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Woodmont Grill (formerly Houston's), Bethesda - GM Amber Hartman on Woodmont and Norfolk Ave.


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I'm being taken to dinner tonight at Houston's in Bethesda... I looked online and all I could find was that they are a chain, which doesn't endear them to me to begin with. Has anyone been? Are there any redeeming qualities? Anything I should avoid?

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I'm being taken to dinner tonight at Houston's in Bethesda...  I looked online and all I could find was that they are a chain, which doesn't endear them to me to begin with.  Has anyone been?  Are there any redeeming qualities?  Anything I should avoid?

Get a cheeseburger. Everything else is overpriced. It's TGIFriday's at twice the price without the kitsch.

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Get a cheeseburger. Everything else is overpriced. It's TGIFriday's at twice the price without the kitsch.

Ugh.

Guess this blind date is already getting off to a bad start, with his choice of restaurants.

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I've never been to the Houston's in Bethesda, but given the fact that they are a chain, I feel qualifed to comment based on multiple visits, many years ago, to the (now-defunct) Georgetown location.

I loved the grilled chicken salad - the chicken was always very tender, the dressing was a peanuty thing, and there were tortilla strips mixed in there, too. It was always consistent - very basic, nothing fancy, but it tasted good. (My memories may be colored by the fact that I went with a very close friend who now lives far away)

I think they're known for the ribs and I remember them being decent, in a chain restaurant sort of way. The service was good - servers worked as a team, so you never wanted for a refill, and were usually well cared for.

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I hate chains. There is a lot to like about Houston's. I don't consider it a chain as there are very few of them spread across the country. The menu is set though in one place.

My favorite things:

The chicken club salad---

The chicken tenders appetizer- not on the menu, you are in the know if you order it. They are the best chicken fingers in the world. great fries.

The veggie burger--- not your average veggie burger

The chicken tenders meal when I am super hungry

THE SPINACH CHEESE DIP is a must order. Did I say anything about the chicken fingers.

This is literally the only chain restaurant at which I will willingly eat. The service is always above average, in fact they are known for the management training.

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I totally agree with the above post: this, for a chain, is really exemplery. It's generally in league with Sweetwater, Artie's, Coastal Flats, etc. Their Asian chicken salad and ahi tuna salads are excellent. The one point that I would make is that Houston's-here, Atlanta, Denver and elsewhere-consistently have long lines to get in. They are popular. And good for what they are.

I would also note that Seasons 52 is now approaching "chain" status from Darden. This is the benchmark for what a restaurant with multiple locations should aspire to. In Florida and Atlanta.

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Ugh.

Guess this blind date is already getting off to a bad start, with his choice of restaurants.

No it is not fair to put houstons in the same category as TGIF. It is so much more superior than TGIF and is more superior than many independent restaurants. I think you will have a nice date.
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Get a cheeseburger. Everything else is overpriced. It's TGIFriday's at twice the price without the kitsch.

I cursed myself. I got home from work to find that my 6-year-old daughter, fresh from her 4-star eye doctor appointment, had picked TGIF for her celebration dinner.

D'OH! <_<;)

But Joe, I have to call you on the carpet for your comment about lines and popularity. I think we can all name some god-awful places that people will wait on lines for hours for. Popularity is not necessarily an indicator of quality.

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You're right-there are some really terrible places (i.e. Logan's Roadhouse, Joe's Crab Shack, Olive Garden, etc. that have long lines at peak times. But Houston's is legitimately good for what it is just as the Great American Restaurant Group is good for what they are. None of these take the place of a chef owned/managed restaurant but for "vanilla" commercial appeal they are the best of their kind. Occasionally, like Seasons 52 which I mentioned, they rise above this.

If you know what to order at Houston's it can be very good. But I wouldn't venture out of that range.

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Thanks to all for your comments... I ordered the chicken tenders salad (not on the menu, like you said!), and it wasn't bad. I wasn't overwhelmed, and wouldn't hurry back, but it wasn't a bad meal, and our service was excellent. And he ordered the chicken tenders meal, so clearly he too was in the know. Next date, though, I'll suggest something a bit more interesting...

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Went to Houston in Bethesda Sat night top meet a few friends. They were surprised I've never been to Houstons after living in this area over 20 years. I was sad to glance over at Black's while waiting to be seated and having a few drink.

The food was passable, plain and uninspired. I have ribs(pork) which were OK but overpriced. In fact all the entrees seemed overpriced for the quality and quantity.

