Hughes Landing in The Woodlands is much like most of the planned city—ultra-modern, surrounded by water and filled with chains. The area's self-proclaimed "Restaurant Row" is populated with familiar names like Truluck's, Del Frisco's and Fogo de Chão.

But on February 16, the first independently owned eatery opened right at the end of the strip on the water. The woman behind Broken Barrel is 27-year-old chef-owner Hilda Ysusi, a Mexico City native who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America before plying her trade in research and development at Nestlé and as corporate chef for a Miami-based sushi company.

Her preternatural calm so soon after opening is a choice, she explains. As a leader, "I think if you're not calm everyone is less calm than you are," she explains. But she has reason to be harried. Last Friday, her kitchen did 280 covers. Though she says lunch hasn't yet picked up with that speed, there's time, especially with offerings like a Lebanese hot dog or a homemade rye biscuit with lox, capers and dill cream cheese. Her cuisine bears little resemblance to often-traditional Woodlands fare.

"I wanted to create something different but with a resemblance to something ordinary," Ysusi explains. She brings up her marinated, deep-fried olives as an example. "I want to do something different that correlates to something typical to [diners] like an olive but warm, crisp and with citrus."

It's a plan that can't help but tickle palates in a way that very few other Woodlands restaurants do. And that wish for more whimsy in our food in that I wrote about among my edible hopes for 2017? Broken Barrel's got in in spades.

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