Houston chef Mark Holley embodies the city’s cultural melting pot, as does the menu at his latest venture, Davis St. at Hermann Park.
Conversing with chef Mark Holley, you’d never guess he wasn’t born and raised in the South—and after a taste of his Boutte’s Gumbo, all bets are off. A native of Dayton, Ohio, the food industry vet exudes a sense of Southern hospitality that can only be gleaned from spending years in the region. In Holley’s case, his love affair with Southern culture and cuisine can be traced back to 1987 when he began his formal education with New Orleans restaurant royalty, the Brennan family. Holley spent the next 13 years, in his words, “becoming Creole-ized” and honing his skills at Brennan restaurant concepts in both Houston and Nola. Next came upscale seafood eatery Pesce, and then his namesake venture, Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, which shuttered in 2017 post-Hurricane Harvey. Now, Holley makes a triumphant return at the helm of recently reopened Davis St. at Hermann Park. “I brought a lot of the classics from Pesce and Holley’s, and the culture from Brennan’s, to create what I call ‘Southern food with a twist of pan-Asian and pan-American,’” says the executive chef, citing the Thai snapper for two as a fan favorite—“traditional Southern flash-fried fish topped with a red-curry gastrique and a Thai barbecue sauce.” Sides of Asian stir-fry-style Hoppin’ John rice and zesty kimchi collard greens round out the dish.
As one of Houston’s only African American executive chefs for much of his career, Holley welcomes the diversity he now sees within the city’s restaurant scene. Crediting trailblazer chef Patrick Clark for opening the door for his generation, Holley says, “In setting an example for others, I feel my presence has paved the way for many to achieve the status of executive chef and restaurateur, and I’m honored and grateful to serve in this role.” And thanks to pioneers like Holley, and concepts like Davis St., our city’s cuisine continues to be as varied as its population. “In Houston, there’s a very diverse palate,” he notes. “And I’ve always felt that if I could represent more than one or two of those palates, I could have something for pretty much everyone, and get people excited about those bold, contrasting flavor profiles you get from different cultures.” For Holley, it seems, variety really is the spice of life.
Note: Davis St. at Hermann Park is temporarily closed; check the restaurant's website for updates.
Photography by: Candace Moore