How The Grove Stays Fresh After 10 Years in Discovery Green

How The Grove Stays Fresh After 10 Years in Discovery Green

In the fast-paced restaurant industry, 10 years is a lifetime. It's no small feat for a dining concept to not only outlive its first burst of foodie attention, but to become a perennial destination that continues to evolve and mature. In the case of The Grove, which opened in 2008 through an innovative partnership between Discovery Green® and the prestigious Schiller/Del Grande Restaurant Group under the culinary direction of James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande, many of the ideas that formed the foundation of the menu have proven to be ahead of their time, from offering a range of gluten-free and vegan dishes to a focus on locally grown fare.

 Sunday Supper

We checked in with chef de cuisine Ryan Williams, who has been in the kitchen since 2008 and has run the restaurant's day-to-day operations since 2013, to find out what's changed at The Grove over the last 10 years, what's stayed the same, and what newbies and regulars alike can get excited about this summer.


How has the focus of the menu changed since 2008?
What is brand new is the local variety, and all the dishes that are centered around our new wood-burning grill. Since 2015 we've redirected the menu to a focus on Texas cuisine and our local culture, including touching on the international influences that we have here in Houston. There's a lot of Southwestern flair, which is only fitting with Robert Del Grande as the founder of Southwestern cuisine.


Even the international dishes are localized. For example, one of the dishes we have on the menu is koshary; it's a fun vegetarian/vegan dish that I grew up eating when my family lived in Egypt. It's basically an Egyptian street food that has become extremely popular with our guests, and we've added a Texas spin by flavoring it with Southwestern chilies.


How is the “green” philosophy of Discovery Green reflected both in the restaurant and on the menu?

We are extremely focused on limiting food waste. For example, in that koshary dish we use peeled tomatoes, so to avoid waste we flash fry the peels and use them as a garnish. We also support local producers as much as possible. Seventy percent of our ingredients come from local farmers. We use a lot from Van at Wood Duck Farms—he'll go to the Farmers Market on Wednesday and Saturday and whatever surplus he has he brings us, and we never say no. Whatever it is, we get a little creative and find a place for it. A lot of the listings on the menu are a little vague so when a farmer shows up with something like super fresh okra, we can use it as part of a plate. It's one way that our menu can evolve seasonally, and we can offer guests the best and freshest produce without re-writing the menu from scratch.


We also currently grow herbs on our rooftop garden, and since 2011 we've used a Nordac filtration system that allows us to bottle all of our fresh and distilled water in house, which eliminates waste associated with bottling and transport and is designed to retain minerals in the water so that it better complements food and wine.


What have you learned from Robert del Grande?

Everyone always says the best way to critique a dish is to eat it yourself, but Robert says it’s not just the taste and the look of the dish, it's also what is left on the plate. He's more scientific in his thinking process than most chefs. He has a PhD in molecular biology, and I have an engineering background, so we do the whole scientific method when we plan a menu. It's very analytical.


One of the biggest things is the amount of foresight a chef needs, especially here because we host a lot of events. I'm always working three weeks ahead of time, planning for the large events coming through, the menus that are going to be released.

What else sets the culinary program at The Grove apart from other restaurants?

Robert and Schiller/Del Grande partner Susan Bennett are very passionate about wine, and I think no other restaurant has the diverse wine list that we have. We are using wine as an ingredient--not cooking with it, but considering it central to the flavor profile of a dish. I'll show up with some grilled shrimp, pair it with wine and have the wine dictate what flavors we pair with the shrimp in the dish. For example, we were just working with shrimp and found the minerality of the shrimp paired well with a dry Vouvray. The wine needed something creamy, so we added avocado and fava beans, but no cilantro because it would throw off the balance. Then we make templates for the staff with notes on what is the absolute best pairing for each dish—there are five so far, and it will rotate season to season. It's a totally different way to think about a wine program and menu development.

What do you think people will be most excited about for the new brunch?


The brunch menu is really a way for some of the junior chefs, the sous chefs, to have a creative outlet and to showcase their abilities. They will practice a dish for a couple months and this is when they get to run it, so it's constantly changing week to week. We wanted to do that so anyone who comes one Sunday doesn't feel like they can't come the next Sunday.


We group it into brunch classics—scrambled eggs, things like that—plus omelet and breakfast taco stations, a salad bar, and some composed dishes where guests will see that creativity. We'll also have a carving station that changes constantly. It will evolve from a Texas barbecue station to a Southwestern station with steaks and grilled shrimp to Creole with stuffed chicken breasts and dirty rice. I can't wait for people to be able to come experience it. That instant gratification, seeing people enjoy food—that's why I became a chef.

The Grove is located at 1611 Lamar St. in the southwest corner of Discovery Green. The restaurant is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday for brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. For reservations visit thegrovehouston.com/reservations or call 713-337-7321.

Discovery Green Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.