Grace’s, Johnny Carrabba’s upscale Southern restaurant, has much to recommend it, and you can see most of it as you crawl up Kirby Drive. It’s a beautiful, homey building with lace curtains in the windows. Its patio is tailor-made for this walkable part of Houston.

Once inside, the visual thrills continue. The dining room combines a country club atmosphere—plush, comfy chairs spaced nicely apart from other tables—with touches you’ll find in fine Southern homes, such as a brick fireplace, family portraits and heirloom china.

Your eyes pop as you open the menu; it features just about every classic comfort dish you can imagine. It’s hard to decide what to order at Grace’s! But folks eventually do, and the dishes flowing from the kitchen beguile with lush presentations and a keen sense of color.

Yet it’s what you can’t see that impresses most. You could be forgiven for thinking Grace’s doesn’t have a bar. No signs point to one, and there are no clues from the dining room. But where are all those cocktails, those glasses of wine, coming from?

If you already know the answer, please forgive me for spilling the beans. There’s an unmarked oak door opposite the host stand. (They’ll discreetly point if you ask.) Open the door, and step into a hidden sanctuary that’s at once urbane and joyous, yet completely isolated from the restaurant and the streets outside.

It’s almost like a speakeasy, yet no password is required. The River Oaks people watching is stellar. This is my favorite place to hide from broiling Houston summers, or when a friend and I just want a good conversation. Not to mention a perfect Grey Goose martini. That the bar is tended by ethereal community ally Peter C. just completes the experience.

After cocktails, I love digging into Grace’s Sweet & Sour Calamari and Shrimp. Listed as an appetizer, it’s enough perfectly crisp and glazed food for four, and Chinese broccoli and green tea soba noodles take the dish over the top. Or try the meaty Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, paired with addictive candied cashews.

I also enjoy Aunt Margaret Ann’s Roasted Chicken, which comes with nicely seared broccolini. In fact, I’m eating it takeout as I type this! The skin is almost brittle, but the inside is moist and well brined. If you like your chicken fried, Grace’s does a remarkable version—a huge portion with your choice of two sides that, in the words of one Yelp reviewer, “ no Caucasian woman could have made!”

If I’m having one of my salad days, there isn’t much that can beat Grace’s Gulf Fried Oyster Salad. The spinach is lightly dressed with crumbled blue cheese and pine nuts. It’s all topped with fried oysters that deliver the right amount of crunch.

For dessert, Grace’s go-to is its Godiva Freeze, a boozy, thick, chocolaty milkshake. It’s insanely good, as are the Bananas Foster Pancakes, available both as a dessert and at brunch.

Parking is easy; choose valet or the parking garage next door. Grace’s is a great spot when you need a little bit of comfort!

Grace’s

3111 Kirby Drive Houston, Texas 77098

(713) 728-6410

www.gracesonkirby.com