Bottom line, it'll be 20 more years before I return

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In case anyone is interested, the Bethesda Houston's now takes reservations. I don't know about Rockville. We usually go once or twice a year and with toddler in tow, we decided last night (on a holiday weekend) would be a fine time. The hostess informed us that they started taking reservations about 4 or 5 months ago.

It's a chain, but the service is always very good and I get my "junk food" fix there. Spinach dip and chicken tenders platter is the way to go.

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I like Houstons when in the mood for a sandwich. They have great fries, a good burger and an excellent prime rib sandwich. The Tortilla Soup is one of the better ones around too. But their brownie sundae is the real reason to go there!

Unfortunately, the prices have gone up significantly over the years - most noticably after Montgomery Co went non-smoking. Now it's definitely overpriced for what it is, so it's been replaced in my regular rotation by RedRockCanyon.

They may have locations through the U.S., but I wouldn't put Houstons in the same category as Fridays and Olive Garden. I thought that Slades was opened by a former owner of Houstons after they got into a business disagreement. Slades supposedly uses the same recipes.

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Yes, the prices have def. gone up but the food and service (esp. at the Bethesda location) are always on point and consistent. I love their buger and their trout (which you must ask for since it is oddly not listed on the menu and often not listed by servers as a special). My new favorite, however, is their roast chicken, which I think is some of the best and juiciest roast chicken anywhere (and I live in Arlington right near the many of the great Peruvian chicken restaurants). The brownie sundae is wonderful but my favorite dessert that Houston's does is the good old fashioned, yet decadent, ice cream sundae that they have only at the Rockville location, which it features a side of warm ghirardelli chocolate sauce and candied pecans-mmmm.

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I went there last night. Note that at least for the location in Bethesda, the restaurant is now called The Woodmont Grill. Menu has changed slightly. The tables in the booths have also been replaced and tableware now has The Woodmont Grill embossed on it. Bar waiting area has also changed slightly.

Food, however, seems to be the same -- reliable, good (but not creative) food.

When I asked about the name change, the hostess said that the Hillstone Group (parent) decided to change the name but the ownership is the same. She also said that there are similar "Grills" across the country.

Still puzzling to me. Why start with a new brand, when you already have an established one. The only thing that I can think of is that litigation/litigation threat prompted the name change, although this would be surprising given how long the Houston's brand has been around (at least 25 years based on my dining at Houston's in here and other locations in the South.

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If you check out the Hillstone website, they do have quite a few "Grill" restaurants. The site says each restaurant is "unique with a personality of it's own". (although a quick look at the menus show they are all very similar.) Maybe they are trying to expand/differentiate their concept since the two locations are so close to each other.

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A sad day.....

A sad day for whom? Last time I went to Houston's (a couple years ago), I felt like I was eating at Hamburger Hamlet - even the once-proud ribs were mediocre at best. They're still in twelve other states (click), and I haven't heard anything about them shutting down the entire chain.

Lest I just stuck my foot in my mouth, look at the GM's name at Woodmont Grill

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A sad day for whom? Last time I went to Houston's (a couple years ago), I felt like I was eating at Hamburger Hamlet - even the once-proud ribs were mediocre at best. They're still in twelve other states (click), and I haven't heard anything about them shutting down the entire chain.

Lest I just stuck my foot in my mouth, look at the GM's name at Woodmont Grill

no relation, but excellent attention to detail, very impressive

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We were up in Rockville a couple of weekends ago for a child's birthday party and decided to stop by Houston's in Rockville on the way home with our two young kids. The primary thing that bugged me was that at 5:30 pm, the restaurant was practically pitch dark. I could not believe how low the lights were! I could not see a damned thing. Other than that, their chicken sandwich, which used to have a grilled chicken breast, is now made up of rotisserie chicken with skin on it. I am glad that I peeked inside my sandwich before I ate it because I would have been turned off had I bitten into a big hunk of flabby chicken skin. All in all, not the Houston's I remember going to as a kid in Georgetown.

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I have been to Woodmont Grill twice in the last month and both times were really good meals.

The seafood has been fresh and flavorful. Last night daughter had the ribs and they were falling off the bone tender with a light bbq sauce that had a nice kick. Noy cheap eats by any standards but definitely a nice consistant meal with quality service.

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Had the french dip here a few days ago. $20 for a sandwich gets me everytime (granted it comes with fries, but still). Sandwich was good, tender, juicy, but very salty. Fries were oversalted as well.

I'd love to see some new stuff on the menu here. I haven't been around that long, but I don't think the menu has changed in a very long time.

