Max's Wine Dive Moving into Montrose; What Does That Mean for Houston?

Categories: Restaurant News

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Max's makes the move to Montrose.
Fried eggs and truffle oil as toppings may be old hat to foodies these days. We're easily distracted creatures who paw like needle-clawed kittens at every new bauble that comes along.

But back in the rollicking days of the mid-2000s, the novelty had not yet worn thin and restaurants like Max's Wine Dive were blowing the average diner's mind by serving Champagne with fried chicken.

It's with nostalgia for a simpler time that I read my friend Judy Le's review of the original Max's Wine Dive when it opened in Houston in late 2006. Le's write-up at the now-defunct Houstonist (where she and I first met) is filled with the kind of sincere wonder that was fostered by swaggering restaurants like Max's Wine Dive, where chef Jonathan Jones -- he of the steak knife driven pointedly into a po-boy the size of a Chrysler at successive restaurant ventures such as Beaver's -- was showcasing the type of intentionally over-the-top food that quickly became his signature.

"Our plate of deluxe fries were piled high on a huge platter, smothered in venison chili, black truffle oil, gruyere cheese and two fried eggs," wrote Le. "After a split second to admire the decadence, the plate was cleaned spotless by our greedy little fingers."

Le finishes: "How is it possible that we have never had fried eggs on top of chili fries?!"

How indeed, one wonders now with over six years' worth of distance from the original Max's menu, was that possible? You can get a Faygo topped with a fried egg these days. Where has our innocence gone?

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Photo by Tam Vo
Lasco Enterprises is home to talented chefs such as Michael Pelligrino (pictured) at Max's Wine Dive and Raymong Vandergaag at The Tasting Room.
Max's Wine Dive continues to stun and impress with its food, now under the stewardship of the more focused chef Michael Pelligrino, whose menu these days is split between Max's classic dishes and his own creations. You'll still find the Nacho Mama's oysters and Texas "haute" dog, but you'll also find Pelligrino's relatively austere dishes like trout with lentils, roasted tomatoes and charred lemon cream or roasted cauliflower dressed simply in olive oil, salt and pepper.

And although -- to the foodie's eye -- the hubbub may have died down, Max's still merits a long wait and packed house every night at its original Washington Avenue location. It was one of the first entrants to the Washington Avenue scene, an orgiastic 24-7 party which paired well with what Texas Monthly dubbed a "food orgy" inside the restaurant, and although the club and bar scene itself has now died down, Max's Wine Dive has survived intact.

Indeed, the once-frenzied Washington Avenue strip seems to be settling down into some version of maturity and is now one of the better restaurant corridors in town, boasting critical darlings like Coppa and benjy's, straightforward favorites like Laurenzo's and BRC Gastropub and promising newcomers like Hollister Grill, Katch-22 and Federal American Grill.

Max's Wine Dive has clearly learned something along the way, opening locations in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas during those intervening years -- all of which are as successful as their mothership. Perhaps you've long wondered why Max's hasn't opened another location in Houston, perhaps you haven't. Either way, Max's is doing so now.

Lasco Enterprises (which also owns The Tasting Room chain of wine bars, another wildly successful venture that started as a small tasting room approximately the same size as the original Max's) announced last Friday that a second location of Max's Wine Dive would be opening in Montrose next door to Cuchara. While an exact date hasn't been set for its grand opening, this second location will offer more space than the notoriously tiny Washington Avenue spot -- though only by 500 square feet -- and the same combination of upscale "dive" food and chef-driven dishes that define the original location.

A chef has not been hired for this new location, although it's tough to imagine that some smart young thing out there won't snap this up. A showcase restaurant in the middle of the hottest dining neighborhood in Houston isn't exactly a tough sell.

What remains a tough sell for me, however, are a few niggling thoughts.

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Max's Wine Dive

4720 Washington Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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30 comments
carriebwc
carriebwc

I wonder--does two locations (or even three) a chain make?

FRL713
FRL713

I don't understand the author's complaints about local restaurants expanding to new neighborhoods.  Houston is a big city, and there's plenty of room for expansion.  If the quality suffers than the new location is likely to fail.  I have heard friends complain about the declining quality of Max's, and I did chalk it up to mgmt spread thin by rapid expansion.  Give it time and the market will shake things out and the "delicate balance" will be restored, even if it isn't your ideal proportion of corporate vs. Mom and Pop joints.

At least she admits that it's hypocritical to bash the city parking requirements and then turn around and complain about a lack of parking at new restaurants in Montrose. 

Risa Jenkins
Risa Jenkins

More parking nightmares and more of the same just in different locations and often using different names...Houston doesn't seem to want unique, individual, single locations establishments...and that is a shame!

Anse
Anse

The thing that matters is the quality of the product, yes? Seems like these other concerns are secondary. 

brittany1362
brittany1362

I am so flipping excited.  Welcome to the neighborhood!!

Dylan Osborne
Dylan Osborne

I think it will be one more nail in Montrose's funky coffin.

