3201 Louisiana | Houston, TX 77006 | 713.491.2222 | www.holleyshouston.com
Mon–Thu, 5:30–10pm | Fri–Sat, 5:30–11pm | Lunch: Mon–Fri, 11am–2pm |
Brunch: Sunday 11am–2pm | Happy Hour: Mon–Fri; 4–6pm
WHEN DEVELOPING THE CONCEPT FOR HIS NAMESAKE MIDTOWN RESTAURANT, MARK HOLLEY SIMPLY “TOOK IT HOME.” HOME TO HIS KENTUCKY BOURBON-SOAKED ROOTS, HOME TO HIS “CREOLIZATION” YEARS AT THE ELEGANT COMMANDER’S PALACE, HOME TO THE STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE DEMANDED BY BRENNAN’S, HOME TO THE SEAFOOD HAVEN PESCE, WHERE HE CHEF-ED FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, AND HOME TO HIS FAMILY.
“I wanted Holley’s to reflect me – to reflect what I had done over the past 30 years and the people that helped me get here,” says Holley, as he introduces the various areas of the restaurant.
There’s Lancelot, the bourbon bar, named after his Kentucky grandfather. Lawrence, the semiprivate dining room, honors his father. Main dining room, Vivian: Holley’s mom and the woman who told him to cook southern. And the wine room, Mary, in honor of his stepmom. His reasoning being that “ to keep up with a Holley man, a woman needs to sip a little. And Mary liked her sips.”
“I didn’t want to do upscale but I did because that is what I was used to,” says the gregarious, always smiling Holley, who actually did both. Lancelot has that just off Bourbon Street feel, casual almost homey with its exposed bus station and ice tea dispensers, high table tops with bar stools and the upbeat tunes of Chuck Berry and classic Motown setting the mood for an
evening of bourbon flights and baked oysters. Around the corner, the formal dining room, a.k.a. Vivian, has soft elegance, tall enveloping banquettes, business casual dress requested and Holley’s faves, Old Blue Eyes or Diana Krall, softly crooning.
Two atmospheres but one menu, dominated by seafood, tones of Creole, notes of Asian and a tease of pan-American flavors. And Holley keeps the family connections alive even here. The most elegant of his baked oyster preparations, Oysters Yvonne, with its lump crabmeat, seductive champagne fennel sauce and briny, crunchy American lumpfish, is named for his bride.
He digs deep into the cuisine of the Carolinas for the roots of the creamy, dreamy peanut soup with its luscious and snappy honey-cayenne glazed shrimp.
He makes sous-vide octopus magically Southern with a finish on the grill and a glaze of sweet but not too sweet sorghum. And the bowl of lobster ceviche, with its sparkle of fresh mint, the puckery crunch of house-pickled grapes and the brilliance of the fresh coconut leche – heaven.
Holley seems to pickle everything – the kim chee in the pan-Asian/pan-American fish tacos – yup, housemade. The pickled okra (served with the fresh from the oven and ”we got what we got and when they are all gone they are gone“ Benne seed rolls)? You betcha. And the red pickled grapes in the fennel slaw served with Gulf flounder fillets, lump crabmeat, earthy, meaty Maitake mushrooms (a.k.a. hen of the woods), crunchy peanuts, charred tomatoes and the aforementioned slaw? This dish is a wondrous riot of color, texture and flavors. Yes. He pickled the grapes.
From way down South comes the most decadent of all desserts: one big walloping slice of moist coconut cake with generous layers of deliriously addictive cream cheese icing, spiced pecans and a salted caramel sauce.
Thoughtful perfection, plates that radiate flavor, a menu that reads contemporary – the dishes reflect the experiences of the man. Mark Holley, one who has cooked and created for decades, who once mentored the likes of James Beard regional winner Chris Shepherd and the successful Randy Evans, who loves a challenge, loves food, loves people and honors his roots, will gladly tell you he has outgrown the daily regimen and grind of kitchen life. Holley prefers to be out front mingling with his guests, leaving the grind and stress of production, plate after perfect plate, to his talented, soft-spoken sous chef, Patti Burdette. “The way the kitchen is designed, I can slip in and cook a little any time I want,” Holley says.
But most nights he lives his philosophy: “A chef/owner who walks the floor and shakes hands with the customers is positive his food is excellent.”