Friday, August 2, 2013

Post Oak Mall, Part 2 - The Food Court

This post is super out of date and has been completely outmoded by the newer Post Oak Mall page on, and even that's a bit out of date. As such, this has been removed from the main index of the website.

A continuation on our newly rewritten Post Oak Mall coverage that we did not long ago, this is about the food court. I first wrote this back in maybe early 2011 or late 2010 (I'm not sure) but I took it down when the "Superpost" was released. It saddens me that Chick-fil-A (charter tenant) is no longer in business, for instance. Little Tokyo is also gone now with no replacement. There's still life left though. Read on.

The food court was much more grandiose than today, featuring eateries on both sides and called "The Gourmet Court". Charter food court tenants included Chick-fil-A, Corn Dog 7, Funnel Cakery, The Great Hot Dog Experience, Giovanni's, Ken Martin's Chicken Fried Steak, Peanut Shack, Pepe's, Potatoes Etc., Salad Bartique, Sesame Hut, and Seafood Shoppe. Orange Julius opened soon after (it was leased but did not open with the mall, apparently), and Taste of the Tropics and McDonald's opened later. I know for a fact that Taste of the Tropics opened a few years after '82, and also Subway opened in 1984 (after the Parkway Square location). Because the food court had been reconfigured at one time (the corridor to the restrooms was different), it's hard to tell what became what.

To make this easier, I'll try to cover the food court starting at what is now the boarded up restaurant (and moving clockwise): this was most recently Little Tokyo, which lasted from circa 2008-2009 to January 2012. It wasn't so bad at first. The sushi was good and very reasonably priced. I even got a menu and scanned it. That old link is from a defunct blog I used to run back in early 2010. Unfortunately, the prices went up soon enough, and they seemed to run out of things on a consistent basis: I tried green tea ice cream here, but toward the end, they never had it. Until circa 2006 (and going back to the earliest days of the mall), this was Corn Dog 7. I wished I had gone there, because I enjoy corn dogs, it is a chain, and I think I would enjoy a foot-long corn dog.

Since Little Tokyo closed, there's been nothing to replace it and it remains with green cardboard walling off the counter. How depressing. With the rent so high there, it's unlikely anything will replace it soon. Ideally, I'd love to see some tasty local option there.

EDIT 10/11: ...and I'm right! Carrera and Stover (see below) will be opening "Salad Sculptors" there, serving gourmet salads and gyros!

Directly next to Little Tokyo/Corn Dog 7 used to be Chick-fil-A, which also was a charter tenant and closed on December 24, 2011 to (you guessed it) high rents. There were other issues too, like the mall not doing renovations (by the time they did, it was too late). It was a bit unique in that it had a small dine-in area with some Aggie memorabilia on the wall, and was a full-featured Chick-fil-A. It was also the first in town, long before the one at Briarcrest was built, or before the campus CFA Express locations. It was replaced with Raising Cane's, which lacked the walk-up area. Now, I have nothing against Raising Cane's: it tastes good and is reasonably priced, but it's no replacement to Chick-fil-A, and I'm sure many agree.

To the right of that is Manchu Wok. Manchu Wok used to be good and also reasonably-priced, but I haven't been in a while. I've heard that the food quality has deteriorated somewhat, but just to be safe, I haven't eaten there yet: best keep my good memories intact. Originally, this spot was "Emilio's" (unknown to what it served).

Moving onto Roman Delight Pizza, which despite its horribly dated appearance (I don't believe that menu board has changed since the early '90s) is reasonably priced and decent (or so I've heard: I haven't actually eaten there). Up until the early '90s, in fact, it was Sesame Hut: so the menu board (sans prices, of course) hasn't changed since then.

Taste of the Tropics has been here since about 2005, it replaced a Subway that lasted up until 2003-2004. Of course, Taste of the Tropics has been here for far longer, but it moved to consolidate the food court more. It's a locally owned smoothie shop. In the early 1980s, this was "The Great Hot Dog Experience".

Speaking of locally owned, we now focus on what started out as a McDonald's, which opened sometime soon after the mall opened. It lasted up until 2002 when it was replaced with a Sonic. The Sonic, which lacked a drive-in for obvious reasons, closed in 2012 (apparently it under-performed horribly). While Sonic is never known for having good food (average at best, I'd say), I enjoyed their drinks and "Happy Hour" specials. After that, it was replaced by Charles Stover's Flip & Peel Burgers & Fries.

We'll go a bit longer on this subject because I have mixed feelings on Flip & Peel. "This Is Not a Fast Food Chain, Because YOU Deserve Better", the menu proclaims. The burgers run in the range of $6-$8 for the hamburger alone. Since opening, they changed the menu, taking out a few tasty burgers and replacing them with "healthier" turkey burgers.

