What to Look Forward to at New Houston Restaurant Squable in The Heights
After a week of friends-and-family-only service, Squable officially opened to the public on Monday, April 22. It’s located in the former Southern Goods spot at 632 West 19th in The Heights. While the trio of Bobby Heugel, Justin Yu and Steve Flippo (also of Better Luck Tomorrow) are part of the business, the on-the-floor operating partners are longtime former employees and business associates. The co-chefs are Mark Clayton and Drew Gimma while the operations director is Terry Williams (who has the same role at Better Luck Tomorrow). Clayton used to work for Yu at Oxheart, as well as at Stella in New Orleans. Gimma gained experience at Sullivan St. Bakery and Per Se, then moved to Houston to be Common Bond’s first head baker before taking a similar role at Better Luck Tomorrow.
The menu is described as “European fare with American influences.” As with all the endeavors Yu is associated with, there’s a strong emphasis on local ingredients, which are sourced from Blackwood Educational Land Institute and Tejas Heritage Farm, among others. Because the menu uses seasonal ingredients, the dishes are subject to change.
As of press time, the menu features four bread courses that leverage Gimma’s experience, including the Dutch Baby pancake with fresh cheese, preserved citrus, black pepper and honey. There’s a variation of the popular Not A Pizza from Better Luck Tomorrow, but it’s very different. It’s a Hungarian-inspired combination of deep-fried dough topped with lesco — thick vegetable ragout typically made with peppers, tomatoes, and paprika— bacon, cucumber and sour cream.
Whether diners prefer hot or cold oysters, either taste can be sated with the raw Atlantic oysters with mignonette and pickles, or the broiled Gulf variety topped with “hen vinaigrette” (a vinaigrette made with hen demi-glacé and hen fat) and crispy chicken.
The big plates include a cheeseburger — because with the fan base BLT’s patty melt has, how can it not? The Clayton-Gimma take is a “stout” (thick) beef patty with über-melty raclette, buttered buns, pickles and French fries. The pasta dishes include Roasted Vegetable Bolognese and Pork Neck Schnitzel (making use of one of the most underappreciated cuts of meat) while the meaty entrées include Poached Snapper, Market Steak (which can be a variety of beef cuts, depending on the night) and the Heritage Half Chicken.
Of course, there must be dessert. Diners who simply have to have a little chocolate after the meal (or a lot of it) can aim for the chocolate mousse balanced with the tang of yogurt, tartness of lime and crunch of hazelnuts. The health-minded may prefer Slow-Roasted Strawberries with green juice granita, almond and olive oil shortbread. Also among the desserts are the curiously named Donuts With Holes and the Pan de Mie Dessert Bread with maple, buttermilk and sherry.
Unlike other establishments with which the owners are involved, Squable is an eating-place, not so much a drinking-place. The beverage list is wine-focused and guided by Justin Vann of Public Services Wine & Whiskey.
“The single best word for what I’m doing for Squable is ‘classic,’ said Vann in an interview ahead of the opening. “That includes classics made traditionally and naturally. I want there to be a lot of wine on the list that people recognize perhaps not the producer but the appellation. I also want it to focus on the overlooked and forgotten, such as great wines from Alsace and Chianti — areas that haven’t gotten as much attention as deserved.”
The list does indeed reflect that goal and by-the-glass selections include the 2017 Venica Pinot Grigio from Collio in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region for $13 and the 2017 Cascina della Rosé from the Piedmont region for $18. While both of the selections are Italian (and represent the by-the-glass price range), the list comprehensively includes some of the other revered wine-producing areas, such as Spain, France and the United States’ Willamette Valley and coastal California regions. Bottle prices start at $39, which makes Squable the type of place where sharing one among a few friends makes a lot of sense.
Anna Wilkins, formerly of Better Luck Tomorrow, is the bar manager presiding over a cocktail list with a smattering of selections. It reads like a sampler, offering one representative cocktail each from various drink families. For example, there’s only one tiki drink, one Manhattan and Terry’s Martini (named for Terry Williams, of course). Cocktail prices range from $12 to $20 (with that martini being on the high end).
In response to an email inquiry about the opening, Heugel sounds pleased about how Squable has evolved. “All has gone as planned and is going well!” he wrote via email. “We are starting taking reservations via Resy. The patio isn’t finished yet, but it will be very soon. That is the last finishing detail for the restaurant.”
Squable is currently accepting reservations up to two weeks in advance but half of the seating is left free for walk-ins. In that context, it’s worth noting that the new restaurant falls in the category of “hotly anticipated.”
How hot is it? Glad you asked. The hype is strong with this one. On April 18, Punch magazine noted it as a “Most Notable New Bar in America” — never mind that it’s not a bar and wasn’t even open to the public yet when that article was published.
Unfortunately, the buzzy furor about to encompass Squable, thanks to its talented, respected, well-known owners and their successful track records, is inevitable. Such is the food media world that we live in (which this author admittedly part of). It’s going to take a few months before the professional opinions based on actually dining at Squable are revealed.
It’s hard to imagine, though, that the question is not about “whether” it’s going to land on year-end Best New Restaurant lists; the questions seem to already be “How many?” and “How high?”
Attempt a walk-in if you’d like, but this publication is still recommending reservations as early as possible.
4/26/19, 7:54 a.m.: article updated to correct burger description.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.