The Woodlands has become a popular location for successful Houston establishments looking to branch out into a new market. The combination of an attractive demographic and plentiful (if pricey) retail space brings many successful Houston restaurateurs to this bustling suburb to the north.

The latest group to make the drive up I-45 are the team behind several successful bar and restaurant locations in Houston, including Pub Fiction, Celtic Gardens, Third Floor, Shot Bar, Bear Market, and Cook and Collins. They've brought their successful Heights restaurant concept, called Crisp, to the Woodlands.

Crisp is an upscale, casual restaurant concept that is built around craft beer, a curated wine list, and chef-driven, but not stuffy, cuisine.

Crisp is located in the original Black Walnut space on Research Forest. The cozy but dated Black Walnut interior was gutted, and a new, sleek, inviting interior was constructed. Several distinct spaces were created; an energetic bar area, a quieter, cozy dining room (divided from the bar by a wall of wine that is a beautiful focal point) and a comfortable covered patio.

Lighting is subdued and cozy; it's a comfortable setting for dinner with family and friends. We predict it will also be a popular location for date night. To this end, Crisp has eschewed the current trend of upscale counter service for traditional, full-service dining. We shudder at the concept of asking a date to wait in line to order, and applaud Crisp's decision.

The wine list is broad without being encyclopediac, and the staff is poised to make helpful pairings. A dozen craft beers are on tap, more are in bottles, and unlike the Heights location, Crisp offers a full bar in the Woodlands.

There are some interesting details, including one of the amazing Enomatic wine delivery systems, allowing guests to pour glasses of specialty wines typically not available by the glass, and in three serving sizes, including one-ounce tastings.

An inviting setting with all the latest technology is great, but success in the restaurant business hinges on the food and the service. How does Crisp's measure up?

We started by ordering both sides of a traditional charcuterie tray - the Dairymaid's Cheese Board and the Shady Acres Picnic Platter. The cheese board features a small loaf of crusty bread drizzled with honey, a selection of four cheeses (presumably from Houston's Dairymaid cheesemakers), apple slices, and honey.

While we admire the choice of a local source for cheese, we were a bit underwhelmed with the choices here. None of the cheeses were bad, but flavors are muted and mild, and there wasn't a "wow" cheese on board.

As mild as the flavors were on the cheese board, we were pleasantly surprised by the bold flavors on the picnic platter. Very good proscuitto and salumi are presented with a selection of delicious pickled vegetables. The pickling brine is far more interesting than a traditional vinegar solution; sweet, spicy and complex, these vegetables outshine the very good meats and make this a craveable platter.

Pizza is a big deal at Crisp, and we sacrificed for our readers and sampled several of them. Crisp cooks its pizza in a very clever hybrid oven - it's a stone-sided conveyor oven, offering the benefits of the intense heat of a stone oven alongside the consistency of a conveyor. We think it's a great solution to problem of improperly cooked pizzas coming out of fancy ovens (hello, Grimaldi's, we're looking at you). But to us, it's all about the results, so we started tasting some pizza.

First up was The Dragon's Pizza Pie, an outside-the-box creation topped with Gulden Draak poached apples, gorgonzola, prosciutto, arugula and balsamic syrup. We're fans of this style of sweet/salty/smoky creation, as long as the ingredients are balanced and the kitchen executes a properly cooked pizza.

The kitchen didn't let us down. The result was successful; light, tangy, with the zing of the poached apples balancing the slightly sour gorgonzola and the smoky prosciutto. The bitter arugula and sweet balsamic completed the flavor profile. The crust was light, crisp (pun intended) and very tasty. We approve.

Next up was another signature pizza, San Fran's North Beach. Setting the stage are high quality pepperoni, rosemary ham, fennel sausage, olive, a hint of chili flake, small tomatoes and their housemade red pizza sauce.

The seasoned meats are the centerpiece here; they elevate Crisp's take on a meat lover's pizza to the next level, with complex flavors that meld together masterfully.

All in all, we're big fans of Crisp's pizzas. Clever combinations of unique ingredients, a flavorful crust, and careful execution are a winning formula.

Even though we were nearing a food coma, we wanted to sample a few more options on Crisp's menu. Next up was a southern specialty with a Crisp twist - Shrimp and Polenta. The formula: Nicely sized grilled shrimp, crispy polenta with smoked bacon, fresh basil, and roasted garlic tomato sauce.

