Chef Ronnie Killen has earned heaps of praise over the years, attracting faithful fans to Pearland for a taste of his food at one of his three restaurants -- Killen’s Steakhouse, Killen’s Burgers and Killen’s Barbecue. Now those who live in Houston can have a little taste of his food closer to town at STQ, his fourth restaurant and the first inside Houston city lines.
STQ opened in early December in a space along Voss Road that formerly housed Bramble. For Killen, STQ is an opportunity to cook other foods beyond steak, barbecue and burgers, foods he likes and give him a little more creative freedom.
“It’s exciting because for me it’s getting back into, I’m not going to say fine dining, we’re still applying a lot of barbecue techniques, we do smoked beef ribs but it’s a little bit different in presentation and it’s just good food. Getting back to balancing, presentation and getting all those things on the plate is fun and it’s important because over the past three years I’ve been doing barbecue very, very hard.”
We caught up with Killen about STQ, its food and where he likes to eat in Houston.
Was it always your intention to open a restaurant in Houston?
I’ve been wanting to open up a restaurant in Houston probably for the past five years but just never found a place that fit the concept of what I wanted to do. When this property became available, I was very interested because I’ve been thinking about this specific concept for about 7 years.
How would you describe the food?
The type of food that we do there I don’t know if it's like a melting pot of Houston or kind of like what Houston is about because we have Asian Influence, we have Hispanic influence, we have Texas food -- chicken fried steak, fried chicken, kind of comfort food -- but we have very refined food too as far as plating and stuff. When I saw it, I thought, what type of cooking do I do on the weekends? This is pretty much it. This is the kind of cooking that I cook for my family. It’s just food that one, I like to cook, and two, I like to eat. It’s kind of like a combination of about me … all my restaurants are basically a genre, you know it’s a steakhouse, burger place, barbecue place. There’s not any restaurant that I have that’s just restaurant of what Ronnie wants to put on a plate or what Ronnie likes to cook.
So it gives you more freedom …
We can do anything we want and that’s the fun part. There aren’t restrictions on what we’re going to do. We got a bunch of albacore tuna from Hawaii and we’re making sushi rice and I started making a ponzu sauce, all these different items that a barbecue person sort of wouldn’t know of. One of my favorite bites in Houston is the hama chili at Uchi because it is balanced; it’s sweet, it’s sour, it’s salty from the soy, it’s smoky from the tobiko caviar. There’s so much in there and when you taste that, I called it the five S’s, when you try that and all your sensors are activated. I try to put those things, the five S’s, in all my dishes.
Would you say the restaurant is still meat centric or not so much?
It’s a mixture of stuff. Yes, we have meat. Yes, we do grilled meats. But we do have a lot of other stuff, especially our pastas, the bolognese that we do, the short rib ravioli that we do. Some people would probably call it that but we’re going to give more into what’s fresh. We’re actually doing daily menus there and people ask, why are you doing daily menus? Well, I’m doing a daily menu because it’s stuff that I’m getting in, it’s stuff that’s fresh so that’s what I’m going to serve.
We have our main core items that people enjoy and love and we’re bringing in different things all the time to see how they’re going to work and if they’re going to work. We use the freshest ingredients we can get, we’re constantly driving for the best product we can have. I tell my staff all the time, we’re going to get the best product we can put our hands on but take care of it. Glorify whatever it is, let it speak for itself and use it in a simple form. You know, smoking, natural wood, cooking over live coals I think that’s kind of where it all began.
What are your favorite places to eat and drink in Houston?
My favorite restaurant in Houston is Da Marco, especially around October to December, because I love white truffle. That’s kind of a special occasion place because any time I’ve been there it’s always too much money. I like Uchi, I like Kata [Robata]. When I go out to eat, I usually eat sushi or something light, or Italian. I like Shake Shack. I haven’t been to the Shake Shack in Houston yet but I was in London for my birthday in September and I ate at Shake Shack almost everyday just because there’s something about those burgers that is so balanced, they’re simple yet very good. Some people like them, some people don’t but I do like them. And just regular burgers, I’m a little funny about burgers. People ask, what do you like on your burger? I go beef, cheese and bread. I don’t like all the other stuff because that to me is what a cheeseburger is supposed to be. If you have good meat and good cheese a good bun and your burger is cooked right, that’s all you need.
Are there other burgers in Houston you like?
Shake Shack, Killen’s, Bernie’s Burger Bus. I’m a fan of just a regular plain burger. When you start getting all the different stuff on a burger, to me the burger loses what it’s about. I’m very much a purist when it comes to foods I really like. That’s one thing that I’ve found out about young chefs these days, it’s that they think expensive ingredients make it good. They’re missing the point. The point is that if you have good ingredients, great, but you don’t have to put extensive ingredients just to say it’s good just because you don’t understand what to put with it. There has to be a purpose for it.