It sounds like a carnivore's dream deal. Not to mention the Houston culinary world's version of The Odd Couple: this Monday afternoon, steak guru Ronnie Killen and burger king Ricky Craig, the respective geniuses behind Killen's Steakhouse and Hubcap Grill, went to the bank and opened a joint checking account.
They'll use it to plan a joint effort called CK's Steakhouse, which they hope to open at 1127 West 19th Street, right next to Hubcap Grill's Heights location, early in 2013.
They've already signed a lease with Craig's W. 19th St. landlord, who owns the adjacent property. The document was two pages long, in stark contrast to the hair-raising 68-page lease that finally forced Killen to abandon his deal to open a steakhouse in the former Stella Sola location earlier this year.
Craig and Killen's landlord happens to be a Heights construction guy who's fronting the build out to the shell of Shine's Car Care, the current business. He's told the partners to expect to have keys to the building in 90 days.
The duo has already procured offsite parking right across the street. Now comes the menu planning, as these two big talents in the world of local beef put their heads together to forge a single vision.
Don't expect CK's Steakhouse to replicate Killen's Pearland steakhouse in quite the way the Stella Sola location was slated to do. In addition to basic steakhouse items, CK's will offer some more adventurous dishes that don't necessarily play well at the Pearland location. Bone marrow, cheeses from Houston Dairymaids, produce from local farms. But staples like Killen's celebrated fried shrimp will be have a place on the menu, too.
Craig and Killen will be offering steaks at a gentler price point than in Pearland, a key difference. Instead of specializing in sky-high USDA prime cuts (although they may offer Prime if the market will support it), they'll trade in grass-fed Wagyu beef from Strube Ranch in Pittsburg, Texas, which Killen has been using at his Pearland restaurant for about a year.
"It's the equivalent of a Kobe ranking between 5 and 8," says Killen. "They call it Choice, but it's better than Allen Brothers Prime, that's how good it is. It's finished on grass instead of in a feedlot, so it doesn't have tons of marbling, but the flavor is great. I had Ricky and his dad in to try and, and Ricky said, 'Wow.'"
"It's inexpensive but special," says Killen, so we'll be able to give people a good value. You'll be able to spend from $25 — $28 for a great steak instead of $50."
So how did this unlikely pairing happen, anyway? Ricky Craig grew up in the suburb of Pearland, where Killen's is located, and the two men have frequented each others' restaurants in recent years. When Killen's other Heights location fell through, Craig put aside his own plans for a pizza place and approached Killen with an idea to capitalize on the buzz and community interest the Stella Sola project had already generated.
On the surface, they're quite different: Craig famously high-strung and quick-tempered; Killen more deliberate and soft-spoken. "Some people may think of Ricky as controversial," notes Killen, laughing (a reference to his high-profile Twitter spats). "But at the end of the day I like his product and what he believes in. I think teaming with him will be something neat."
The two are busy discussing matters down to and including what kind of coffee service they will offer at CK's. Craig is wrangling the TABC. A February opening seems pretty optimistic, given the holidays and the fact that Killen is planning to relocate his Pearland steakhouse and open a new barbecue restaurant in the new year, too.
Still, if the restaurant gods are kind, by sometime this coming spring, Houston may get a taste of what happens when the top steak man and the top burger man in town join forces.