Alba Road in Garden Oaks isn't exactly Restaurant Row. It's in a residential area, filled with little besides homes and community organizations.
But in a former Gerland's Grocery, across the street from American Legion Post 560, Liberty Kitchen recently opened its newest restaurant. The store's vintage cooler has been repurposed as wine storage, just part of the colorful, shabby chic ambience of the new restaurant, a "neighborhood" take on the upscale look of the local chain's other locations.
The menu, too, leans toward comfort. Burgers include a bacon-and-cheese version named for the American Legion post across the street. The Eddie Would Go, pictured above, is an over-the-top take on a roadside Texas burger, dominated by yellow mustard speckled with jalapeño and topped with pork belly and a fried egg, held together with white American cheese.
I also saw more than one Cowboy Surfers Po' Boy whiz by during my lunch. And frankly, who wouldn't want to order a combo of fried shrimp, fried oysters and pork belly carnitas stacked on a sandwich with slaw, "mean" Russian dressing and a side of bacon jam?
One new innovation hitting each of the Liberty Kitchen locations is make-your-own pokē bowls. This allows the diner to choose his own adventure, for better or for worse. Pokē with carnitas or fried oysters mixed with raw tuna or salmon? Probably not a great idea. The version we tried, with tuna, seaweed and mango over cucumbers would have been lovely if not for blackened chunks of steak that imbued the whole concoction with a measure of bitterness.
Entrées are uniformly homey, though where those homes are varies: There's paleo-pleasing spaghetti squash and hickory-smoked steaks and fish; a French-style omelette with chorizo, smoked salmon and salsa verde; and coq au vin. To satisfy surfer dude culinary director Lance Fegen's proclivities, there are fish tacos and a take on his mother's clam-and-crab pasta with marinara.
But the standouts during my visit were desserts from F.E.E.D. Texas' newly minted corporate chef, Brandy Brownsberger. A former Liberty Kitchen server, Brownsberger does uncommonly wonderful things with basic sweets. Her peach cobbler combines textures of melting custardy with chewy edges—it's more like a French clafoutis than a homespun Texan treat. Mint-chocolate chip cake pairs midnight-black layers of cake with sea foam light mint frosting.
Will the new restaurant cramp the style of the neighborhood American Legion fish fries? Probably, but we're guessing locals don't mind too much, especially if they're tucking into a slice of maple-bacon pie.