First Look at Lucille's

Categories: Restaurant News

lucilles2.jpg
Photo courtesy of Lucille's
The main dining room at Lucille's is cool and dark, even on a warm day.
Chef Chris Williams may come from Southern food royalty -- his great-grandmother was Lucille Bishop Smith, a culinary pioneer who owned U.S. Smith's Famous BBQ in Fort Worth and helped establish one of the first college-level commercial foods departments in the nation at Prairie View A&M University -- but that's not keeping Williams from putting his own signature spin on the updated Southern cuisine he's serving at new restaurant Lucille's.

A plate of "pork and beans," for example, comes out as a shallow dish of fresh, vibrantly green fava beans and a huge braised pork shank, all of it in a sweet-and-sour agrodolce reduction that mimics the tangy taste of old-fashioned pork 'n' beans.

And "meat and potatoes" is no plate of pot roast. Instead, it's a $25 hangar steak with sweet potato gratin and a delicate demiglace. And that $25 should be your first signal that Lucille's is taking itself pretty seriously.

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Fried green tomatoes are $8 for three slices; a steep price to pay for produce.
Unlike most other restaurants to open in the Museum District lately -- the chic but casual Jade Stone Cafe or the build-your-own-burrito joint Bodegas -- this new addition is decidedly more upscale.

Although it's mere steps from the Children's Museum, Lucille's isn't the first place I'd think of to bring kids. You'll note its adult aesthetic from the moment you set foot inside the old, converted bungalow and are faced with a long, low-slung bar under exposed timber ceilings and a wall of wine buffeting the main dining room (no surprise when you learn that Williams got his chops working at Max's Wine Dive, among other Houston spots).

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Pork and beans, Lucille's style.
The restaurant is split into two very distinct dining areas, both with their own feel. But it's the main dining room I prefer, with those rough-hewn ceilings and lodge-like feel. It's dark and cozy and inviting and absolutely the kind of place I'd linger over a few glasses of wine from its well-priced list -- a bottle of Barnard Griffin Cabernet, for example, is marked up 83 percent and isn't bad considering the industry average of anywhere from 300 to 500 percent. (The one cocktail I had during dinner was abominable, but I'll reserve overall judgment on the bar program for when the place gets its footing.)

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
The secondary dining room at Lucille's has a broad view into the kitchen.
I wasn't as fond of the rear dining area, however, despite the wide-open pass-through that provides a view into Williams's warm kitchen and front-row seats to watch his dynamo sous chef, Khang Hoang, race around like a blur as Williams calmly expedites the dishes. Although the second dining area has charming dual fireplaces -- one with "Lucille's" spelled out above it in bright, shining tiles -- it felt less put together than the main dining room, with out-of-place dime store prints hanging from one wall and an altogether half-finished vibe.

Perhaps with time, however, this aspect of Lucille's will sort itself out. And if its menus alone -- simple, artfully designed slips of paper with graphic stamps and a clean, modern font -- are any indication of the restaurant's overall aesthetic, I think it will. (I'm not alone in admiring Lucille's menus; Art of the Menu are big fans too.)

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
In the meantime, I'll be quite pleased to head back and get more of Lucille's shrimp and grits, with that same excellent consistency as the grits at The Breakfast Klub, or another plate of perfectly battered and fried green tomatoes in peppery buttermilk dressing.

The prices are quite steep on that last dish, however, so I'm eager to see if either the portions increase (three tomatoes for $8 isn't what I'd call generous, although $19 for shrimp and grits isn't unheard of in Houston -- in fact, one of my favorite shrimp and grits is found for $24 at Brennan's -- and the hanger steak is appropriately priced) or if the food prices fall more in line with the affordable wine list.

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Photo courtesy of Lucille's
Either way, I need to head back to Lucille's for the famous chili biscuits alone: The chili-topped buttermilk biscuits were Lucille Bishop Smith's claim to fame, and were once served on American Airlines flights so popular were they. And maybe they'll be her claim to fame once more, here at her great-grandson's temple to all things Southern.



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Location Info

Lucille's

5512 La Branch St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Max's Wine Dive

4720 Washington Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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14 comments
houstoneats
houstoneats

Had my first meal there recently.  The fried green tomatoes are bangin, and the photo clearly shows five (or possibly more), not the three she refers to in the review.  Overall, great addition to Houston.  Highly recommended. 

LeggoMaggiore
LeggoMaggiore

It's taken a monumentally long time for this place to open, and all the 'foodies' are gobbing on. I hope they are right that Lucille's is worth the wait. We don't need another Max's Wine Dive, which seems kind of 80's meets 2000. Look forward to try, but plenty of new places are opening...with more for less. Just my take.

 

Houston Press
Houston Press

Friend green? LOL. Didn't y'all see the post on how we feel about Mondays?

Houston Press
Houston Press

Friend green? LOL. Didn't y'all see the post on how we feel about Mondays?

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

Getting tired of seeing more and more pretentious overpriced restaurants. I thought we were in a "recession"? Sure couldnt tell by the type of new restaurants I'm seeing being built.

Megan McDaniel
Megan McDaniel

$8 doesn't seem that steep anyway. If they're done right.

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