What Did benjy's Ever Do To You?

Categories: Local Spotlight

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Photos by Troy Fields
I hear benjy's gets a lot of flack. You've seen it too. It crops up here in the comments sections, on Twitter, in everyday conversations. I've honestly never understood it. And after reviewing benjy's on Washington this week, I understand it even less.

While I've had one fair-to-middling meal at benjy's, every other meal I've ever eaten -- at both the Village and the Washington Avenue locations -- has been solid, well-executed and enjoyable. Enjoyable. I'm always impressed with the kitchen's flavor pairings, with the effortless way Chefs Mike Potowski (on Washington) and Joseph Stayshich (in the Village) weave local products into dishes alongside brazenly exotic ingredients and the way that a steady thread of Asian influence is woven into otherwise Texan dishes: Korean tacos with Broken Arrow Ranch venison sausage, for example, or a beautiful, wasabi-accented sashimi made with Gulf-caught cobia.

To paraphrase Emerson, "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." And consistency is rarely an issue at benjy's. Service is always easygoing, friendly and swift, your meal comes out prepared exactly as anticipated and flavors never bounce manically or jar the palate -- there is a smoothness and a calm to both the atmosphere and the food that I find imminently enjoyable.

Once again, enjoyable. Is that something we, as diners, don't look for anymore? A simple, enjoyable meal? Does everything have to blow back your hair like that tacky Trojan commercial that's actually an ad for vibrators (you're not fooling anyone, Trojan). That's one of the only reasons I can think of as to why benjy's is consistently knocked.

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Another other reason I've heard bandied about is that the food is expensive. I disagree with this assessment, for two reasons.

Number one, good quality food isn't cheap. Ask yourself why a hashbrown and sausage biscuit at McDonald's is $1, not why locally-produced food from reliable sources is $15 a plate. I'm not one of those who thinks benjy's is expensive purely because of its chic clientele; I'm one who understands -- at least tangentially -- food costs, and getting what you pay for. And I'm one who supports big restaurants like benjy's purchasing from and supporting these smaller, independent farms that need the money more than ever during the Texas drought and the national recession.

Number two, benjy's isn't an everyday dining sort of place. To me, it's a casually upscale place to have a nice dinner with friends, or enjoy a pleasant date night. You generally pay more in these situations, and would do at other restaurants -- so why does benjy's get short shrift?

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A final reason I've heard is that people simply don't like benjy's owner, the eponymous Benjy Levit. I've never met the guy. I don't know him from Adam, except that in my short time here at the Press with my ear to the ground, I've heard far worse things about far more popular restaurant owners -- and virtually nothing about Levit. But how I feel or don't feel about the owner has very little impact on how I feel about his restaurants.

They're good. They're solidly good. They're accessible, even if they look fancy from the outside. And they stock local brews like Karbach, which will be spotlighed tomorrow night at a Houston Beer Week dinner starting at 6 p.m. Karbach's array of beers will be featured with Chef Potowski's courses like smoked local sashimi, akaushi ramen and pork kalbi. It's as good a time as any to check benjy's out for yourself.



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Benjy's on Washington

5922 Washington, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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55 comments
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Graphictees
Graphictees

Very professional written review of t-shirts. Keep us updated with this sort of stuff always. I will be coming back to read more here.

A friend
A friend

I've known Benjy for years and can't think of any reason someone wouldn't like him. He's a genuinely nice person and works his ass off to make his restaurant great.

John Seaborn Gray
John Seaborn Gray

Wait, the Trojan Intimate Touch Personal Massager is a vibrator?! Oh. No wonder it wasn't doing anything for my back.

Corey
Corey

Also sly prophylactic references in a food article, just screams class.  I'm sure we could've found a far more suitable metaphor..

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I wasn't being sly. And around here, we spell class with a K.

Corey
Corey

kute dear Kath..

J_son0823
J_son0823

Sorry, every time I eat there I leave dissatisfied. I have had dinner, brunch and happy hour all at the rice village location. Dinner was forgettable, their chicken and waffles are smothered with way too much jam, their house cured bacon was gross. And like I said before, they water down their happy hour drinks, the first one will be right but after that it was half tonic water/ half whisky. 3-4 times, consistently they will serve it the same way.I don't come here unless I have to.

Thoedejr
Thoedejr

STOP EATING THERE!!! Sonic is open till 1. Some taco bell's are 24. Heck whataburger!! Plenty of food savoy people like yourself there and if you hate the clientele there you get it to go.

Thoedejr
Thoedejr

Where Else can you get a $5 half whiskey/ half tonic drink?

J_son0823
J_son0823

I have to quote myself, "I only eat there when I have to".I'd rather go to Branch water, I think they are about the same price range for better food.

Corey
Corey

I've already said my peace, this article is filed under "pathetic" apologist dreck..