This dish highlighted the kitchen's deft touch - the perfectly grilled shrimp and the savory, smoky, bacon polenta were balanced by the zing of the garlic tomato sauce. As much as we enjoy traditional shrimp and grits, we find Crisp's riff on the classic to be a delicious variation.

Another interesting spin on a classic is Crisp's Baked Texas Goat Cheese & Marinara. A bowl of Crisp's tangy marinara is topped with a mound of creamy goat cheese, and served with their Drunken Garlic Bread, which is soaked in wine, topped with mozzarella, then lightly baked.

The tangy marinara sauce is eclipsed by the flavorful drunken bread; the combination of both is tangy, creamy, rich and flavorful.

Finally, we sampled an intriguing entree. Called Surf & Turf Risotto, it consists of caramelized scallops, short rib risotto, with asparagus, spinach, and a veal stock reduction.

Again, Crisp's deft handling of seafood is apparent. Scallops are gently caramelized and have a great texture; the chewiness that overcooked scallops can exhibit is blissfully absent. The beefy flavor of the smooth risotto is front and center, and the result is a nicely executed entree that we can easily recommend.

Throughout our several visits to Crisp, we've been very pleased with the service from the friendly, well-trained staff. Everyone from the quirky yet charming hostesses to the smoothly professional wait staff to the chef and management team are helpful, engaging, and enhance the experience at Crisp.

When successful Houston restaurants venture up I-45 to open a Woodlands location, the results can be mixed. In many cases, the Woodlands outpost doesn't live up to the reputation of the original. Under the watchful eye of Chef Franz Garcia, Crisp's kitchen turns out a variety of interesting appetizers, entrees, and pizzas, and executes them with verve and the all-important consistency. Service is professional and friendly, and the environment is cozy and comfortable.

In short, Crisp is an excellent addition to the Woodlands dining scene, and we expect that the staff will soon tire of seeing us frequently in the future.

Crisp | 2520 Research Forest Dr. | The Woodlands, Texas 77381
832-562-2520 |



Note: HTownChowDown contributor Kim Bellini has also reviewed Crisp, in her excellent I Chew and Review blog. Here's Kim's review of Crisp.

Tacos are one of the foods that defines the state of Texas. From the largest city to the tiniest towns, tacos are one of the foods that are enjoyed by everyone young and old. And with this sort of demand, tens of thousands of taco spots have popped up, all promising Mexican goodness wrapped in a hard or soft shell.

We'd been hearing rumblings about a great spot not far from Old Town Spring. Chycho's Tacos is located on Aldine Westfield Rd., in a lightly commercialized area that was bustling with activity when we visited mid-week at 8pm.

The festive exterior was welcoming, as was the proprietor, Edwin Santos. We were greeted with a smile, and when we enquired about his al pastor tacos, he insisted on offering up a sample of his roasted pork. It was very good - dark, savory, with gentle heat from an ancho chile rub. We were sold, and ordered. On a whim, we decided to sample one of the fajita tacos, remembering that it is one of the most popular choices among our readers.

We then retired to the adjoining pavilion, a festive, spotlessly clean place with holiday lighting and a beer garden vibe. In short order a staff member called our name and delivered our tacos.

The plate of tacos appeared, and we were immediately greeted by a delicious, smoky aroma. It was time to dig in. The tacos al pastor were as we anticipated - rich, savory pork flavor, just enough heat to add interest, a very well prepared meat. On top, the typical fresh onions had been replaced with sweet, lightly grilled onions, a substitution we applaud. A sprinkling of cilantro and a dash of lime completed what are very good tacos al pastor.

After demolishing these tacos, we dug into the remaining fajita taco. As good as the al pastor is, the fajita is the star of the show. The beef had the signature flavor of charcoal broiling, with a subtle hint of mesquite to add complexity. This is superbly prepared fajita meat, and combined with the grilled onions, cilantro, and a spritz of lime it created a delicious taco, one we'll be trying again very soon.

We generally don't focus on cost at HTownChowDown, but we'd be remiss if we didn't discuss it here. Regular price for the tacos is $1.49, but on Tuesday, they're $0.99. That's easily one of the best bargains in town for high quality, delicious tacos.

If your idea of tacos begins and ends with a certain high-profile Austin import, you owe it to yourself to visit Chycho's and discover how good real tacos can taste.

Chycho's Tacos | 23206 Aldine Westfield, Spring TX 77373 | 832-566-3022

Local Pour, the popular River Oaks-area gastro bar, has opened a second location, and it's in the heart of the Woodlands, in the new Hughes Landing waterfront development.

