PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity October 2023 Houston

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Page 37 of 147

Make way for Hudson House and Drake's Hollywood I t ' s b e e n a p a i n s t a k i n g t w o y e a r s i n t h e m a k i n g . C o n s t r u c t i o n delays — care of a change of ownership at River Oaks Shopping Center and plans for an aesthetic revamp of its façade — left Hudson House simmering on the back burner. But its Dallas parent company, Vandelay Hospitality Group (Hudson House, Drake's Hollywood, Brentwood, Anchor Sushi Bar, D.L. Mack's, and others), finally swung open the doors of the seventh location of their American grill late last month, next door to the always buzzy, always packed Brasserie 19. If that cheeky corporate moniker sounds familiar, you must be a Seinfeld fan. Vandelay founders Hunter Pond and Kyle Brooks, former college roommates, w a t c h e d t h e s i t c o m religiously for years. Their Texas home-grown group boast 10 different restaurant concepts in Dallas, with one outpost in Beverly Hills (Hudson House) and one in West Hollywood (Drake's Hollywood). Hudson House is their first full-service restaurant in Houston's River Oaks area — and it won't be their last. But more on that later. Their initial entry into the market several years ago was the fast-casual East Hampton Sandwich Company, but it didn't go quite as planned. COVID and take-out services such as Uber Eats and Favor cut deep into their bottom line — not to mention a 3,000-square- foot location (one of three) in one of priciest retail enclaves in the city, River Oaks District. Lessons were learned and concept changes subsequently made as they exited the city. Undeterred, Vandelay has turned the proverbial page. Speaking to Hunter Pond on Labor Day, I asked how Houston's Hudson House will differ from the Dallas version. "For one, we spent more money," he said. "This is a Northeastern-inspired restaurant with a nautical vibe. I always like to say Ralph Lauren is a huge inspiration for us. This place is like Hillstone meets a Ralph Lauren store." Tastefully decorated with wood-paneled walls, blue- and-white Chinese-style ginger-jar lamps, and cozy banquettes in a rich nautical navy blue, the decor is a collaboration between their in-house design team and Dallas-based firm Foxcroft Studio. Hudson House is billed as an American grill that serves timeless American fare. The menu — which is identical at lunch and dinner — has a check average of $35 per person. "The cheeseburger is what exploded the concept," Pond says. "We utilize a special bakery for the white- seeded brioche bun. But it's a combination of the softness of the bun, the meat-to-cheese- to-bread ratio, and our Hudson sauce made with a few signature spices that make it great." There's also a raw bar with an oyster- shucking station and a menu groaning with salads, sandwiches, and entrees such as maple planked salmon, French chicken, pan-seared red fish, and steak frites. A popular happy hour brings their signature chilly martinis — billed (and even trademarked) as "the world's coldest martini." Whether you like yours with gin, vodka, or otherwise," Pond says. "We sell a lot of martinis. And they are all going to be the world's coldest. First, we chill the glass, shake them extra-long … We even replace your chilled glass with another chilled glass if you're halfway through your martini." A rriving late this year in the former stead of the original Georgia James steakhouse in the Montrose area, Drake's Hollywood is arguably Vandelay's most high-profile concept. With a weeks-long wait for a table at both their Dallas and Beverly Hills locations, we're guessing you can expect the same here. Vandelay purchased the building a year ago and has been retooling the 8,500-square-foot space ever since. Having visited the Dallas Drake's, I can attest to its very see-and-be-seen nature, where tables clustered close together under the glow of flattering light foster a jovial party atmosphere of table hopping and delicious people watching. In terms of inspiration, Pond admits there is a direct through-line from the decor at Drake's Hollywood to Graydon Carter's famed celebrity haunts, Waverly Inn and his revamp of Monkey Bar in New York, Two New Dallas Restaurants Make Inroads in Houston By Laurann Claridge Burger and martini at Hudson House Drake's Hollywood Dallas (Continued on page 136) 36

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