Jalpeno
Jalpeno

I've been to Benjy's twice and thoroughly enjoyed it both times, from the free app variety platter to the mushroom pizza.  I don't know who else was there, other than who was with me.  What's that about?  Are you such a paranoid misfit that you have to survey the diners in a restaurant before you'll order a meal?  Weird.  

Thoedejr
Thoedejr

I worked for Benjy for a little while and believe he is one of the most honorable restaurateurs in Houston. He works seven days a week more than anyone that works for him, provides insurance which is unheard of in this industry, and cares more about his restaurant and its image than most. I know the negativity hurts him and his staff personally. I have never understood why he and his restaurant catch so much negativity, because you don't understand someone does not make them wrong or a bad person. There is a reason why there is two benjy's and why he is successful. Benjy Levit is one of Houston's greatest restauranteurs and most kind and fair business owners.

J_son0823
J_son0823

by that logic, IHOP should be one of THE best restaurants around since they have a lot more than one location. BTW do I get great service at IHOP

J_son0823
J_son0823

They used to water down my drinks during happy hour on more than 1 occasion, they would use tonic water which is very noticeable.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Sorry, but I have to agree with Anonymous. I have never experienced anything of the sort at either Benjy's locations. I love Benjy's happy hour, and in my experience, their drinks are not only strong, but very consistent. In fact, I wish more bars would serve drinks as good as Benjy's does. Their mojitos are served in larger than average glasses, and are always strong. Blood orange margarita is enough to get me tipsy on one drink. I've actually had to ask them to add mixer in some drinks (martinis) because they were too strong for me! And I've been to both locations on numerous occasions, dating back for several years. So... I am really flabbergasted by your comments. 

Anonymous
Anonymous

I'm gonna call complete bs on this, unless you ordered a gin & tonic. Why would someone water down your drink with anything other than water? Come up with another story if you want to badmouth this place.

J_son0823
J_son0823

sorry, it happened. what am I supposed to do to prove it? It happened to me every time during happy hour: 1st drink is good, 2nd drink is watered down and it tastes like tonic.Either they really watered it down or they aren't washing their cups <- which would be another issue if not a worse problem.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

Ok, now you really sound like a 15 year old.  Night, sweetheart.

Corey
Corey

Didn't your karma already get you stabbed? One would think you would learn to just STFU, message board troll, try getting out for something other than stuffing your bloated face loser.

Corey
Corey

 Irrelevant, is a better term for your overly juvenile and equally stupid handle. I doubt you'd pronounce my last name correctly anyway Richard Head..

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

As are you, Haim/Feldman.  Go become irrelevant elsewhere.

Corey
Corey

Definitely living up to your name fatherless..

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

But you said it has happened multiple times.  So they are giving you multiple tonic-laced glasses to go with your beverage.  If you feel the need to make shit up, at least be consistent.

Staci
Staci

The kim chi fried rice is the bomb that fell off the chain. 

Ali
Ali

I've always loved Benjy's. I find the food really executed well and delicious. Pricing is on par with every other restaurant of it's caliber in the city, so I don't see how that's a complaint. And I've met Benjy twice. Always pleasant, efficient and helping serve the customers. I have a lot of respect for him.

iMidget
iMidget

You won't meet Benjy because he's busy picking up and processing your bill while your waiter is running someone else's food, or cleaning something, or manning the hostess stand.  He's busy, just as the rest of the staff is. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

Pay no mind to the idiots.  I've been going to both since one of my exes said it was her favorite restaurant since 2007 and it has always been a good experience.  Yes, I have also had just so-so items, but not often.  The service here is always the best in town.  As to who might be at a table next to me?  Who gives a flying f***?  That has to be the stupidest reason I've ever seen for not going to a restaurant. 

ec
ec

The parking situation at the Washington location was enough to keep me away.  When I called, I was told that half the parking lot was non valet.  When i arrived all the cars were backed into the spaces i.e. valet parked.   I went in and asked the manager and he "pretended" that some of the lot was public parking but the valet service told me otherwise.

After I left I noticed some of the same valets were parking cars at an abandoned convenience store nearby with no one watching the lot.  No thanks.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Oh, that is no bueno! One of the things I liked about benjy's was that despite the WashAve location, valet was optional. I've always found a space in the first row, even during the dinner rush. I wonder if they've since done away with the valet company you dealt with?

TQro
TQro

Adding another point to Katherine's regarding higher quality ingredients equating to higher prices, you have to also consider the portion size. benjy's portions are considerably substantial.  Some of the comments remind me of yelp comments.. 'the customer in front of me was wearing pajama pants, this place s*cks, never going back'.

K, my kids' favorite dish there is the beef udon! 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

So, what I'm getting out of 75% of the comments so far is...you don't like the other diners. Is that a fair assessment? More to the point...is that a fair thing to judge a restaurant on? Its customers?

