Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen - Fast Casual in the Woodlands

December 6, 2010

It's an exciting time to live in the Woodlands.  Every month brings two or three interesting new places to eat.  However, as a burger lover, 2010 has been more down than up - we still lament the closing of Tesar's, home of one of the best burgers that we've ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  We've sampled some very good burgers out here, but none have yet climbed that lofty perch that is left vacant by the closing of Tesar's.

But we keep looking.

Ever since we inadvertently crashed the grand opening party, we've been big fans of Hubbell & Hudson.  Their flagship Waterway location is a gourmet grocery store, and upscale bistro, and a highly-regarded cooking school - a combination that warms the heart of any food lover.  We were excited to hear that they were planning a second location - where would it be?  Downtown Houston?  The Galleria?

Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen

It turns out that H & H's second location was to be right here in the Woodlands, across on Research Blvd just east of Gosling.  Called Hubbel & Hudson Kitchen, it's a tightly edited version of the original concept.  The expansive gourmet market has been focused on the gourmet items you might want to pick up on your way home from work, and the bistro has been pared back into a counter-service fast-casual concept.

What you see as you walk in

We were very impressed by the concept, and how well it should fit into the modern busy lifestyle.  Stopping in on the way home is much more convenient than pulling into HEB's Woodlands Market (or Hubbell & Hudson on the Waterway), yet you still have a store full of high quality items from which to shop.

The market area has a carefully edited selection of high-quality meats, fresh vegetables, cheeses, beer and wine, dry goods, sauces, snacks, and even kitchen tools.  If you're heading out for a picnic, this may be the perfect quick stop.

Grocery aisles at the back of the store

So is it safe to conclude that Hubbell & Hudson has created an upscale convenience store for the gourmet shopper?  Yes, but that's only part of the draw.

Dining is the second part of the H & H Kitchen equation.  Along the right side of the store is the meat counter, and at the end of it is the order point for the fast casual restaurant.  The menu should look familiar to those who have visited Hubbell & Hudson, although it's been slightly streamlined.  The selection of sandwiches and design-your-own steaks are still there, as are the reason we're visiting - the variety of burgers.

Our first burger was the Bistro Burger.  It's 10 ounces of house-ground sirloin, topped with white cheddar cheese, thick-cut peppered bacon, finely shredded lettuce, crunchy dill pickle slices and and grilled onions.  It's served on a soft housemade bun, with a side of fries.

I enjoyed this burger.  The over-half-pound patty was cooked slightly on the well side of medium, but there was still a bit of ooze going on.  The smooth, mild cheese was complemented by the peppery bacon flavor, and the pickles added a nice crunch.  This burger clearly reflects its quality ingredients, and I'd order it again.  But I wasn't blown away.

There was one small problem - the side of fries were nowhere to be seen.  When I picked up the burger, the counterman said that he'd bring them out when they were ready.  But after five minutes, they hadn't appeared.  I didn't want the burger to get cold, so I ate it anyway.  On the way out I asked the guy at the counter if they'd forgotten about our fries, and he apologized and asked if I wanted them to go.  The idea of re-warming fries at home isn't appealing to me, so I passed.

At this point I was a bit disappointed with my experience here; the burger was good, but not great, and the mix-up on the fries was a blemish on what seemed to be a very smooth operation.

Apparently my search for the next great burger would continue elsewhere.  Oh, the sacrifices I make for you guys.

On the way out the door, their greeter, a charming woman named Miriam, asked me if I had enjoyed my visit.  I told her about the missing fries, and she asked me to wait while she got the manager.

Ricardo, the manager on duty, apologized profusely for their mistake, and insisted on refunding the entire cost of my meal, asking that I give them another try.  (I hadn't identified myself at this point, so I assume that any customer would get the same treatment.)  I told him I was impressed by how he handled the situation, and that I looked forward to giving them another chance.

The opportunity came sooner rather than later.

My bride and I were in need of a quick bite the next day, so we decided to return.  The place was hopping, and we ordered and were lucky to snare a table.  In short order our food arrived.  This time I tried a different burger, the bleu cheese burger.  Eight ounces of chopped sirloin topped with melted bleu cheese, baby spinach in place of lettuce, and sauteed onions.  I splurged an extra dollar to substitute their Parmesan truffle fries for the regular french fries.  I also asked for it to be cooked medium rare.

What came out looked gorgeous - the thick, hand-formed patty had an aggressive char, and the bleu cheese had been melted and slightly carmelized.  The sauteed onions were totally different than the grilled onions on my previous burger, and the baby spinach was an interesting idea that I was anxious to sample.

I assembled the burger, and bit into it.  Wow.  This was a whole 'nother level.  The confident beefy swagger was front and center; not surprising, since the cooked patty was about an inch thick.  The tang of the bleu cheese and the bite of the sauteed onions sang a sharp yet controlled acidic tone that paired perfectly with the earthiness of the beef.  The housemade bun was slightly sweet, and was a solid foundation for this superlative burger.  The gorgeous patty was indeed cooked medium rare, and the center was warm, pink, and oozing with enough juices that made me go through three napkins before I was done.

Bingo.  My new favorite burger in the Woodlands.  By a longshot.  Even more amazing is the price: $8 with fries.  That's a steal for this sort of high-quality burger; a steakhouse could sell this for double the price and still be offering a good value.

Ever since the demise of Tesar's, I lamented the fact that there wasn't a burger out here that I truly craved, and could rank among the very top in Houston.  But Hubbell & Hudson has produced a superlative product that stands with Hubcap Grill, Beaver's, and Samba as the very best burgers to be had in Houston.

If you love burgers, you've gotta check them out.

Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen - 4526 Research Forest - The Woodlands - 281-203-5650

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