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Let me put it this way -- I never had any desire to go to Woodmont Grill, and all the more so when I realized it was a chain, until I read the most recent Bon Appetit. Now I can't wait to get there, and it's near the top of my must-visit restaurant list.

The article also spurred my interest in Woodmont Grill, though unlike you I had been to the 3 locations of Houston's in the DC area many times in the past, and have visited other locations sporadically over the years.  Frankly though its been years since I've been to any of their local restaurants.  (btw:  Pras earlier referenced the Bon Appetit article.  It can be found here).

Houston's opened in this area in the early 1980's.  Moving forward in 2006 Joe H referenced them in this thread as follows:

I totally agree with the above post: this, for a chain, is really exemplery. It's generally in league with Sweetwater, Artie's, Coastal Flats, etc. Their Asian chicken salad and ahi tuna salads are excellent. The one point that I would make is that Houston's-here, Atlanta, Denver and elsewhere-consistently have long lines to get in. They are popular. And good for what they are.

I'd concur based on past experience.  They were presenting quality popular meals with great service...decades before chef driven restaurants gained popularity...and they remain popular in this age.  More power to them.  In the early 80's I had slight interaction with some executives from the real estate/leasing perspective.  Later I knew some local operating people.  Many many impressive qualities as I recall.  Through that period and those interactions I always found their meals deeply satisfying completely independent of any of the management or personnel perspectives...and relatively more so in prior decades pre chef driven establishments.

In any case the article took me to Woodmont's menu.  I'll be back shortly with some friends from Moco County.  ....and by the way, that bit about bolting tables to the floor.  Holy crow.  Talk about attention to detail.

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In any case the article took me to Woodmont's menu.  I'll be back shortly with some friends from Moco County.  ....and by the way, that bit about bolting tables to the floor.  Holy crow.  Talk about attention to detail.  

My favorite part also was bolting the tables to the floor.  I have heard many stories about why the Rockville location closed.  None of them had to do with a non-performing restaurant.  One had to do with having a percentage lease and that they no longer wanted such an arrangement, the land lord played chicken with them and the land lord lost.  The other rumor was that it was a spot to score and whatever the company did to try and stop this they couldn't shake the reputation.  I guess the real reason will remain a mystery.

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It's also one of the hardest reservations in the area...seriously, try getting in at a normal time on Friday or Saturday.

My only issue with Woodmont (which I really like) is that Black's Bar and Kitchen is better, cheaper, and right across the street.

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My only issue with Woodmont (which I really like) is that Black's Bar and Kitchen is better, cheaper, and right across the street.

Holy cow, you're not kidding. Check out the menu - burger with fries is $18, french dip sandwich $22, entrees in the $30s.

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I came here to post that I stopped going when the French dip went up to $19; $22 is absurd.  It is a good sandwich and comes with a side if I recall, but not even that big of a sandwich.  Jeez.

A few vegetarian friends claim they have the best veggie burger, if you're into that.

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I have fond memories of going to the Houston's in New Orleans and Atlanta as a kid (both the Perimeter Mall and Lenox Mall locations, though the former is closed). I could devour the ribs and veggie burger and loved the shoestring fries. I read the Bon Apetit article this week when I got the issue and immediately pulled out my phone to see if there's one in DC. Not sure if I'll make it up to Bethesda, though.

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I went here when it was still Houston's way, way, way too many times to count from 1994 to 2000 or so. It's funny, in the almost 8 years I have been back working in Bethesda, I have only been once, I think in 2009. Not sure why I do not go back to check it out, but maybe now I will.

Curious, are they going to be affected by the new giant hotel and giant office building being constructed all along that section of Wisconsin?

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It's also one of the hardest reservations in the area...seriously, try getting in at a normal time on Friday or Saturday.

My only issue with Woodmont (which I really like) is that Black's Bar and Kitchen is better, cheaper, and right across the street.

Yeah, I was surprised at the menu and prices when seeing them currently.  In the past I always thought of them at a price point less than they appear now even accounting for time and food inflation.  By the way, I also enjoy Blacks different restaurants/bars.  Its been way too long since I've dined anywhere in Bethesda...(take that back)...had a breakfast/business meeting at Booeymonger  (I guess that doesn't count for dining) a couple of years ago.

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It's funny, I've seen that article posted on my FB, Twitter, and now seeing it here, all accompanied by people sharing fond memories and talking about how they are looking forward to going back.  Incredible advertising for Hillstone, made all that much sweeter for them if they didn't have to pay Bon Appetit to run that article.

