After weeks of speculation, it's official: chef Ron Killen, of the primo Pearland steak and seafood house, will open a new Killen's in the Heights space formerly occupied by Stella Sola. Rumors began flying about the fate of the 1001 Studewood location the minute chef Bryan Caswell shuttered Stella Sola on May 5, and Killen signed a deal with the building's owners this morning.
The TABC willing, Killen is hoping to open within six weeks. Which means that in short order, Inner Loop fans of his restaurant's mighty steaks, killer fried shrimp and opulent side dishes will no longer have to make the trek to Pearland to enjoy them. It's good news for the burgeoning Heights dining scene and even better news for devotees of Killen's ethereal creme brûlée bread pudding and his luxurious creamed corn.
Killen says the menu at the new spot will be the same as at the mothership — and then some, because he plans to add some of the ambitious dishes that have been hits at his recent wine dinners and special events. A couple will be drawn from the menu Killen did for a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City last winter, including his smoked pork and black-eyed pea gumbo and his smoked sous-vide short rib and creamed corn.
Look for hickory-smoked Kurobuta pork belly, too, along with an ahi tuna and minted compressed watermelon dish and a smoked pork pasta designed to make the old Stella Sola regulars feel at home.
Between opening a restaurant on a quick turnaround and traveling to New York to compete in the Kingsford Walmart steak challenge next week, Killen will have his hands full. (As coincidence would have it, he defeated Stella Sola's Caswell for the Houston steak title last month, cooking in a Walmart parking lot.)
The finals, in which Killen will compete with 7 other chefs from around the country, will take place Tuesday, May 22. The winner will take $10,000 along with $5000 for the charity of his choice. (Killen's designee is Houston's Recipe for Success.)
In the meantime, Killen will be staffing up (prospective employees can fax their resumes to 281-485-2241 or email the chef at firstname.lastname@example.org) and attending to the myriad details involved in a project that will more than double the size of his current operation.
Killen says he plans to paint the interior of the space, install a granite bar top, change some of the lighting and remove the "Stella Sola" graphics from the floor. He's taking the big TV screens out of the bar (the smaller ones will stay) and straightening the profile of the front entryway, which will add 30 covered seats, for a total of 165. (The Pearland Killen's, by comparison, has 100.)
He's also adamant about corralling good linens ("none of this polyester crap") and attending to "a lot of little things" to up the dining experience. He'll change out the chairs and install a broiler he has in storage. And yes, the new place will duplicate the steak program at the Pearland restaurant, offering any steak either wood-grilled or broiled.
He is known to be talking to at least one high-profile Houston chef about a consulting role at the Heights Killen's, so let the guessing games continue.
Stay tuned for details as they develop.