By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Chef Chad Pritchard says you can't get away from pizza, pasta and burgers if you want to pay the bills in Central Texas, but he's a real chef, and he wants to offer the best upscale cuisine he can in the new Little Palm Bistro beside the swimming pool at Peloton Ridge Country Club.
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu program at Texas Culinary Academy in Austin, he was formerly at La Collina Italian restaurant in Harker Heights Plaza and won his alma mater's Iron Chef competition last September. He said then he was flattered that his former teachers addressed him with the title "chef."
He also worked with Pizza Pro for a while and was joining an effort to put in another restaurant where Genghis Grill now stands in Market Heights, but the numbers wouldn't crunch. He took over the bistro at Peloton Ridge in February.
The country club, on the site of the old Sun Meadows Racquet and Swim Club at 701 Sun Meadows, was reopened under its present name in 2006 by Greg Folkerson, who housed his Folkerson Communications in the same building while he was developing a fitness center, racquetball courts and a snack bar and refurbishing the swimming pool and eight tennis courts outside. Now the communications company is in an adapted manufactured house behind the main building, and a spa will take the place it formerly occupied. The pool is reopened, and a sand volleyball space will open at one end this summer. Tennis court No. 8 will be made into a basketball court because members wanted one.
Racquetball league play is going on now, and tennis tournaments are planned. Folkerson said the club has about 290 members now, and he hopes the summer will bring membership to 500.
The building housing the bistro was completed last July. Pritchard is usually the host, cook, waiter and bottle-washer right now but is looking forward to adding staff as more seasonal people are hired throughout the club in the summer. The bistro is the only part of the club open to the public, although outside groups can rent the pool.
With one eye on the cash register and the other on attracting connoisseurs, he offers appetizers including chicken wings and onion rings along with items like bruschetta margharita, made of roma tomatoes, red onion, basil and fresh mozzarella; his original lasagna eggrolls stuffed with Lasagna Bolognese and served with marinara; and artichoke spinach dip, made of spinach, artichoke, red onion, provolone and cream, served with crustini. Salads and entrees offer a similar mix – you can even get more or less arcane with the hamburgers – except for the kids' menu, which consists of corn dogs, chicken tenders, cheeseburgers, popcorn shrimp, hot dogs and grilled chicken breasts. Yes, they have french fries, but they can be replaced with steamed veggies.
Pritchard says he plans to add more Tex-Mex soon.
But he'll continue to grow his own herbs beside the restaurant. He has rosemary now and has planted basil. thyme and sage are on the way. "There are some you can't grow in the Texas heat," he said, "but I want as much home-grown as I can manage." He buys as many other ingredients locally as he can, saying there are limits to how much he can economize because he may have to pay $2.70 a pound for cheese that chain restaurants can buy in volume for 60 or 70 cents a pound.
He celebrates the small dimensions, though, talking about big restaurants where sauces are mixed in 80-gallon bins. "There's nothing wrong with that," he said, "but I mix sauces a gallon at a time. In the trade journals, you see 30-minute and one-hour chairs advertised. These are designed so that most people will get uncomfortable in them in 30 minutes or an hour and want to leave so the restaurant can handle a 200 percent turnover in an evening. My whole idea is different. I never want anyone to feel rushed. We close at 8 p.m., but I'll have customers come in at 7:45 and stay an hour and a half. And you can be comfortable in these wrought-iron chairs all evening."
Half the tables and chairs are inside and half outside in a poolside-casual decor.
"We want to offer an alternative here," he said, "and we're adding to plenty of alternatives in Killeen already. People get mesmerized by the neon on U.S. 190 and think they've run out of choices, but Killeen has really become a culinary Mecca, with some really good Oriental, Hawaiian, Italian places off the beaten path. It's worlds different from when I was growing up here, and it hasn't been long."
He came here as a child with his military family in 1985, and he and his seven siblings graduated from Ellison High School. They consider themselves virtually a native family, fiercely Ellisonite, and several are now sending a second generation through school here.
The bistro is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It will be open seven days during the summer.
"We're doing our best to offer a fine dining experience in a laid-back atmosphere," he said.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7557.