The Biggest Disappointments of 2011
I think that 2012 is shaping up to be Houston's year, after a long 2011 featuring false starts, delayed openings, unexpected closings and failures to launch.
The upside of Byrd's Market closing: Georgia's Farm to Market coming downtown.
That's not to say that 2011 didn't have its perks: Look for our list of the year's best new restaurant later this week. But it came with its share of disappointments, too.
Byrd's Market flies the coop: After what seemed like eons, Rusty Powers finally opened Byrd's Market, which many downtowners hoped would be the great grocery store they'd lacked for years. The location at Main and Prairie was perfect: right on the light rail line and close to the action, in a beautifully redone historic building with high ceilings and plenty of light. But the space was utilized poorly, with most of the footprint devoted to Powers's cafe instead of the tiny grocery and deli section. Less than a year after opening, the produce bins were devoid of fruits and veggies and the shelves carried only gourmet dried goods that could be procured anywhere else in town. The food in the cafe was never very good either, and Byrd's Market finally gave up the ghost in July. The silver lining to this cloud? The much more established Georgia's Farm to Market is moving in, and bringing real groceries with it.
Cafe Moustache takes us for a ride: When longtime Montrose restaurateur Manfred Jachmich closed So Vino in the summer of last year, there were hopes that whatever he opened next in the space would be better than the expensive yet downtrodden food he'd been serving at So Vino for the past few years. Instead, we got Cafe Moustache, which offered different food -- "French" instead of "Italian" -- yet it was still as downtrodden and expensive as ever. Not surprisingly, Cafe Moustache closed too. But that's where the good news ends: Jachmich reportedly intends to team up with Ruggles chef Bruce Molzan when Molzan opens his new pizza place in the old So Vino location next year. Whether that will actually happen or not is up for debate, however...
Whatever becomes of So Vino/Cafe Moustache, the popular wine bar will likely always remain in place.
Restaurants take their staff for a ride: 2011 was the year the servers fought back against unscrupulous managers, most notably when Ruggles staff walked out on a busy Saturday night earlier this month after chef and owner Bruce Molzan had failed to pay them overtime and tips for months. Several employees filed a lawsuit against the restaurant, which joined lawsuits from servers across the city as Brasserie 19, Reef, Bombay Pizza and Blue Water Seafood were all hit with similar lawsuits of their own.
Greatfull Taco dead heads: In a flame-out that resembled that classic Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, First Fig, owner Paul West's candle most definitely did not last the night. His restaurant, Greatfull Taco, was a deliberate homage to Torchy's Tacos, which would not franchise to West. His solution? Open a better version of it here in Houston, complete with the craziest press release I've ever personally received. The redesigned building at 2411 S. Shepherd was beautiful, and the food -- standard "gourmet taco" fare -- was far better than expected. But soon, Greatfull Taco lost its chef, and shortly after, its lease. In a final ironic twist, Torchy's Tacos moved into the very same space that once aspired to be bigger and better than Torchy's itself.
Torchy's Tacos dull grey aesthetic doesn't do its former tenant justice.
The Brownstone has foundation issues: For a very long time, The Brownstone was one of Houston's swankiest hidden gems. The upscale, out-of-the-way River Oaks restaurant on Virginia was filled with antiques -- and in later years, this description extended to the food and clientele as well. When it closed a few years ago, no one was terribly surprised. But when it reopened this year, there was great hope that The Brownstone would reclaim its former glory, with Tony's alum Chef Olivier Ciesielski creating a menu for the new joint and a cute cocktail program in place. Those hopes were short-lived, though, as The Brownstone never quite lived up to its promise and closed a few months later. Bruce Molzan -- whose name we're starting to associate with some pretty miserable locations -- said that he hoped to move into the location and start a new restaurant. But, as stated above, he's kind of busy right now...