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All sizzle, no steak at Open City

Finding a restaurant that a half dozen people can agree on isn’t always easy. Open City may not seem like a great dinner destination, but the menu is full of non-threatening dishes and it was sure to draw the least controversy. I have read a few positive reviews of the place and was curious, if anything else. Big mistake.

Things went wrong before we even sat down – the hostess lost our reservation, but assured us in a rather snarky tone that she’d find a way to squeeze us in anyway. The five of us ended up being crammed into a four seater booth and a side chair. To call the whole thing unreasonable would be an understatement – we were the only people in the downstairs dining room. The vaunted rooftop had plenty of tables too, so the crappy attitude was hardly necessary.

The portabello burger listed on the menu online was nowhere to be found in print. Our waitress returned from the kitchen with the explanation that the portabello burger is on the menu at lunch, but not served during dinner. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Sad vegetarian: "What vegetarian dishes do you offer"
Hapless waitress: "Oh we can make pretty much anything"
Me: "How about a portabello burger?"
Hapless waitress: "Anything, but that"

Cue the scene where the vegetarian orders yet another house salad.

The Open Faced Lamb Slider starter was the lone bright spot. The lamb patty was excellent. Nicely seasoned, grilled to medium rare with pink center and charred crust. I could have eaten a whole plate of the stuff all by itself, especially if I knew what was coming. It was a decent enough of a dish – it just wasn’t a slider in any sense of the word. An open faced slider is already a stretch, but its a stupid stretch when the bun turns out to be a toast point.

The whole grain roll, served with disgusting sweet butter, seemed like something you’d find in a middle school cafeteria. The crab cakes were over seasoned. The steak was serviceable, but completely unseasoned. The fries were so salty that most of them remained uneaten. Images of wild baboons running the kitchen were appearing in my head.

The problems didn’t end there. My chicken fried chicken looked golden brown and crispy, but turned out to be soggy and flavorless. The side of macaroni and cheese was inedible. I couldn’t force more than a few bites of the undercooked pasta coated in a rancid combination of smoked gouda and gruyere cheese down before giving up. I’d forgotten about the entire thing, until I noticed a $4 substitution charge the waitress tacked on to the bill without mentioning it to us.

The consensus around the table was that you can eat better at Luby’s, which has a surprisingly decent chicken fried chicken that bests the Open City version by a mile. By the time we were wrapping up it became apparent that people really don’t go to Open City for the food. The bar was beginning to swell with "engineered" ladies and international male studs for action. Who cares what the food tastes like when the drinks are good and there is plenty of ass at the bar?

Houston Chronicle confirmed my suspicions a couple of days later, when they profiled Open City as the hottest scene in town:


Open City may draw huge crowds, but the kitchen is a mess. Does a great space and strong drinks make up for crap food? Not in my book. We’ll see what happens when the fickle party crowd finds another venue to show off their assets.

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