Saturday, May 18, 2013

Home Plate Bar and Grill – Houston, Texas


It’s funny how the same restaurant can receive glowing reviews from some people and an equal number of negatives from others. When I read things like that, I have to wonder: are we talking about the same place? In this case, we’re talking about Houston’s Home Plate Bar and Grill; so named as it sits right across the street from the home plate entrance to Minute Maid Park on Texas Avenue.


Home Plate Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

The Home Plate caters to the baseball crowd, and is always packed on game days, just before and after the Astros play. I would have thought that it would also be busy for lunch on any day being in a busy downtown area, but such is not the case. We have been there twice on game days – both times around noon, but the restaurant was virtually empty on both occasions.

The first thing you notice is that the place is a shrine to baseball and other sports memorabilia. The walls are covered with photos, framed uniforms, etc., and the showcases are stuffed with game worn football helmets, autographed baseballs and every imaginable sort of sports item for sale. The first time we were there, we had an extremely difficult time getting our then 11-year-old son to sit down at the table and eat. All he wanted to do was to see every signature on every baseball in the place. He kept running back to our table to brief us on what he had discovered.

“Dad, there’s a Craig Biggio uniform back there! And over here,” he said, pointing to another wall, “is a Vince Young AUTOGRAPHED game jersey!”

The Home Plate really does have an impressive array of interesting sports items, but of course, we didn’t go there to browse the memorabilia – we went there to eat. Both times I have been there, only one other table had customers besides my group. Logic and common sense would have you believe that you will be waited on very quickly in such a situation.

Unfortunately, for reasons that are not clear to me, on both occasions, although the waitress was clearly not at all busy, no employee even looked our way, let alone attempted to talk to us. Both times, it took more than twenty minutes before the waitress decided to acknowledge our presence and make a move to take our orders.

The first time this happened, I was offended – what kind of customer service do these people practice? Okay, so maybe they were having a bad day, or some strange thing was going on behind the scenes that we were unaware of. Still, a restaurant that has only two tables with customers (eight people total) should not have any problem serving them – there is really no plausible excuse for such a lack of attention to paying customers.

Then, when exactly the same thing happened a year later, it was obvious to me that the first bad experience was not unique - they didn’t want us there; they did not want to serve us and take our money. Incredibly, a place of business that can only exist by people walking in and paying for food and drink was clearly not interested. After that second identical experience, I read some reviews of the Home Plate and discovered that it wasn’t just us – many people had experienced similar treatment. Busy or not, the Home Plate Bar and Grill has a well-earned reputation for a serious lack of customer service. It’s great to not have to wait for a table in order to eat, but it is not great to be in an empty restaurant and still have to wait for service.

To be clear: it wasn’t the kitchen that was slow – once our order was finally taken the food arrived within ten minutes. No, this was plain and simply the fault of the wait staff and by extension, the management. The food, once we were finally served, turned out to be pretty good. The hamburgers were cooked to order with fresh ingredients; the fries tasty and hot. It was obvious that the kitchen staff knew what they were doing – I mean how hard is it to cook a hamburger correctly, but then again, an inattentive staff can mess up even the simplest food.

All things considered, although we will continue to journey to Houston once each summer to see an Astros game, we have made our final visit to the Home Plate Bar and Grill. If the food was just so spectacular that we could not resist, then we might suffer the insulting lack of customer service and return. The burgers were good, but I’m sure there are dozens of burger joints in downtown Houston that serve tasty food and care about making the experience a good one for customers.

We will look elsewhere for our game day food on our next trip to Houston. The Home Plate Bar and Grill has struck out.

© 2013 Larry Manch

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