FM Kitchen & Bar Teams Up on Houston Pickleball Court & Eatery

PKL Social is a new Houston pickleball court with bar drinks and food.

PKL Social opened on March 21, an open-air sports bar with pickleball courts next door to its sister restaurant. Located at 1112 Shepherd Drive in the Washington Corridor area, the new eatery is a joint venture between FM Kitchen & Bar and operating manager Jason Mok, a former tennis player with Rice University. 

Houston Food Finder was invited to attend a complimentary preview of PKL Social two days before the grand opening, sampling the food and drinks and attempting — unsuccessfully — to swat a ball over a net with an oversized table-tennis racket. 

Because the two businesses share a kitchen, whether or not you enjoy FM Kitchen & Bar’s food will influence your opinion of  PKL’s food. Many of the snacks and appetizers, as well as a few of the drinks, overlap between the two. Some of the PKL exclusives include the Carne Asada Bowl, Coconut Shrimp Bowl and Garlic-Parm-Ranch Wings

PKL Social’s Smash Burger with tots. Photo by Meredith Nudo.

The Smash Burger, topped with American cheese, grilled jalapeños, caramelized onions, pickles and “Shhh Sauce” and served on a potato bun, has a pleasant, light crisp on the outside of the patty (as all good smash burgers ought to have). Surprisingly, it’s not especially messy as it’s well-formed enough to keep its many ingredients contained. 

Diners have the option of fries or tots as a side. Get the tots. Crispy on the outside and pleasingly soft on the inside, these are tots that would send any Minnesotan scrambling to rewrite their hot dish recipe. They don’t need ketchup or hot sauce or any other sauce to be palatable, either. Just a sprinkle of salt lets the texture do all the talking. 

Where PKL truly shines is the cocktails, though. The PKL Cherry Limeade, exclusively available at PKL, makes for a light and refreshing partner to a heavier burger meal. Day Drinker, another vodka-based exclusive, blends the incredible (and woefully underutilized, culinarily speaking) flavor of yaupon with blueberries and housemade lemonade. 

Don’t worry, beer- and wine-drinkers. They have plenty of options for you as well, including PKL Light Lager and Karbach Love Street on tap, and a selection of reds, whites and rosés.

PKL Social’s Cherry Limeade. Photo by Elizabeth Simonsen.

But what’s the point of heading to a pickleball place without playing pickleball? Being the sort of person for whom “being picked last in PE” is the most charitable way of describing my athleticism, I was nervous about attempting a sport requiring eye-hand coordination that I don’t have. Pickleball is a racket sport, similar to tennis and badminton, played with a paddle and what looks like a Wiffle ball made of rubber. Unlike tennis and badminton, however, its relatively simple rules and origins as a backyard game for children make the barrier to entry much lower.

PKL genuinely does facilitate a friendly, nonjudgmental atmosphere for beginners and hopelessly clumsy pre-beginners such as myself. Open play is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and costs $10, and seasoned pickleball fanatics can reserve a court for $30 an hour. If you’re a casual player and don’t wish to buy pickleball equipment, or if you accidentally left your paddles, there’s a pro shop where you can rent or buy PKL-branded gear by JOOLA.  

Membership fees are not required, which helps keep the courts accessible to anyone who wishes to play. Leagues, clinics and lessons are still in the works, including King of the Court competitions beginning in April and Learn-to-Play Happy Hour set to run on the first Sunday of every month. The cost for the Sunday events will include equipment rentals, expert instruction and brunch specials after the games. Additional information about what’s to come, as well as how to book a court, can be found on PKL’s website

PKL Social-branded pickleball paddles by JOOLA. Photo by Meredith Nudo.

Even as they’re still finalizing schedules and offerings, the new spot has already started encouraging and facilitating friendly play. I didn’t want to not play while I attended, despite my aforementioned misgivings in the physical activity department. A friend with considerably more pickleball acumen set me up to play and learn, but two other folks challenged us instead. One competently held the court before us, while the other was — like myself — entirely new to the game. If we kept score, I wasn’t the one doing it. All I know is that it felt great to scramble around the court and receive thoughtful critique, not jeers. The seasoned pickleballers seemed to want to play the newcomers not for an easy victory, but to help them feel welcomed and supported. 

If this is the environment PKL continues to facilitate, then I wish it well. I may even be convinced to come back and play a few rounds myself. Sports are, after all, more fun outside of gym class. 

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