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Houston's Steak & Ribs...why didn't I listen?

Well, the SO was in town to do a presentation in the city, and was staying at 1 King West. She felt like ribs for supper and wanted to go somewhere close, and for the life of me, I had no idea where to go, and at the time, no access to chowhound.

Looking at the guest services book in the Hotel, I found the recommended restaurants ads. One King really needs to update these things. The Purple Pig was listed in there, as well as a couple of others that have since become extinct. Not finding much of anything I suggested the Keg, to which she replied that she wanted something different as she had been to the keg an inordinate number of times in the last few weeks. The only thing I could think of was Houston's Steak and Ribs (I guess because they have "Ribs" in their name) but I gave the caveat that I hadn't heard good things. I called the concierge (who was nice, but not much help) for some assistance, and they suggested the Keg as well. I asked about Houston's, and they told me that it would fill the void, but for service and food, the Keg was superior.

Throwing caution to the wind, we went to Houston's. Wow! I had heard negative reports of this place before, but they didn't do it justice. It was pretty bad. First off, all the wait staff (at least the women) had a glazed look over their eyes like they wanted to be anywhere but there. I found the layout to be a bit haphazard. The arrangement of the tables, booths, bar area just seemed like afterthoughts as to where everything should go.

We asked for a booth, and immediately started to notice the little things. The large chunky votive candle holder had a corner broken off, the booth wall had streaks of what looked like slightly dirty water droplets that dried in place that kind of thing.

Then our water showed up. I have to say, he was a really nice guy, reminded me of my friend in high school who was a big time jock and really friendly to everyone. But he too seemed out of place. He should have been working in a sports bar. Don't get me, wrong, I am not trying to label anyone here, but his manner was just a little too casual, too much of an essence of familiarity. The one annoying thing that he kept doing, which is a pet peeve of mine, is he kept calling me "bro" or he interchanged that with "dude". But he was still a nice guy regardless.

Now, the food....in a word....awful....in two words....really awful...in three words....really F-ing awful.

For a cocktail, I had a campari (which is really hard to screw up) and the SO had a chocolate banana "martini" (another pet peeve, it is a cocktail, not a martini, just because you serve it in a "martini glass" does not make it a "martini"..sorry, I will continue). Anyway, her cocktail was this opaque thing that pretty much filled the glass. She said it was ok, but it had this weird sour after taste. As she drank more of it, she realized why. Once some of the liquid was out of the glass, you could then see that the glass itself was filthy. Whatever sour taste that was, it was the remnants of the glasses previous occupant. Gross. When we highlighted this to our waiter, he was really apologetic, we saw him go over to who I guess was the manager, and we thought that maybe something would be done on our bill...but I will get to that nugget later. We should have left at that point, but by then the food was coming fairly quickly, so we decided to tough it out.

We shared the bruschetta which was supposed to be on crostini (so you assumed it would have been crunchy) but it was the soggy, barely toasted, mess. The bruschetta topping itself tasted a little odd. I thought they put pickled peppers in it, which was an odd choice, and the SO said it tasted like bad sausages to her.

For the mains, she had the ribs (as was her wont) and I had a 6 oz sirloin medium rare with garlic mash on the side. Let me say that I don't know what goo, it was, but I can tell you what it wasn't, and it wasn't garlic mash. I was some pureed mess, that had no flavour of garlic or potatoe for that matter. I almost suspected that it may have been instant potatoes. Disgusting.

My steak...I don't know how you can grill something medium rare and have absolutely no juiciness to it. It was dry, dry, dry. It also had the charred burnt remnant of previous steak from a grill that had not been clean properly. I was more than dissappointed. The SO's ribs were reported to be ok, but they were drenched in saw, and they do say that an ounce of sauce covers a pound of sin...or something like that.

Then the bill came. And their compensation for the dirty glass? The took off........ 40 cents from the bill....40 F-ing cents. Couldn't believe it. Ridiculous. Will never go back there again. How do they stay in business like that?

Oh, got to mention a couple more tidbits.

