The same, but different [restaurant review]

The new Hudson House isn't quite what it was, but that's not a bad thing

Hudson House partner Kate Failor with her sister Ashley Failor. Photo by JP Cordero.

In 1976, someone asked Paul McCartney whether the Beatles would ever get back together. He responded, “You can’t reheat a souffle.” That quote has been repeated many times as an example of the futility of resurrecting creative enterprises, and the most amusing thing about it is that it’s wrong. Sir Paul is a great entertainer and it’s nice he used a culinary metaphor, but people reheat souffles all the time. They don’t puff quite as high as they did the first time, but they still taste just fine.

The Hudson House, which closed at the beginning of the Pandemic and changed hands late last year, might seem like an unlikely candidate for resurrection. The place was closely identified with former chef-owner Brooke Williamson and named after her son, whose portrait in snorkeling gear decorates the exterior. Nevertheless, when Jessica Ibarra announced she had bought the business she explained that it was her favorite hangout and she wanted to keep most of the old menu.

Fast forward six months and it’s clear the revived establishment is an evolution rather than a faithful recreation. The previously dark and clubby interior has been brightened with new lighting and enlivened with nautical and tropical memorabilia. The rear parking lot has been turned into a patio, something many places have done during the pandemic. It’s a welcoming space that is particularly popular at brunch. Speaking of brunch, that’s another change, since the previous incarntion was only open in the evening.

My wife and I visited for a midday meal and ordered the shrimp and cheese grits, spinach and broccoli quiche, and a pair of cocktails, the “Higher than the Clouds” and “Smokey Bourbon.” The former might have been named ironically, as it’s a relatively low-alcohol drink with aperol, fruit juices, and a dash of sparkling rose wine, a great summer cooler. The latter is made with bourbon, chipotle, bitters, and coffee, and the pepper is used sparingly so it’s a hint of heat and smoke rather than a blast.

Shrimp and cheese grits are often made Louisiana style with a high heat level, but here they’re made in the milder South Carolina style. The large shrimp in creamy sauce with balanced pepperiness were delicious and the portion was generous. It is no coincidence that co-owner Kate Failor’s family is from that part of the country, and she mentioned that other Low Country specialties may eventually appear on the menu. I hope they do, because it’s an undeservedly obscure style here.

The brunch quiche at Hudson House. Photo by Richard Foss

We had been drawn to the quiche because the menu mentioned it had a pretzel crust, something that I had never seen before and couldn’t quite imagine. It turned out that this is made much like a graham cracker crust – crumble pretzels, compress into a pie tin, fill, and bake. Somehow this created a marvelously light and flaky crust with a slight saltiness, and the creamy, cheesey filling complemented it very well.

We finished with a slice of rhubarb pie – not made in house, but very good – and made plans to investigate the evening dining experience indoors, which we did. The slightly brighter interior and more upbeat décor tips this from the ambiance of a bar with good food to a restaurant with a good cocktail list. We ordered kale grit fritters, a Southern specialty that had been on the old Hudson House menu and vadouvan chicken wings to start, with a pretzel burger, macaroni with goat cheese, and brown sugar pork ribs as entrees.

The kale grit fritters are neat cubes of vegetables and grits that are fried just before serving, like a Southern version of falafel. They arrive with a topping of grated parmesan, which probably isn’t traditional but adds some flavor, and a slightly spicy dipping sauce. It’s stylish bar food with a bit of salt and spice to make you appreciate your drink. The wings were a bit of a surprise – there was some vadouvan, the French mild take on Indian curry, but also some sweet and sour flavor. There are three to an order, but they’re big, so order appropriately based on the number of people at the table.

We discovered that we had over-ordered when the mac and goat cheese arrived, as it was a large portion of a very filling dish. The mild but super creamy cheese sauce included several kinds of mushrooms and was topped with toasted breadcrumbs. It’s a savory but mild main dish that is even better as a shared side.

Hudson House’s seemingly incongruous mural is a portrait of former chef/owner Brooke Williamson’ son, after whom the restaurant is named. Photo by JP Cordero

The ribs had been on the old Hudson House menu and were as tasty now as then, the Asian-inspired sauce and caramelized sugar coating a tasty mess to eat. They seem to be made differently, though – they are now steamed before roasting so they’re literally falling off the bone. I prefer my ribs a bit more toothsome, so as much as I liked the flavor, I might order something else next time. That could be the pretzel burger, which we ordered with an Impossible vegan patty that was indistinguishable from meat in texture and flavor. This was complemented by Jarlsberg cheese, arugula, grilled onion, and bacon (and I can hardly wait for Impossible Foods plant-based bacon, a product scheduled to be released this year).

The cocktail menu is even more extensive in the evening – try the Local Bird, their riff on the tiki classic Jungle Bird, or the Crimson and Clover, a modern riff on a classic fizz. Try anything on the list, because the bartenders know their stuff.

For dessert we tried the bread pudding, the only dud dish of the evening. The best bread puddings have lightness to balance the custard and a little alcohol to balance the sweetness, but this was both heavy and sugary. The rhubarb pie we had at brunch is available at night, as are house-baked cookies, so I’d suggest either of those.

The new Hudson House still looks like a bar from the outside, but inside is the heart of a restaurant that will delight the family crowd, as well as those who are mainly there for the beverages. The prices are moderate, most of the portions aren’t, and though they don’t have the cachet of a famous chef, the food is as good as ever.

Hudson House is at 514 N. PCH in Redondo. Open for dinner only Tues. — Fri. Brunch and dinner Sat. and Sun. Check hours online. Street parking, some vegetarian/vegan items, full bar, patio dining. (310) 372-0006. HudsonHouseBar.com. ER

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Written by: Richard Foss

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