WINTER PARK – Mention to a friend that you want to go to happy hour at Houston’s on a Friday night. How many of them will stop you and say, “Don’t you mean … Hillstone?”
The sign out in front of this lakeside restaurant, upscale and popular with the steak-eating crowd, does indeed say “Hillstone Restaurant,” and has for a while now. But frankly, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t still refer to the place as … Houston’s.
That happens even though if the restaurant gets a write up, the article likely refers to this steak house with a view as “Hillstone … formerly Houston’s.”
Houston’s is actually owned by the Hillstone Restaurant Group, a company that operates Houston’s and several other restaurant chains, including R&D Kitchen, Gulfstream, Rutherford Grill and the newest one, Hillstone — which the firm’s web site notes is “a tribute to the name of our parent company. It is also a name which is derived from a hillside vineyard in the Napa Valley which provides Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.”
The firm decided to change the name of some of their local restaurants – including, obviously, the one in Winter Park off U.S. 17/92 – to reflect the same name as the parent company.
“In an effort to strength our menu and celebrate our roots as a company, several of the flagship locations have transitioned to the name Hillstone,” the web site notes.
The mystery of the name change thus having been solved, it should also be noted that it’s no mystery at all why Houston’s … er, Hillstone… continues to attract strong crowds. If you need reasons to justify a trip there, I can offer you plenty. You’ve got happy hour by the lake, you’ve got a beautiful establishment, you’ve got friendly and efficient service … not to mention those sizzling, juicy steaks. It’s a tough package to beat … and a reminder of why the parking lot is often jammed full at night.
As anyone in the Orlando/Winter Park area knows, Hillstone has a great location on U.S. 17/92 — although “location” has a double meaning here. Walk inside the restaurant, then head out back and take a moment to savor the beauty of Hillstone’s outdoor waiting area. Stop by the bar first and order a drink, then wander out back to the dock by the lake. Better yet, time yourself to go in the evening, so you can watch the sun setting over the water.
If it’s ambiance you enjoy, Hillstone has it to spare.
That may be one reason why this restaurant gets so very crowded, particularly after 5 o’clock when the singles crowd mingles over to the bar. I’ve had problems finding a seat at the bar on more than one occasion.
On the other hand, when I do go there and grab myself a seat at the bar, the servers always know exactly what I want. It’s like they can read my mind.
This specious restaurant is open Sundays through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — far better hours than the steak houses that only open for dinner. The meals are excellent, including those esquisitely cooked steaks and thick, choice ribs. In fact, steak is, not surprisingly, the main focus here, although the menu has a very nice variety, including seafood, Rotisserie Chicken, burgers and pork chops – even numerous salads to pick from.
The steaks or ribs range in price from $25-$27. When you get one, be sure to ask for the restaurant’s very tasty “Dirty Rice” — or rice cooked with onion and pepper – as a side dish. You could also do well sampling the restaurant’s steak fries.
And save room for the desserts that include the Apple Cobbler with ice cream, which is a real treat.
Hillstone also has a lengthy wine list, offering plenty of cocktails and beers to raise your spirits, and the entire restaurant – from the bar to the dining area to the lakeside section with the Adirondack chairs and tables — has a relaxed, casual feel. Again, I highly recommend you stop by Hillstone moments before the sun begins setting, and take advantage of that outside dock by the lake. Can you think of a more romantic ambiance than a meal by sunset, where the staff lets you dine by candlelight?
Another great option: find a table where you can watch the chefs prepare meals in the open kitchen.
The sign says Hillstone. The company calls it Hillstone. But everyone I know still calls it Houston’s.
No matter. The high quality of this restaurant is what hasn’t changed, regardless of what anyone calls it.
To learn more, call the restaurant at 407-740-4005.
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