Saying it borders on cliché, but the numbers don’t lie: A growing number of Californians are packing their belongings and making Texas their new home. You see it in the businesses that have moved their operations here, in the employees who follow those companies and in the increase in home prices and rents that induce sticker shock among locals but seem cheap compared with the Golden State.
So when a new restaurant like Suburban Yacht Club
opens in Plano just on the edge of Frisco, an area where so many new companies set up shop and so many Californians now call home, it might seem like pandering to the new arrivals. Thankfully, a look past the pastel pinks and teals reveals there’s more to Suburban Yacht Club than a restaurant looking to capitalize on our newest neighbors’ cravings for a taste of home.
After Brian Luscher shuttered the Grape in 2019, it didn’t take long for him to nab a gig as director of culinary operations for 33 Restaurant Group. When we talked with him two years ago, he hinted that 33 was working on a new concept.
Luscher is a Midwest transplant himself, the son of a butcher, but the idea for a SoCal-inspired restaurant came from 33’s founder, Preston Lancaster. Lancaster graduated from Lake Highlands High School and went to college at the University of San Diego. Lancaster and Luscher had known each other for years, and when Luscher joined 33 Restaurant Group, the idea for Suburban Yacht Club started to take shape.
“This was Preston’s idea, but we fleshed it out. And pre-quarantine, this was a much bigger idea,” Luscher says. “Now, it wasn't a yellow submersible, and you know, crystal chandeliers and a Fiat in the front foyer, but it had a grander scale.”
Of course, no one knew then that a global pandemic would nearly crush the restaurant industry, so Suburban Yacht Club's scope was scaled back. The restaurant occupies one of the buildings of The Boardwalk at Granite Park, near the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway and State Highway 121. The boardwalk and artificial lagoon are the perfect tie-ins for a restaurant that promises “tropical cocktails and chef-driven boardwalk fare.”
They serve drinks in tiny inflatable pink flamingos here.
Out front is a copious patio. Inside, the dining room strikes a blend of modern and inviting, where large televisions play beach scenes and mellow lights change color from aquas and roses to yellows and oranges, the hues playfully dancing over an impressive number of plants that soften the hard edges. The design is straight out of the Malibu beach house of your movie star dreams, but not overpowering or distracting.
33 Restaurant Group took its time to refine the space, allowing Luscher to polish the concept and home in on what California cuisine means.
Flash-fried calamari may bring back memories of The Grape.
“I took a couple of trips out to Del Mar and San Diego, La Jolla. And any time I food travel or experience travel through California, I’m always knocked out by the high execution of simple concepts with quality ingredients,” Luscher says.
The focus on quality food and careful execution is seen across SYC’s menu. While much of the menu is new, items like the flash-fried calamari ($11) are obvious nods to Luscher’s time at The Grape. For long-time residents like me, bites of the delicately fried squid evoke memories of the Lower Greenville institution. Newcomers will relish the touches of tamarind and chiles that peek through the lemon sauce coating the bottom of the dish, creating new memories all their own.
Elote served with chicharrones de harina and Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
Other appetizers reflect more laid-back SoCal vibes; Mexican-style corn topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and served with wheel-shaped chicharrones de harina is a prime example. The flavors seem to vary with each bite, from sweetness of the corn followed by a bright note of lime in one instance, followed by creaminess of the mayonnaise and queso fresco in the next that gets bounced with a zing of heat from the Cheetos at the end.
We asked Luscher if he ever thought he would be at a point in his culinary career when he’d use Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in a dish.
“I probably would have sneered at it at some point,” he admits. “But you know what, it sounds fun. I saw it somewhere else — I surely didn’t invent it. But it’s part of our willingness to be fun and take the pomposity out of it.”
Still, there’s thoughtfulness that goes into Suburban Yacht Club’s menu. California cuisine is influenced by multiple cultures, and Luscher and his team wanted to pay respect to those roots.
“True street food out west, they’re in the Hispanic culture. We're very cognizant of where we were stepping,” Luscher explains. “If someone wants to make a kung pao cauliflower tostada or something like that, somebody can make money off of that. That's their business. But we wanted to stay true to that culture.”
Beer battered Baja taco
A section of the menu pays homage to SoCal’s Mexican-influenced street food, with eight taco options that can be mixed and matched. A plate of two tacos is $13, a trio $17, and you can add rice and beans for five bucks more. We tried several varieties across our visits; the quesabirria and carnitas impressed, but the battered Baja tacos were the star. The beer batter provides the perfect crunch to accompany the flaky white fish underneath, and a bright lime crema and Napa cabbage slaw adds an exemplary finish. Close your eyes, and you can almost feel the sun and sea breeze on your face while you’re eating.
It also never hurts to ask what the day’s fresh catch is. On one of our visits, it was a grilled swordfish that we ordered as a sandwich ($14) with a side of fries. A lightly toasted kaiser bun was dwarfed by the fillet, and the meal struck us as a bargain for fish that tasted like it had been caught that morning. Swordfish is tricky to cook; undercook it and it can be as rubbery as a flip flop, but overcooking leaches the flavor away into a pasty mess. Ours was cooked perhaps a shade too long, but the flavor was still on point.
Short rib quesabirria with consomé
Service leans laid-back, but the staff we dealt with were friendly and knowledgeable. One of our earlier visits found the wait for food and drinks bordering on too long, but our waiter was quick to check in and apologetic for the delays. On a second visit, the staff was already familiar with changes to the menu that rolled out for winter, and they were quick with recommendations of new food and drink options. It’s clear the staff feel at ease.
“We’ve been really fortunate, knock on wood. I think the way 33 [Restaurant Group] invests in people, investing in our culture, it really has paid off for us.” Luscher says. “It’s not a checklist item to me; I really want to know how my staff are doing. I know this is a hard business.”
There’s a touch of escapism and whimsy at play in a visit to Suburban Yacht Club, but it never feels kitschy or overdone. That willingness to be adventurous and playful and perhaps try something out of the ordinary is a reflection of the laid-back SoCal vibes at the root of everything Suburban Yacht Club aims to be. Even native Texans deserve that feel of getting away and a chance to eat food that’s smartly executed without any pomp. Suburban Yacht Club delivers.
Suburban Yacht Club, State Highway 121, Suite 104 (Plano). 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sunday - Thursday and 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.