The Woodlands has a reputation for chain restaurants. And while that reputation isn't totally deserved, it does have some merit. For every great independent out here, like Hubbell & Hudson Bistro, Republic Grill, Pallotta's, or Fielding's, there are five restaurants owned and managed from afar.
So we were particularly excited to attend the recent Chingu Preview Popup, hosted by Chef Jay Stone. Jay is an incredibly talented chef, and we've been fans of his cooking ever since he convinced us that peanut butter and jalapeño jam make sense on a burger, at the late, lamented Wicked Whisk food truck.
The event is a preview for the Chingu restaurant concept that Stone has been developing to bring to the Woodlands area. It's being funded via Kickstarter, and I encourage all foodies to support this talented chef. And the pledges represent very good values; anything from $20 worth of food and a t-shirt for $20 to an entire catered meal for a large group.
For this event, Jay prepared several of his Korean-influenced American comfort food dishes that will appear at Chingu. First up was one that has become legendary around here: Korean fried chicken.
Served with sides of Korean vegetables (including a superb kimchi and excellent spicy housemade pickles) this chicken was perfectly prepared; moist, tender and encrusted with a mildly spicy, beautifully crispy breading. Everyone raved about the chicken; it was a real crowd pleaser.
Next up was another dish that we were anticipating with great interest; Jay's spicy short ribs.
Nicely balanced between beefy, tangy, slightly sweet, and moderately spicy, this was perhaps my favorite dish of the night.
Next up is the old Korean favorite, poutine. OK, poutine is Canadian, not Korean, but Jay puts a distinctively Eastern spin on this north-of-the-border cult favorite.
Poutine is rarely spicy, but this version is, and it adds a new dimension to the dish. Normally we don't think of poutine as an entree, but this one was hearty and filling.
Being a pop-up event at a venue without a liquor license, several enterprising foodies improvised. Growlers of craft beer were brought over from the new local favorite Hop Scholar, and the beer nerds present seemed very pleased with the pairing.
Other foodies brought bottles of wine, and very stylish disposable aperitif glasses. We are in the Woodlands, after all.
Want to check out this unique and delicious Korean-influenced comfort food? Right now, you can't. But if you support Jay Stone's Kickstarter project, you'll help him open up Chingu as a venue where this food can be devoured on a daily basis.
C'mon, foodies. You say you want more non-chain, chef-driven restaurants. It's time to put up, or shut up.