I get invited to a lot of grocery store openings, from a Kroger that also sells furniture in Rosenberg to the now-defunct Georgia's Farm to Market downtown that had a subterranean wine and beer bar and second-floor, glass-walled reading nook yet never caught on with the crowds, and I sometimes feel like I've seen it all. I definitely felt that way until I showed up for a sneak preview of the new Tanglewood H-E-B last week.
The grocery game is real in Houston. Here, grocers know that keeping up with Houston's fickle market and short attention span (remember how we nearly offered our firstborn sons in exchange for a Trader Joe's location and now it's just that grocery store that's inside the Alabama Theatre?) means splashing out in big ways. H-E-B built its most expensive store ever with the Lake/Flato-designed Montrose Market, while the Whole Foods Market at Blvd Place near the Galleria recently became the first grocery store in the nation with its own in-house brewery.
So how does a grocery chain keep up here? If you're H-E-B, the answer lies in that old adage about everything being bigger in Texas. The newest H-E-B to open in Houston covers nearly 100,000 square feet at the corner of San Felipe and Fountain View, not too far from that new Whole Foods. In order to compete—both with Whole Foods and with grocery chains like Walmart and Kroger, which still hold the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, in Houston's great grocery firmament when it comes to number of stores—the new Tanglewood H-E-B has also added something no other grocery store in the country has: an attached restaurant so nice you'll want to visit regardless of whether you're in the market for groceries.
Table 57, so named for the store's ZIP code (77057), may remind you the teeniest bit of a Haven revamp—and not just because consulting chef Randy Evans (formerly of Haven) created the menu or because executive chef Allen Duhon (also formerly of Haven) is sending out dishes like $15 plates of Korean fried chicken with fish sauce collard greens and kimchi mashed potatoes, every one of them made with products and ingredients sourced directly from the H-E-B itself. The upscale-folksy atmosphere and creative twists on Southern standards (try the BLT with smoked pork belly and fried green tomatoes for $8) are there too, as is a bar that will fill your glasses and growlers and an expansive patio—which includes a massive smoker, tended to early every morning to ensure quality smoked meats for lunch and dinner—fronted by a garden of greenery that's actually built into the long exterior wall that spans H-E-B's Fountain View side. Sure, plenty of other grocery stores have restaurants and cafes attached, but I promise you've never seen anything as nice this.
Other facts and figures to look for when the new H-E-B finally opens its doors tomorrow:
- 91,000: square footage of the new store
- 21: days the dry-aged beef has been aged in-house
- 1,600: bottles of wine, including rare Burgundies and other Old World varietals housed in a special, climate-controlled walk-in
- 498: varieties of yogurt on its "yogurt wall" in the dairy section
- 13: Whataburger products on the store shelves, including the No. 1-selling Fancy Ketchup
- 5: flavors of H-E-B's own hummus in stock, including Sriracha
- 2: build-your-own Korean dishes in the prepared foods section, including bulgogi and bibimbap
- 22,000: indigenous plants covering the store's western-facing facade
- 250: length in feet of H-E-B's living plant wall
- 14: height in feet of the plant wall
- 8: beers on tap—mostly local—at Table 57's bar
- 2: cuts of brisket—lean and fatty—from the post oak-fired smoker on the patio
- 5: number of $3 small bites on the Table 57 menu, including chicken and waffles and deviled eggs
- 1/4: pounds of Maine lobster in the $17 lobster tail roll
- 8: flavors of Dublin Bottling Works ice cream floats available, including Retro Grape
- $18: price of the most expensive dish on Table 57's menu, boneless pork belly ribs from the smoker
The Tanglewood H-E-B at 5895 San Felipe opens its doors tomorrow, Feb. 18, at 6 a.m. as the next round of the great grocery games begins.