly attentive thus far. The food is great and the coffee kicks ass.

Ali
Ali

I thought the pulled pork has was terrible. The only season came from the potatoes and it was just heat, not flavor.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

I been to Brasil billions of time and I've never had shitty service. Seriously.

WVD
WVD

It's their shtick.

7Valerie7
7Valerie7

LIkewise. I've only been twice, and both times at breakfast, but the service and coffee were both very good.

H_e_x
H_e_x

It's not so much that the service is shitty, rather, its the demeanor of the people behind the counter that leaves much to be desired. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I had a 50-50 experience in my four visits: great service half the time, disinterested the other half. And I've heard the same from dozens of people. If Down House can just maintain the "great" side of its service, I think this place is going to be around for a very long time.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I think that's a fair question. They've been open for two-and-a-half months now, past the one month mark that the AFJ deems "fair game" territory. And from everything I'd heard prior to my first visit, things were going well, so I decided to dive in. To be honest, I think that Down House is a tremendous place that represents a lot of important forward movement and I think it has vast potential -- and I hope that came across in the review, as well.

Theo Shu
Theo Shu

Katherine, is it wrong for me to think the review might be too soon? They had just started serving something other than breakfast when we went two weeks ago. True, they have been open a while now, but the rollout has been baby steps.

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