Local Pour is a great fit for the Woodlands; it's an upscale but casual setting, with dozens of beers on tap, a full bar, and an interesting menu, created with the help of notable Houston chef Randy Evans. Did we mention it has a full bar?

Local Pour Bar

On our initial visit, we fought for a parking space in the nearly complete Hughes Landing area. We grabbed a Chef's Table, strategically located right in front of the kitchen. It's a bustling spot with lots of energy; if you're looking for a quiet, intimate evening, sit elsewhere. But it was a perfect vantage point for us to observe the goings-on at this new hotspot.

We were able to sneak peeks at each order leaving the kitchen, and a few items grabbed our attention. Our server Olivia filled us in on what we saw zipping by, and we placed our order. The kitchen was slammed (typical new restaurant jitters) so the order took a bit longer than we'd like, but Olivia did an outstanding job of keeping us informed and well hydrated while we waited. She's a gem.

First up were the tempura shrimp shooters. Four large shrimp, aerobicized into a sleek, linear shape, are battered and fried with a light, puffy tempura breading. They're poked into shot glasses, two with a biting wasabi ponzu sauce, and two with a sweet spicy chili sauce. Flavors were bold; the wasabi ponzu will absolve you of any allergy-related congestion, and probably of a few lesser sins as well. The sweet spicy chili sauce was less startling but very flavorful; the result was a very good appetizer.

After devouring the shrimp, we moved on to the Korean BBQ lollipops. Three medium-sized pork ribs, each with a nice chunk of meat attached, are roasted and glazed in a sweet Korean BBQ sauce. We think Korean BBQ is going to be a big thing in the Woodlands, and Local Pour are riding the front of this trend. Another tasty dish.

Finally it was time for the entree. We selected the LP Burger, a half pound, hand-formed patty with a custom grind of short rib and chuck. It's topped with just enough bleu cheese and caramelized onions, and served on a soft sourdough bun. This is a very good burger; the grind makes for a flavorful patty, and it comes out very juicy. The toppings accent without overwhelming, as is easy to do with bleu cheese. In short, this is a crave worthy burger, and one of the better ones in the Woodlands.

We're fans of Local Pour. They've combined a talented kitchen with a well-stocked bar, and packaged it in an upscale setting. We think it's going to be a big hit in the Woodlands, and look forward to returning again soon.

Local Pour | 1900 Hughes Landing Blvd, The Woodlands, 77380 | 281-419-7687 |

Local Pour on Urbanspoon

Fielding's Wood Grill has become known as one of the best places in the Woodlands to dine. From their superb chef-created burgers to their enticing brunch, Fielding's has done a great job of creating the kind of food that both locals and visitors crave. We're fans, and have become regulars, visiting when we're craving one of their excellent chef-made burgers or one of their other great options.

One aspect of the restaurant that doesn't always get as much attention is its excellent craft cocktail program. There are lots of restaurants and bars serving cocktails in the Woodlands, but few show the creativity and attention to detail that Fielding's has on display behind the bar.

Monday through Friday Fielding's prices all of these speciality cocktails half off during happy hour (3pm to 6:30pm and 9pm to close) in the bar.

On a recent visit, Cary Attar, the CEO of Fielding's, had a few new featured cocktails for us to try. It was a big task, so we recruited contributor Kim Bellini, author of the outstanding food website. Here's what we sampled:

First up was the April special: Pink Delicious. Fielding's starts with Aviation American Gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, pressed grapefruit, cane syrup, Angostura bitters, and sparkling wine. The result is fresh and citrusy, with herbal undertones from the gin and bitters. A deliciously complex beverage that is very refreshing.

Next we sampled an exciting new spin on a strawberry margarita. Infused mescal replaced the traditional tequila, and this mescal had been infused with fresh strawberries. The result was a lush strawberry flavor, the smooth undertones of mescal complementing the fruity sweetness. This margarita is smooth without a hint of harshness; one of the best we've tasted.

Another refreshing warm weather drink is the Woodlands Tea. It starts with Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka, to which the Fielding's bartender adds Hibiscus FruitLab, mint cane syrup, and organic green tea.

Last but not least, the Green Lotus. A base of Grey Goose Citron vodka is mixed with St. Germain liqueur, green tea syrup, lemmon juice, and mint. It's finished with a blast of Prosecco.

We're very impressed with the craft cocktail program at Fielding's. Cary and his team are pouring some of the most interesting cocktails in the area. We'll be back soon.

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