/Not being argumentative, just curious.

'stina
'stina

For me, yeah.  Especially when the diners make the place loud, difficult to get into, and sometimes crowded.  I'm a big fan of the Village location. I avoid the Washington location, because I avoid most Washington locations.  

former NFL assistant
former NFL assistant

well, if dining is an experience, then yes: it's at least a factor to consider

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I guess when I dine out, the other customers are my last consideration. Well, maybe the quality of the toilet paper or the mints by the hostess stand. But, seriously, I'm usually more focused on the food, the service, the decor, the beer, the wine, etc... We all value/notice different things when we eat out.  :)

brandius
brandius

FattyFatBastard! Always on HP to equalize the other sarcastic and hateful commenters! 

Also, is DB really 97? I mean, I know its older, but is 97 the correct year?

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

Yep, DB.  There's another one.  BTW, 1997 called and they want their completely overused word back. As long as you feel so unique, how about coming up with unique terminology.  Thanks.

brandius
brandius

I always consider it. It's the same reason I choose one bar over another. I'll pick the from a pool of the same five beers I prefer, but if people start douching up a bar, I am less likely to return.

Benjy's on Washington is good, but after a certain time at night, the DB's come out and kills the atmosphere. It was more of a problem when they first opened and seems to be evening out now. 

ec
ec

Thanks for showing the salad in the first picture.  That photo should be in the dictionary next to mediocre.

Wuwu
Wuwu

I have heard Benjy far from friendly himself, however, I have never met him.  His team does a solid job, both locations.  Each time we have been there, probably at least 10 we leave very satisfied.  Their brunch for example, excellent.  Their bloody mary's, excellent and creative.  This food to me is always good, each visit I make!

Corey
Corey

He probably paid them to say that..

H_e_x
H_e_x

Expensive, uninspired food surrounded by tools.

Corey
Corey

Hit the nail on the head..

Kyle
Kyle

I have just never found it to be very excellent. Some of the table snacks and appetizers (ahem, "small plates") are good, but the mains are always just very boring and not that good. I've tried a buffalo hanger steak they had once, the seared tuna, the tofu rice, and the short ribs, and it was just all very boring.

The tuna in particular had a funky taste to it. Table 7, which I don't even like very much, makes a seared tuna dish that is far better for half the price. And that's another problem with Benjy's: It's a great atmosphere, and I feel like I'm paying a whole lot more for that.

It's only really useful for those times when I have to eat with a picky eater who insists on salmon.

brandius
brandius

I like Benjy's. However, I hate openly admitting it since the typical clientele are not the type of company I personally keep (too many white people and typically too many khakis or bedazzled muscle shirts). 

Anonymous
Anonymous

Yeah, let's start judging restaurants on the clientele, particularly their race and what the customers wear, those seems like appropriate criteria. Also, I wear khakis...who gives a shit?! I have to wear them to work and may be headed to dinner afterward and not have time to change...I didn't realize all the hipsters in their skinny jeans, vintage t-shirts, ironic thick rimmed glasses, and unneccessary scarves would be sitting around judging me and the restaurant I'm in on my business casual dress...see how stupid it sounds judging people on their clothing?!?

brandius
brandius

Holy angry Anon.

I said I LIKE Benjy's (which is kind of the point of the article) and I totally owned up to the clientele usually being made up of types that I PERSONALLY do not PREFER to associate with. 

I didn't say I was a hipster (gross) sitting in a corner mocking the clientele or people wearing khakis and bedazzled muscle shirts. And the over generalization of white people, khakis, bedazzled shirts was a joke based on a very bite of truth in regards to the whole who eats there.

Get a grip and maybe a self-esteem check. They are just khakis. 

brandius
brandius

Obnoxious sarcastic white girl who hates the bulk of human life and spends too much time while on the clock making fun of people on the internet. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

And what "type" would you say you were, since you seem to enjoy stereotyping.  Surely you fall somewhere on that spectrum. 

Anonymous
Anonymous

Alright, sorry, my overly angry moment there was misdirected and a bit over the top. I just thought most of the hate in these comments was pretty baseless and the diss on my beloved khakis sent me over the edge, haha. Nobody likes to get grouped in with the bedazzled muscle shirt douchebags...whoops, there I go judging on clothing, oh well, sometimes stereotypes hurt more because they're just true.  

Carrie Schadle
Carrie Schadle

actually, the happy hour in the upstairs bar at the washington locale is always much more diverse than most places in houston.  i don't find it to be a white people in khakis kind of place at all.

brandius
brandius

I'm white and like making racist jokes about white people because I like being immature like that. 

I actually prefer the downstairs bar over the upstairs bar just because it's usually less crowded at the actual bar. And yes, they do have a GREAT happy hour. 

Knittingreader
Knittingreader

I love going there for Happy Hour. The $6 appetizers are good and large enough for dinner.

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