Some of the casualties were the Deluxe Diner Burger (named after a certain defunct Northgate eatery), which had cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, mayo, and mustard (a classic tasty hamburger), plus I dislike American cheese. It retailed for $5.99. There was also a smaller "Jr. Diner Burger" that retailed for $3.99.

Another casualty was the $7 "Hawaiian Burger": beef, ham, grilled pineapple, provolone, sriracha mayo, and pineapple sauce. Two salads (both $5, add chicken for $2), the Legacy Salad ("artisan greens", red onion. pineapple, Craisins, sunflower seeds) and Rio Grande Salad (artisan greens, guacamole, pico, cheddar) were discontinued (better than turkey burgers, in my opinion). Finally, two fries also sadly departed.

There was the "S'mores Fries" ($6) that had sweet potato fries, chocolate sauce, marshmallow sauce, graham crackers, and chocolate chunks. Confusingly, "Nutella Crunchberries Fries" ($7, now $4 like other fries) still survives, which has sweet potato fries, Nutella sauce, raspberry sauce, powdered sugar, and Crunchberries (Cap'n Crunch's Crunchberries). This I actually did try and I disliked it. It wasn't because the sugar overload (I can eat an entire bowl of said cereal and feel fine) but the flavors completely clashed.

Finally, there was the "Canadian Fries" (poutine, rhymes with "routine") which had provolone and mushrooms in addition to the classic cheese curds and brown gravy. These were discontinued due to the fact that you can't find cheese curds in the area. I think I remember Stover telling me about he had to import them from a family member in Canada, though I strongly believe it can be found in Houston somewhere.

It's worth noting that McDonald's was not the original tenant (possibly coming in during 1992, which makes sense from ads over the years). It was, instead, a branch of Pepe's Mexican Food.

At some point the food court was re-configured in terms of where the entrance to the restrooms were. This was a spin-off of Ken Martin's Steakhouse: "Ken Martin's Chicken Fried Steak". You can see Pepe's, Ken Martin's, and others below:

Photo from "rcj0618" on the HAIF, though it's an image from the first issue of InSite Magazine, mirror flipped

Orange Julius was absorbed into Time Out Family Amusement (now American Eagle Outfitters). This probably happened in the early 1990s. Next to it was Taste of the Tropics, which survived into the 2000s before moving to the place it is now (it's now non-food shops, but can't recall what's there currently).

Peanut Shack survived into the late 1980s as well (possibly early 1990s). It was more of a snack shack than a food court place. Some years ago the folks at Labelscar snapped a pic of a Peanut Shack at a small-town Oklahoma mall. It was obviously closed for the evening, but that's what it was.

Smoothies Ice Cream & Yogurt was the actual name of the restaurant and served pretty much what it's name was, including gyros. Ice cream served was Blue Bell. It became "Nestlé Toll House by Chip" circa 2009-2010, and was originally a Swensen's, which like its Culpepper Plaza relative (which also lasted a whole lot longer), served food (hot dogs, burgers) and ice cream.

Giovanni's Pizza was on the north side, later to be Villa Italian Specialties by the 1990s, and eventually, turned into part of Afterthoughts, which became Icing by Claire's, and then Claire's when the two switched places. Where Gymboree's "wall" is today was "Potatoes Etc.". Then, next to it was "The Wagon Wheel Pit BBQ" (now Lids, formerly Hat World). Next to that was one of the first Subway locations in the state and first mall Subway in Texas. It's now Sunglass Hut.

Other food court stores like Salad Bartique, Funnel Cakery, and Seafood Shoppe would replace a few listed above, and even a real Cinnabon once graced the food court in the mid-1990s, albeit briefly. There may be others that I've inevitably missed.

Picture I took in 2008

A more recent picture

As you may have noticed, the food court isn't nearly as large as it was. At least they got rid of the kid's play area (which was built circa 2004?) recently. You can see some directories here. The mall itself as well isn't what was then. Although it still has a dominant on the hold on local clothing stores, it mostly serves as a place to congregate when the weather's unpleasant, which happens often.

I wish the food court would grow again. Gymboree doesn't open to the food court side. I wish Gymboree would move out (after all, there are other "nice" shopping centers that would happily accept it, and at a lower rent, too). That space, the one where Potatoes Etc. was, could become another food court space. A mix of local tenants and "first to the market" spaces could fill the remainder. How about another Taco Bueno? Maybe a Ninfa's Express? A barbecue place? The mind boggles with the possibilities.