I thought I was having a bad day until I sat down for lunch at the Drexel House last Friday afternoon. It was 1 p.m. and every table was taken, so I grabbed the next-to-last stool at the long marble bar that runs along the length of the restaurant's back wall. Behind it, I counted five harried servers rushing around with arms full of plates and glasses. The oldest of them looked like a grizzled industry veteran, and hissed as he ran tickets back to the kitchen, "I can't do this much longer. This is gonna be my last day."
Drexel House, appropriately enough, fronts Drexel Drive just off Westheimer, tucked behind the three-story Crate & Barrel that looms over the intersection. It occupies a space that was a Tasti D-Lite franchise until owner Aaron Webster closed his frozen yogurt shop last year and opened a local bistro in its place. Inside, a monochrome palate of glossy white, grey, and black keeps things clean, airy, and modern. Outside, the sunny patio offers a much-needed respite from the hectic pace of Highland Village, where shopping and parking in the upscale retail center are both considered contact sports. Most diners on the patio appeared to be refugees from an afternoon spent in Restoration Hardware or the Apple store, bags perched on their chairs, while inside was the domain of the Ladies Who Lunch.
I myself was a refugee from the Apple store, where I'd just learned my beloved laptop was dead and gone—and along with it, months of work and photos I'd forgotten to back up. Drexel House seemed to be the perfect spot to drown my sorrows, and I scanned the cafe's blackboard for wine and beer offerings. I spotted a Saint Arnold Christmas Ale still on draft; being mid-March, this made me instantly dubious of the freshness of the other beers on tap.
Ten minutes went by without a visit from a server, even for a glass of water. When my server finally showed up, I was told I couldn't order the charred octopus or scallops with Chinese five spice from the giant chalkboard menu on the wall; at lunch, I could only order from the smaller paper menu in front of me. Drexel House wasn't chalking up many points in the win column so far, and my day wasn't getting any better.
Finally, the beer I ordered—a crisp lager from Brooklyn brewery Sixpoint, one of the better out-of-state craft beer entries into the Houston market in some time—showed up and things began to improve. The beer was great; my salad was even better.
Thick slices of jewel-toned heirloom tomatoes in shades of peridot and garnet marched in a single line across a white plate, with more white blobs of fresh burrata cheese sandwiched between them. As if the burrata wasn't deliciously oozy enough, olive oil was drizzled on top of each pillow of burrata, mingling with the cream and mozzarella blend that spilled out. It made for a stunning salad, both in taste and presentation.
I looked around at what the tables around me had ordered while I waited for my main course, a burger. On each table I spotted salads. No heirloom tomato salads, I noted. Mostly kale and Caesar salads, and at nearly every place setting.
My burger arrived more quickly than expected—perhaps because I'd ordered it medium-rare—and I was pleased to see the kitchen had cooked it perfectly. The ground brisket was still pink in the center. The English muffin-style bun it sat on was more than up to the task of catching the juices that ran from the patty as I cut into it, admiring the structure in cross-section: Bibb lettuce, thinly-sliced tomatoes, Russian dressing, a melted blanket of Muenster cheese.
Ignoring the tiny pile of chips it came with, I dove into face-first. Between the saltiness of the cheese, the sweetness of the ground brisket, and the tangy pop of the Russian dressing, I was overwhelmed by the quality of it all—that a burger this amazing should come from a restaurant where the kitchen is consumed by making salads seemed a shame. I looked around again and wished more people were ordering this amazing burger.
Though I'd mostly filled up on burger and burrata by this point, I couldn't resist ordering dessert—mainly because I'd watched the servers draw up a few good-looking lattes on the espresso machine behind the bar. I ordered an affogato and received a splendid pull of espresso, the thick coffee bracing and bitter against the cloying sweetness of vanilla ice cream. This is everything I love about affogato; the contrast makes for a captivating blend of flavors when you get a balance of the two in each bite. I enjoyed it so much, I broke out the butter knife to get the last bits of melting ice cream and espresso in the bottom of the glass.
Before I left that afternoon, I tossed in some extra tip in for my poor, beset server, who still looked as if she was ready to drop to her knees in the midst of the restaurant's busy service. I looked once more at the tables filled with poised women politely alternating between delicate bites of iceberg lettuce and sips of water with lemon. Despite my computer troubles, at least I had a belly full of ice cream, beer, and burgers. All things considered, I wasn't having such a bad day after all.