There’s nothing set in stone that says restaurants must have gimmicks to succeed. Some really great places survive by having great tasting dishes, serving up ample portions, and/or having prices the competition can’t beat. That said, a good gimmick can definitely get people in the door.
Which is to say when I read the line “serving home-style comfort food classics in a friendly, bear-themed atmosphere,” I knew I was going to end up checking out the place that line was talking about. How do you say “no” to a place advertising their “bear-themed atmosphere” in the year 2018? You don’t, which is how I found myself at Black Bear Diner at 24600 Katy Fwy.
The bear fun starts before you even step foot inside. The exterior features some custom bear carvings, depicting a scene from a bear football game. Similar statues pop up at other Black Bear locations across the country, with most unique to their individual diner. If more locations pop up locally, I’ve got my fingers crossed for space bears.
While the roots of the name and theme are tied to the owner’s history with bears, as soon as you see the size of the Black Bear portions, you’ll stop wondering about the ursine obsession. Seriously, the amount of food that arrives at your table will make you want to hibernate just looking at it. Although they have options for stomachs of all sizes, I do believe that their larger portions are going to be what keeps bringing people back.
Of the dishes I tried, I'm most impressed that they’re not afraid to play around with the sweetness of their dishes. I was a big fan of their Bacon Cakes, which sees them tossing thick-cut bacon into their sweet cream pancake mix, throwing the combo on the grill, and serving them up fluffy and golden brown. When you add butter and syrup on top, you get this great mix of sweet and savory, the bacon flavor cutting through the sweetness of the pancakes in a really nice way. Their special sweet cream mix for their pancakes creates a flavor that's unique without being too far away from a traditional pancake, hitting a sweet spot you didn’t know you were supposed to be shooting for this entire time.
I also dig their corn bread muffin, a mini-monster on the plate that, with a side of bacon, I could eat as a meal all on its own. Again, it hits just the right notes of sweetness with the perfect amount of crumbliness. With some butter and jelly, it really shines.
Yes, there is plenty of bear decor around Black Bear, and while you never truly forget it’s there, once you’re actually digging into your meal, you'll probably stop focusing on it. I’ve yet to explore the dinner side of the menu—although I’m counting down the days until I can try their chicken fried steak—but in an area as breakfast-mad as Houston, Black Bear is setting themselves up to be a winner. Besides, you know you won’t be able to get the phrase “bear-themed atmosphere” out of your head.