I went to Woodmont for lunch last year and found it to be very expensive and very meh.  I do have very fond memories of the Houstons in NYC back some years, though.  The Spinach Artichoke dip and burger always hit the spot.

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That with a 20% tip will set you back $40. I have a hard time with that.

Agreed, but 10 years ago at Houston's that wasn't the case.  They are part of the problem, for sure, but I think when we as consumers just started accepting restaurants (including fast food chains) charging $10+ for basic salads and sandwiches, they all followed suit.

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It's funny, I've seen that article posted on my FB, Twitter, and now seeing it here, all accompanied by people sharing fond memories and talking about how they are looking forward to going back.  Incredible advertising for Hillstone, made all that much sweeter for them if they didn't have to pay Bon Appetit to run that article.

I went to Woodmont for lunch last year and found it to be very expensive and very meh.  I do have very fond memories of the Houstons in NYC back some years, though.  The Spinach Artichoke dip and burger always hit the spot.

Seeing the recent article and all these references to Woodmont Grill (including my own) really spurred my taste bud memories.  I ate at the 3 local sites in Georgetown, Bethesda and Rockville many times starting in the 80's.  I primarily recalled it as a burger/ribs place with great bars.  Price points less than that of better dining.  But in quite a few ways they seemed better than similar burger/ribs type restaurants.  I also knew a few staff and management and some items about their management and systems.  Food wise, ambiance wise, service wise...I found them enjoyable and of great value.

So being reminded of them via the Bon Appetit article did bring back fond food  memories.

By the way, seeing the above reference to the article being paid or not.....of late, via various web publisher sources, I've seen reference to quite a few publishers that charge for stories on the web (and links) that I never would have suspected.   Maybe that was a gratis feature...and it reads like it...but maybe they paid something.  I don't know.

Current pricing seems more in line with finer dining than the Houston's I recall; it seems more in line with better dining than burgers or ribs.  So be it.  I did notice that both Woodmont Grill in Bethesda and the menu from the NYC Hillstone restaurant also offered live jazz.  Live jazz, is that a regular normal component to the restaurants???   Hey that is worth something!!

So for those that dine there now...does that add something to the dining experience?

My favorite part also was bolting the tables to the floor.  I have heard many stories about why the Rockville location closed.  None of them had to do with a non-performing restaurant.  One had to do with having a percentage lease and that they no longer wanted such an arrangement, the land lord played chicken with them and the land lord lost.  The other rumor was that it was a spot to score and whatever the company did to try and stop this they couldn't shake the reputation.  I guess the real reason will remain a mystery.

I think the Georgetown location closed in the 90's.  Not sure.  Could have been in the earlier 2000's.  I had heard those rumors about scoring coke as related to Georgetown.  Wouldn't know.  I had heard the bartenders were dealing.  On the one hand they had some great management standards in place for their bartenders and they worked.  The bars were always busy and the bartenders made "bank".  But were they dealing???   I don't know.  You'd think those "knuckleheads" would know better.  Was it occurring in Rockville?  I have no idea.  Some of those Rockville bartenders worked there for years, in some cases just taking 1,2, or 3 midweek shifts and I know they made "bank".  They had a lot of regulars.  Were those "knuckleheads" dealing???

Cripes I hope not.  Who knows?  Possibly Hillstone decided to up their menu's style and price points to drive knuckleheaded bartenders out of their establishments????

(parenthetically I have to add one thing.)  I was listening to one of our experienced instructors at the bar school describe the opportunities and market for bartenders to students.  He has years of experience as a bartender and bar manager.  He has hired and fired a lot of bartenders.   To try and paraphrase what he said, it was something like this:

"Its not that there are a lot of jobs out there; its that there are a lot of idiot bartenders.  They get fired a lot.  There are a lot of opportunities because of that".

Its true.  Certainly partly true.    Plenty of bartenders treat it seriously and rise through the ranks.  They do well.  Those are the ones you rave about.   Plenty though are "idiots" or "knuckleheads".  They fall out. Sometimes very quickly.  Sometimes they last a pretty long time while doing many things they shouldn't be doing.

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Out of curiosity, I went here this past week. I was going to get a salad, but they had a softshell crab poboy on the menu that I could not resist. It was not really a pobox, more of a sandwich, and it was a bit muddled by too many (actually very tasty) tomatoes (kind of like a chef that does not know when to self edit). But it wass still tasty and the fries are good. Not really in a rush to go back though. Still, it was smart to get there early as it filled up very quickly with a line waiting to get in when I left.

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