For folks familiar with the chain, there’s the popular “original grilled chicken salad” ($12), the eggless Caesar ($8), plus burgers – beef and veggie – and sandwiches. Entrees include seared rare Ahi tuna and jumbo lump crab cakes (market price), barbecue pork ribs with fries and cole slaw ($19), and chicken tenders ($12). Burgers, sandwiches and entrees come with a side dish, from couscous to skillet beans.
They’re writing a new history for Coral Gables, one singles bar-slash-restaurant at a time. Used to be that the Gables was exclusively a mecca for upper-crust dining, where well-heeled, older couples sat in front of exquisite china and ate quietly and politely from some of South Florida’s most expensive menus.
These people, and these restaurants, are still here, and they still do just fine. But the new noise — cacophony, actually — overtaking the Gables is emanating from the likes of Houston’s, a chain that occupies the cavernous structure at the busy corner of Miracle Mile and Ponce de Leon Boulevard.
Miracle Mile once epitomized the sleepy old Gables, a street given to dressmakers, bakers, candlestick makers, largely the pursuits of yesteryear. Now, the bustling entities on the Mile are national chains like Barnes & Noble, Starbucks and Houston’s, and the prevailing pursuit seems to be the opposite sex. The throng crowding the front bar at Houston’s — on a Tuesday night in August, yet — and the 45-minute wait for a table in what is one of the Gables’ larger restaurants speak to a successful situation for Houston’s, indeed.
BIT OF MACHISMO
The feel is decidedly macho, sort of like an upscale frat party with chardonnay and cosmos instead of a keg. Decor is upgraded barn, with attractive high-sky rafters, big hardwood booths and a huge, open, stainless steel kitchen dominating the back wall. The place is unbelievably noisy and, much like the similarly popular Globe restaurant and jazz club, another Gables meet market, plenty of fun if you’re in a frisky mood.
Food is simple and good, with generous portions. The key to Houston’s popularity, beyond the raucous atmosphere, surely is value: Portions are large, prices are fair. Your $6 or $7 gets you a seven-ounce glass of wine, not a thimble. You’ll leave feeling satisfied.
Appetizers are few. Our favorite was grilled baby artichokes ($9, not on the menu but often offered). It is a collegial thing, picking apart these little artichokes, leaf by leaf, to nibble on a bit of meat. Remoulade dipping sauce is fine but an unnecessary source of fat, given the succulent and smoky depth of the hearts within the chokes. Three to five per serving, depending on size.
Salmon, hickory smoked on the premises ($10), is a hearty treat. The rich salmon, a six-ounce filet, can be eaten by itself, and that’s good, but if you want to go even richer, place a slice on a toast point and smear on some of the thick, creamy “chef’s dressing.”
Noodle salads are served three ways, and they can stand either as a light entrée or an appetizer to share. Our Evil Jungle Thai ($13) had chopped rock shrimp, chicken, coconut, mango and mint, tossed with egg noodles and held together by a spicy-sweet dressing made of fish sauce, sweet soy and ground Thai chiles.
ZESTY BEEF RIBS
Entrées run the range, with all major meats represented, fresh fish and even a fresh vegetable plate with couscous. Sandwiches and burgers abound, too, but let’s save those for lunch and dig into some Bandera BBQ beef ribs ($19). This is a large platter of meaty ribs, five or six to the serving, juicy and zesty, with little visible fat. They’re roasted for eight hours in their own juices and with bacon; they’re finished on the hickory grill with a dab of barbecue sauce. Served with fries and cole slaw.
Filet mignon ($26) is grilled over the hickory fire, and the smoky flavor permeates the tender meat. Ours, ordered medium, probably had insufficient pinkness. Served with seasonal vegetables or your choice of potato or beans.
On the prowl after dinner? Keep things light with seared tuna steak ($17), five fingers of tuna, medium rare and arranged atop sliced tomatoes with a dollop of cole slaw . Vinaigrette, drizzled onto the tuna, sharpens the flavors in this pleasurable dish.
Those giving in to calories might opt for the warm five nut brownie ($6), a sugar bomb with a rich chocolate brownie, vanilla ice cream and champagne custard sauce, topped with ribbons of homemade caramel, plus filberts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans and almonds. But wait, walnuts are baked into the brownie, as well. We told you the Gables was getting nutty.
201 Miracle Mile
Coral Gables, FL 33134
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Monday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday