The Rockets lost, but so did this restaurant

The Rockets lost, but so did this restaurant

I don’t like to make a habit of using this blog as a platform for negativity, but sometimes there’s a story to be told and this is a mighty fine platform for it, so here goes.

Last night I had a pretty ridiculous experience, and one I feel worth sharing for a number of reasons. Let me start with this: there is surely no shortage of good restaurants in Houston. Last night I decided to meet a good friend at Reef in Midtown for dinner and drinks. Just six blocks away, the Lakers, who had just arrived in town to take on their old “buddy” Dwight and the rest of the Rockets were set to tip off in a few minutes.

I got to the restaurant first, and made the executive decision to sit at the bar off to the side instead of the main dining area. Being the avid sports fan I am, I asked if they had TVs at the bar and if the Rockets game would be on. The hostess said “oh absolutely,” and immediately my excitement level went up another notch. I get to enjoy conversations with a great friend, delicious food from Executive Chef Bryan Caswell, and one of the biggest games all season, a primetime showing of two teams with a lot to prove, featuring our very own Houston Rockets.

Winner winner chicken dinner! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that easy pun.)

Since it was a late game (8:30 start time), we enjoyed a few glasses of champagne then asked the bartender to turn one of the three TVs to the Rockets game. The TV to my far left was on the Oregon/Stanford game (a distinct rivalry and with a lot on the line for two ranked teams) and the other two were on the Thursday Night Football game featuring the (then) 1-6 Vikings and 3-5 Redskins. I was told those two TVs were connected so the same game had to be shown on both (um, not my fault you have it rigged like the projects). The bartender informed me someone else was watching the NFL game and couldn’t change it.

Hold up. We’re in Houston and six blocks away from the Toyota Center, where your HOMETOWN Rockets are playing the Los Angeles LAKERS and you won’t turn the game on? A rare primetime showing that CSN doesn’t actually have their grubby little Monopoly hands on and is featured on TNT where fans can enjoy the game and you won’t put it on?

“Can I speak to a manager please?” I politely asked.

Here’s where it gets fun for you reading the story and not-so-fun for the sports fan in me living the story:

I introduced myself to the unfriendly and fairly unkempt woman in charge, who simply said, “ok.”

Wait, isn’t it common courtesy to introduce yourself back especially when you are managing this establishment (where our tab was already sitting at $150)? Not to mention this is good ole Texas, home of southern hospitality and friendliness, am I right?

She informed me she wouldn’t change the game because someone else was watching the Vikings (hello, the Vikings!?), nor did she seem to give a damn I specifically asked about the Rockets being on TV before I even sat down and spent a penny. I also felt the need to ask how long this other group had been there since I had already been there an hour and didn’t feel it was necessary or appropriate to ask for a channel to be set an hour before actual gametime. Little did I know you basically had to call “shotgun” at this award-winning and highly touted restaurant to call dibs on a television.

Not even an apology was offered when I explained that the hostess had promised the game would be on. To be honest, an apology probably would have appeased me for the moment.

Let me be very clear: I did not go to the Reef to watch the Rockets game. I got excited when I saw the TVs tuned to sports and when I was told the game would be shown. Truth be told, had I wanted to go to the game that bad, I would have been at the game.

Then comes this: “If you’re such a big sports fan and the game is only six blocks away, why aren’t you at the game?

Ok, first of all, perhaps a good point, but as someone who goes to more than 70% of home games, not only because I enjoy it, but because it’s my JOB, I wanted a break and to enjoy good-non-stadium food. Second of all, that’s your home team and something deep in my being tells me that many folks within the Rockets organization drop quite a few dollar bills in this exact establishment, including many of their fans, sponsors, advertisers, etc.

BUT THAT ISN’T EVEN THE POINT. The point is, you don’t want to support your hometown team and you want to be rude to me in the process of your unsupportive ways?

Then there’s this: about 20 minutes before any of this happened, I was introduced to Bryan Caswell, the Executive Chef. To be frank, he’s a pretty awkward conversationalist. I told him I enjoy the food at Minute Maid so much more since he took over and commended his work.

After this we-refuse-to-put-the-Rockets-on-TV-issue, I sat there eating my seared tuna and brussel sprouts, pretty much steaming when Caswell walked by again.

I asked him to come over, told him the food was delicious (because it absolutely was) and informed him of the issue I just had. His response might be the best/worst part:

“Well, we’re not a sports bar…”

Oh really genius? You’re not? I took a minute, swallowed my champagne and looked at him in disbelief.

My response back went pretty much like this:

I’m not sure if it’s the fur vest or the Michael Kors suede knee-high boots I’m wearing that makes you think I was under the impression I was at a sports bar, but I’m pretty well aware this isn’t a sports bar. Considering what I do for a living, I’m pretty tapped into what constitutes a sports bar and furthermore, which ones are the best ones in Houston. Secondly, if I wanted a $10 basket of greasy chicken fingers and honey mustard along with a draft beer in an ice-cold mug served by wait staff with  cleavage upon cleavage, I would have gone to one. Instead I opted for a $33 entree, appetizers and drinks (all of the drinks were over $12, so again, not a typical sports bar).

Hey Caswell and Reef: not my first rodeo.

I’m not sure why I had to beg to get that game on (of all games) or why I had to sit through a lecture informing me Reef was not a sports bar, but I’m downright disappointed and it’s a shame too because my meal was delicious. But here’s the thing – if you can’t support your local sports team and you’re going to talk to me like I was at the Barnum & Bailey Circus, then perhaps I better make dinner reservations at a restaurant that appreciates my patronage as well as our local sports team.

I also wish I had the name of the former bartender/now server who made our lemon drop martinis because he was last night just as he’s always been: AMAZING. That was the only solid piece of customer service during our visit.

And let me end with this Reef/Caswell/Grumpy Woman Manager: YOU are the ones who installed TVs in your bar, NOT ME. YOU are the ones who had games on before I even arrived. YOU are the ones who told me the Rockets game would be on. It’s not like I asked you to put Sammy Davis and Louis Armstrong in the corner in order to highlight this barbaric game playing with balls.

I hope Rockets fans (along with Texans, Astros and Dynamo fans), read this and think twice before supporting a restaurant that is not only rude to customers but gives preferential treatment to the Vikings and Redskins, over their hometown Houston teams.


17 replies
  1. Rodney
    Rodney says:

    You painted the picture perfectly with
    your words. That sucks that they did not care
    To switch the game, and tried to turn it around on you.
    Needless to say I won’t be swimming nor eating
    At the REEF.

  2. Nate
    Nate says:

    I think you are spot on with this review. I think Caswell is a bit of an egomaniac. But then again that’s why his restaurant is located in Midtown and not Montrose. His litte slider joint in Montrose is for the drunks so take that for what it’s worth. I’m a native Houstonian and it pisses me off that he behaved like an immature punk to you. Kudos to you for calling him on the carpet. He’ll never get my business again… besides I can make better sliders anyhow! Zing!

  3. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I’ve run into this far to many times. I’m going to burn down the next sports bar that says all televisions must be split 50/50 between Texans and Saints games. Do we live in New Orleans? How insane of me to live in Houston and want to watch the Texans. Clearly I’m the problem.

  4. Eddie
    Eddie says:

    Why wasn’t the TV w/ the Stanford/Oregon game switched over to the Rockets game?

    They’re right, it’s not a sports bar. Could they have handled it better? Absolutely! And if you wanted to get on here and say they need to work on their customer service, I’d be with you all the way. But that’s not what you’re doing. You’re getting on a public forum and condemning a local business that employs many people, a man’s life’s work and one of the best seafood restaurants in town because you didn’t get to see a GAME. Seriously?

    Having spent years in the restaurant and bar business before I became an attorney I have to tell you I think it is absolutely absurd for you to say don’t go to a particular business for the one thing they’re not in business to do. People don’t go to Reef to watch TV, they go there do eat. That’s what it’s about. That’s what they’re there for.

    I don’t know the chef personally and I’ve only been there a handful of times, but I wouldn’t think twice about going back or recommending them to someone else. If this is what you base your reviews on, I can see why you call it the “Blonde Side.”

  5. George
    George says:

    Eddie, if you call Reef one of the best seafood restaurants in town…. let me tell you something. You keep on eating there and living in your world with delusions of grandeur. The fact that you have to burden us with the knowledge that you are an attorney reeks of over compensation. You are exactly the type of customer that should continue going there and please do. You hypocritically condemn her judgment of Caswell’s “life work” and basically condemn her life work in the same breath. Let me guess – you believe he is a “job creator” and you are probably an elitist because you’re in debt to your ears maintaining a life of smoke and mirrors. You go own an oil field services company and then come talk to me about employing a ton of people in the community and paying them 6 figures. From my perspective at the top you sound ridiculous. Attorneys are not in Houston’s elite and your praise of Reef as one of the best seafood restaurants in town shows where you fit in this city. As we say here in Texas… bless your heart.

  6. Jamie
    Jamie says:


    She said the food was good and the staff was rude. What else would she base her review on besides her own personal experience? And as a sportswriter, it’s relevant to make known to her readers a business that doesn’t support it’s local professional sports team.

  7. Jayme
    Jayme says:

    Thanks for all your comments and sharing your input. Obviously as I stated, the food was good, but I work hard to show Houston loyalty, at places JUST like the Reef, but I expect to have great customer service and loyalty back in return. I know many don’t think The Blonde Side is a job, but it is, and I’m a Houston business just like they are and just like the Rockets are (well, maybe not so much that last part, hahaha). I would have been mad if the CVS worker for a $3.99 5hour energy was just as rude, wasn’t directly at just restaurants or the Reef. Again, thanks for input as always, even those of you who don’t agree 🙂

  8. Steven
    Steven says:

    Similar experience at Chuck E Cheese’s.

    Walked in, and before we spent any money I asked if we could be seated at a quiet table. The hostess, who was outrageously dressed like a mouse, said “oh absolutely” and sat us near the back. Well, I didn’t see the type of pizza I wanted on the menu so I asked to speak to the executive chef to see if I could possibly get something “off menu.” They don’t have an executive chef (I know right, terrible sign right there…) but lead cook Juan Rivera came out. I asked if they had anchovies, freschetta, or spinach toppings available. Can you believe he said, “Sorry sir, we aren’t a gourmet pizza place.” I thought to myself, “What!!!?!?”. I guess my Polo shirt and Sperry Top-Sider Boat shoes gave off the impression I thought I was in a gourmet pizza place. So we settled for the pepperoni pizza that lead cook Juan made specifically for us. It was ok, except for some mysterious, white, not-cheese topping. Anyway, so having already spent $15 whole dollars at this establishment, all of a sudden these mechanical puppets start playing all this loud & obnoxious music…and we were led to believe we were seated at a quiet table!! We asked the manager if she could turn it off, but she said the kids and other patrons were enjoying it. How ridiculous that this place, known for being a kid’s place, wouldn’t cater to the needs of one table and keep the noise down!

    Don’t eat at Chuck E Cheese’s!

  9. Eddie
    Eddie says:

    So George you ran an “oilfield services company” and paid people “6 figures” and I’M the one with delusions of grandeur? Gimme a break! I mentioned what I did so she wouldn’t look me up & see what I did and think I’ve never worked in food service. I’ve been a waiter, a bartender, a busboy, a bouncer even a dishwasher. So I think that gives me a little credibility when I’m talking about restaurants. I don’t feel the need to kiss up to the pretty blonde and agree with everything she says in hopes of a date. But you wouldn’t read that into it because I’m sure like most of the Oil People I’ve ever worked with you probably think you’re the smartest guy in the room. Sadly, they’re rarely as smart as they THINK they are.

  10. Cassie
    Cassie says:

    I am DEFINITELY eating at the Reef now!

    You sound entirely self-entitled and a nightmare to be around. I wonder if you throw tantrums every time something doesn’t go your way. Were you an only child?

  11. Cassie
    Cassie says:

    Also, I’m recommending this restaurant to all my friends.

    They don’t need this backlash because of a stupid GAME.

  12. Candace
    Candace says:

    Before we write posts like this and then subsequently argue about it, let’s just remember there are so many bigger problems in the world.

  13. Jayme
    Jayme says:

    Candace, I totally agree, but perhaps peep the good charity work I do at Charity Chicks Houston and the articles I write about athletes nonprofit groups and the ones I host also to help benefit those in need, nothing at all for myself. If people want to judge me and my writing, that is fine, that’s part of this business, but please don’t pretend that I’m ignorant to what the real problems in this world are. I didn’t lose sleep over this incident, nor does it sit anywhere near the top of my priorities, but shitty customer service won’t get my money anymore, nor my endorsements, plain and simple.

  14. J
    J says:

    I am just finding this site and this blog post due to the fact that my daughter showed me it… At first I was excited, I thought, “awesome my athletic basketball crazed daughter found a sports blog written by a woman! How cool is that?!?” Then I saw the sadness and confusion in her eyes.

    You see, her daddy is Bryan Caswell, and she was just fortunate enough to find your rant and show me. Apparently she was curious about what the Internet had to say about the same man that works his butt off 70 hours a week to provide for our family. Now she’s questioning me and asking why someone would hate her dad so much that she would ask others to boycott his restaurant for a reason that doesn’t even apply to a seafood establishment. And I have to figure out a way to explain to her why this post exists.

    It’s a tough gig constantly being in the public eye. And regardless of the fact that Bryan is one of the biggest promoters of our city (which is evident by the city giving him not one, but two days dedicated to him) he is an avid houston sports fan. So your accusations there couldn’t be more wrong.

    I’m sure the manager on duty could have handled the situation better, but I truly do not understand why you would publicly ridicule a chef/restaurateur and condemn his business because they wouldn’t change the tv channel for you. Calling him an awkward conversationalist is just a strange way to try to insult him. It also couldn’t be further from the truth, seeing as he speaks regularly at events, charities, schools and food & wine festivles.

    I’m assuming you don’t have children, but if you do, I sure hope they never come across a blog publicly damning you and yes, “your life’s work.” Because then you will feel your child’s hurt when they see how hate filled this world can be.

    To the poster who inferred that Bryan doesn’t care about Montrose, you couldn’t be more wrong. We live right in the heart of Montrose and also own a Tex mex restaurant that gives Montrose residents a discount on Mondays. Maybe you should do some research before typing next time.

    To the other poster that stated that my husband was an asshole, I would love to know what grounds you have to say that on as I’m sure that you are not a friend nor aquaaintance of his. Or maybe you are and you think it’s funny to write that… But I can assure you that it’s not when a little girl is visibly upset about reading that about her dad, someone that she loves very much.

    And lastly to the other poster that said reef was not the best seafood restaurant in Houston… Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that is yours. However, food and wine magazine stated it was the best seafood restaurant in America… So last time I checked, Houston was still in the good ole USA. Reef has also won an. Incredible amount of awards.

    It’s so easy to sit behind your computer and atack someone you don’t know, isn’t it? You should all be ashamed of yourselves. It’s one thing to read a qualified critique of your work by an actual food critic, but it’s quite another when you read something like this that was composed simply to publicly bash someone.

    So from here, I will just have explain to my and Bryan’s daughter that there are some terribly rude people in the world many of which feel the need to spew their opinions out onto the Internet to hurt others – mostly because they must be very sad or angry inside. Then, I will explain to her that this is a form of cyber bullying and remind her that words on a computer screen written by strangers hold no merit. Thank you for giving me this teachable moment.

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