Hayden Greenwade
Hayden Greenwade

The future is bleak! I am a chef and have worked for TTR, Liberty Kitchen, and several other trendoid places. The food is sub-par (at best) and the clientele that frequents these places are mindless automatons that only frequent these places due to the "trendiness"!!. And this "Korean Craze" needs to hurry up and run it's course. For such a large city with SO MANY options; the majority of those options SUCK!!!! Frozen fries and a splash of cheap truffle oil is not "haute cuisine"!!! The LAST thing we need is more of the same!!!

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

I recall initially reading about their $15 hot dog.  It was something I had to try, so I grabbed my friends and we headed over, back when Washington Ave. was still disheveled.  It was good, but not $15 good.  Then, a friend let me know about the fried egg sandwich.  Oh hell yeah.  If there is one sandwich I hope makes Houston a "sandwich" town, this should be it.  As iconic as Primanti bros. or anything else.

pirandello
pirandello

Thanks for putting a little thought into this news, instead of breathlessly massaging the press release like most local writers. People care more about analysis, in the end, than breaking a story like this. 

I agree that Max's isn't as earth-shaking as it was when it opened, and others have pushed the taste markers, but it will be very crowded nonetheless, and that intersection is going to be a clusterfuck. Maybe Kevin at Gratifi should convert one of his spaces into a parking garage.

To your other point, I'm doubtful that Lasco Enterprises, which has earned a reputation for being notoriously frugal and legally fastidious, spent close to 'market price' in taking that space. But, having a successful business there will increase prices somewhat I would think for the next entrants in the neighborhood. (Is Meteor still alive? Does that Tex-Mex place on Fairview do any business at all?)

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

"Some even tend to regard our own legitimately good, homegrown chains like James Coney Island or the Pappas family of restaurants with unwarranted disdain."  

Thanks for that.  People tend to knee-jerk slam Pappasito's just because it IS a chain, but they need to go and try it before they flap their lips.  It is consistently good with all house made ingredients, even the sour cream.  And as to JCI, one only has to read the accompanying blog post here this morning to see how they strive for excellence in the local fast food scene.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@carriebwc Two locations in Houston, three in other Texas cities, so five in total -- I'd say Max's is approaching chain territory. That's neither good nor bad, however. It just is.

jethro
jethro

@carriebwc  No sweetie, Wiki says a minimum of 4 is necessary a chain to make

jethro
jethro

@FRL713 

My great-grandfather shared your sentiment, advising the young Van Gogh to paint his most popular portraits over and over. "There are many Frenchmen, Dutch and Germans willing to buy your canvasses, the exact same ones," he would quip to Vincent "yet you seem determined to fill a large Continent with many different paintings, which naturally take longer to conjure and execute, where are your business marbles, my boy?".

Montroser
Montroser

@pirandello The Tex-Mex place on Fairview...you mean La Mexicana? They're constantly packed. Or do you mean the Puerto Rican place, Tex-Chick? Or the pink Tex-Mex place, El Paradiso?

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

@Jalapeno I proudly state that Pappasito's has the best beef fajitas.  Never judge a book by its cover.

Anse
Anse

@maichepapier @Anse Do you mean to say that the quality of a product does not always equal market success? Well that's hardly worth pointing out, is it? I just fail to see the problem with restaurant owners branching out. A lot of new locations end up sucking. Some don't. Uchi seems to have done pretty well, though I wonder if Tyson Cole doesn't worry about cheapening the brand a little bit. Isn't there an exclusivity component to good restaurants? Don't we sophisticated diners appreciate the local thing precisely because you can't get it anywhere else? 

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

@Kylejack I would (and do) pay more for higher quality, and their fajitas are the only ones I eat.  I'm not a fan of fajitas, but their meat quality is outstanding.  @gossamersixteen, they are marinated in Dole Pineapple juice and soy sauce, that is all.  :)

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

@Kylejack Skirt steak is a whopping $3-4 a pound too. Sorry some garlic powder, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lime don't justify those insane prices. 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

edit: Er, Fatty mentioned beef fajitas. My bad.

maichepapier
maichepapier

@Anse @maichepapier  

Do you mean to say that what matters is more than simply the quality of the product? Then, that's hardly worth pointing out.

Personally I don't mind restaurant owners 'branching out' either; however, I'm more fond of the brand extension model like Da Marco, Dolce Vita, Poscol, than the clone and expand model like Max's or JCI. I'd rather have differing visions and approaches than different store locations, but hey, who am I?

johnatrisk
johnatrisk

@pirandello @Montroser The asado de puerco at El Paraiso is ridiculously good...as are the table sauce and the margaritas. Tortas and chalupas are usually excellent as well, but the queso and enchiladas are inconsistent. Still, I live about a block from both it and La Mex, and except for breakfast, Paraiso strictly dominates...also, about half the price of La Mex. Seriously, go get the asado de puerco, add the charro beans, and have two margaritas. It'll be about $20.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@pirandello @Montroser I admit that I've never been to El Paradiso. When I lived in Montrose, I could walk there but my neighbors never had anything nice to say about it (and La Mex was just as close...).

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

@pirandello @Montroser I'm dragged kicking and screaming to El Paraiso occasionally by a couple of people who actually like it, and it's almost always empty. Meteor is open only on weekends and is usually crowded.

Thanks, Katharine, for such a thought provoking piece. I have to agree that Max's in this neighborhood will be like Godzilla stomping on Tokyo. We'll see how it turns out.

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