One waitress was serving at bar patrons, who can still on bar stools around a high bench/table they can rest their drinks on, leave plates for finger food. Well, they started chatting, and then, I guess because maybe she was tired, she pulled up a stool and sat and continued the conversation. Could believe it. I mean they weren't really busy, but come on, how do you not know that you are not supposed to sit down while working as a waitress. I thought maybe she was on break, or something, but no, after she finished chatting, she got up from her seat and took an order from another group. Ridiculous.

When the bruschetta arrived. A waitress came and asked, "bruschetta?" we said yes, and pretty much tossed it in front of the SO ( it actually skidded down the table) and left a couple of plates. My plate, had to be be wiped down as there were little grey flecks sticking to it.

When we left, we walked by the kitchen where you could see the grill station. The "chef" was checking on a couple of steaks. He grabbed his tongs and he had to physically tear the meat off the grill. It actually left a good chunk of meat that would just burn away. After repositioning the meat, he stuck his finger in the centre of it (presumably to check the doneness). I can't be sure, but I could have sworn I saw him scratching his ear before he started handling the steak. Ridiculous and gross.

All in all, I should have listened to my gut, I should have listened to you chowhounders....hell, I should have listened to the concierge. Houston's....never again....I gotta wonder, how do they stay in business.

So, to all you who are considering Houston's Steak and RIbs....you can't say that I didn't warn you.

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  1. Please clarify if you mean Houston Restaurant not the popular Houston's Chain in the States. I made the mistake of confusing the awful Houston restaurant at Vaughan Mills was the same as Houston's and I was in for a rude awakening. It was one of the most disappointing meal experiences of my life!

    6 Replies
    1. re: callitasicit

      This was the Houston's Steak & Ribs at the corner of Yonge & Wellington. As far as I know it is a chain from the states.

      1. re: Lazar

        Is it? According to this (http://www.toronto.com/restaurants/li...), it's Canadian owned, but borrows it's concept from a chain in the states.

        "The Canadian-owned and run restaurant group, which along with three Quebec outlets borrows its concept from the American chain. The big room features lots of dark wood, taupe suede and chocolate leather, blaring music and low lighting."

        1. re: GoodGravy

          They had to borrow that 'concept'? That's funny.

          1. re: GoodGravy

            They might have "borrowed" the concept but they definitely did not come remotely close to the quality of the chain in the states . . . The smoked salmon app in the states is to die for... The food at the one here is very sad indeed...

            SB

            1. re: snackboy

              I can confirm the food in the Manhattan locations of Houston's is and has been excellent for a long time...

              and like other readers here, I have avoided checking it out since the initial review posts were pretty bad.

              a lost opportunity perhaps.

          2. re: Lazar

            I believe you are mistaken as the name of the restaurant at 33 Yonge Street (At Wellington St) is called Houston, not Houston's!

        2. I work across the street from this place and have avoided it like the plague. I have forbidden all colleagues from visiting as well.

          I had lunch at the Keg on York today and I swear sometimes I forget that place is a chain. Gorgeous restaurant, great food and excellent service.

          1 Reply
          1. re: MeMeMe

            Some chains do get it right. The Keg is a perfect example. A quality steak (their few non-steak mains do falter, I admit) at a fair price and the service is always friendly and professional. Nice atmosphere too. A lot of non-chain restaurants could learn a lesson from them.

          2. Thanks for a good laugh. At least your terrible experience makes for an entertaining read for the rest of us. I've never heard a good thing about this restaurant, and the awful rancid grease trap smell that comes out of the building's vent on Wellington is enough to make sure I stay away no matter what.

            My pet theory is that the only reason this place survives is because they (ostensibly) sell steak and ribs near the financial district, where there are always fresh don't-know-any-better business travelers to victimize. It's also likely that many American visitors make the grievous error of assuming this restaurant is associated with the US chain.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Gary

              That smell!!! I know exactly what you're talking about. I used to take Wellington on my way home and I would make sure my windows were up and my a/c was off when I passed the restaurant so I could avoid inhaling that wretched stink. I vowed never to eat there because of the smell and based on the O.P.'s experience, it was a good decision.

              1. re: Gary

                To be fair, the Mercatto on Bay also spews that wretched smell!

              2. wow...I really got to spell check myself...."drenched in saw"...??? what the hell was I thinking? guess I didn't have enough coffee this morning