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McBurney opens The Republic Grille

The Woodlands, TX (June 2014) The Woodlands has seen its share of ups and downs in its nascent food scene but a recent restaurant opening has stirred hopes that a locally owned establishment can compete with the profusion of chain restaurants that seem to open almost every week.

The Republic Grille is the first restaurant for longtime Woodlands entrepreneur Terry McBurney. Described as “Texas and Southern cuisine” with an “eclectic feel,” the Republic Grille does try to do something that no other restaurant here does: create a sense of community around the history of The Woodlands.

That’s right: The Woodlands has a history – 40 years of it – that will be celebrated this October with events organized by The Woodlands Township. McBurney is a self-proclaimed history buff and has covered the walls of the Republic Grille with pictures and memorabilia from the earliest days of The Woodlands. The space itself is what you would expect from its location in a suburban shopping center: boxy and low-slung but comfortable with a neighborhood speakeasy feel.

An expansive patio got heavy usage when the Republic Grille opened in May, but the summer heat and fierce mosquitoes have moved most of the action inside for now. And there’s a lot of action. Through word of mouth and a constant stream of chatter on local foodie Facebook forums, it’s been packed since day one. On a recent Saturday night, there was a 45-minute wait for a table (they don’t take reservations).

Fortunately, the bar takes up one whole wall of the main dining room. It’s a great place to wait for a table and chat up your neighbors. The cocktail menu is extensive and cheekily named with references to local landmarks and lore like “The Gosling” (an adjacent north-south road), The “Panther Creekarita” (the surrounding neighborhood) and the inevitable “Cougar Crush” (you get the idea). There’s a good selection of craft beers and a serviceable wine list with plenty of affordable picks and a few high-end selections.

And what about the food? The Woodlands is well-known for a few very good restaurants and a whole slew of middling ones. The Republic Grille is a very good restaurant and its chicken-fried steak may be the best in The Woodlands, and its chicken-fried chicken is even better. Shrimp and grits came with properly cooked shrimp and a whole lot of grits – enough for dinner and lunch the next day. There’s an excellent version of a wedge salad for aficionados of steakhouse dishes. Recommended sides include jalapeño creamed corn and sweet potato cakes.

The Republic Grille is a welcome addition to The Woodlands’ evolving food scene. The prices are reasonable, the food is good and there’s a sense of community here that you don’t get at the ubiquitous chain restaurants.

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