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Underbelly: The Taste of Home

Chef Chris Shepherd incorporates Houston's disparate cuisines into one wonderful menu.

Aside from one or two minor stumbles, the answer appears to be yes. And the reason is simple: Underbelly refuses to wallow in self-indulgence (at least for now) and — just as smartly — refuses to allow comparisons to be drawn between itself and Shepherd's previous restaurant. Whereas the food at Catalan was heavy and, yes, meat-driven, the food at Underbelly is relatively light and every bit as produce- and seafood-centric as it is meat-focused. Indeed, one of the best dishes I've had to date at Underbelly has been a "salad" of barely pickled root vegetables over lightly dressed lettuce served on a smooth, dark-edged, wooden barrel stave.
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That's not to say that Shepherd has entirely abandoned his Catalan roots, of course. He brought with him to Underbelly a charcuterie program that's shaping up to be one of the finest selections in the city as well as a few old favorites, such as his signature Juicy Lucy — a burger stuffed with cheese before cooking that is as blissfully messy, as its name implies.

My mother and I split the burger over lunch a few weeks ago, the cheese inside the loosely-packed meat vying with the achingly red tomatoes to see who could ooze more juices across the skinny, hand-cut french fries on the plate. It's not the kind of burger you'd eat at a nice restaurant, smears of mayonnaise across your face or meat drippings running down your hands before you cut them off at the pass with one of Underbelly's soft, dishcloth-like napkins. But here, sat at one of the simple walnut tables under a tall, steel-edged room lit only with amber-hued sunshine, it seems like the perfect lunch.

The chef's signature Juicy Lucy burger is back.
Troy Fields
The chef's signature Juicy Lucy burger is back.

Location Info

Map

Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Montrose

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays.
Grilled cheese and gazpacho: $12
Akaushi pot roast: $18
Shrimp and grits: $15
Korean goat and dumplings: $12
Red snapper: $27
Milk bar: $8
READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Peek Inside Underbelly
BLOG POST: Underbelly's Underpriced Wine List Gives Us More Reasons to Love It

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Indeed, I enjoy the dining room almost as much as I enjoy the food itself. Houston has been the happy recipient lately of some stunning restaurant interiors, including the brightly modern treatment at Oxheart, the boisteriously colorful mid-century deli design at Local Foods, and the coolly chic updated French look of L'Olivier. Underbelly is no exception, hedging its cool gunmetal grays and spartan walls against a warm kitchen that's the centerpiece of the dining room and soft, wooden tables that sport white ceramic containers filled with silverware so that you can replenish your own supply as needed.

My only quibble with that lunch with my mom was a vinegar pie that was far too heavy on the vinegar for the subtle Southern dessert, as well as a rather uninspired pork cutlet that didn't live up to the vibrant flavors of Underbelly's typical dishes and an accompaniment of red cabbage that was sorely lacking for caraway, vinegar and sugar. Being a red cabbage connoisseur (it's the German in me) and a fan of making the stuff myself at home, I didn't hesitate to tell Shepherd this when he came by the table to check on our meal later on. He looked taken aback, but when I returned a week later I noticed that the menu had changed to reflect the addition of more caraway to the dish.

Similarly, when I despaired last week of the downward turn that most restaurants' chicken-fried steaks have taken lately, Shepherd vowed to add a chicken fried steak sandwich to the menu. I was delighted, as CFS is one of the hallmarks of authentic Texan cuisine — a dish that spans generations and inspires fanaticism in its fans — yet one that I hadn't yet seen on this most Houstonian of menus. He asked for a recommendation of where to start his research, and I sent him off to Triple A on Airline. He and Lachaine started making plans that day to visit Triple A, so I expect a damned good CFS to hit the menu at Underbelly within the next few weeks.

And this is what makes Underbelly so special: Shepherd's willingness to grow, learn and adapt and his eagerness to continue incorporating Houston's best cuisines into his own, folding them in carefully as he goes as if he were baking a tribute to the city itself. Vietnamese, Thai and Korean; German, French and Mexican; Southern, Cajun and just plain Texan; seafood from the Gulf, meat from the plains and produce from our own backyard — it's all here at Underbelly. And it's all happening.

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10 comments
chaz
chaz

Underbelly was a huge disappointment for us, definitely not good for a big group, specially if you are hungry. The prices certainly don't reflect the word "upscale"?? huhhh....I mean, 70usd for a 'family style' serving of venison which comes in a regular size plate and rather small size meat serving, a serving that would barely fill up a normal (not quite hungry yet) human being..looks like underbelly's family servings work very well for a family...of one. And 15usd for a astonishing plate of coppa featuring 5 (yes, a whole 5) thin slices of cured meat? I don't think so mr shepherd, not for us anyway.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

I went to Underbelly with 2 friends to try the lamburger helper. We all agreed it tasted a whole lot like hamburger helper. Unfortunately for us, that wasn't a good thing.

BP
BP

Underbelly was a poor experience for me. Seafood was subpar (later learned it was due to Tropical Storm Debby, only after ordering, and only after remarking to a waitress), Pork was overcooked 50s style, the sommelier/ general manager acted like he couldn't care less, and menu didn't reflect what we ordered. Disappointed all around. Highlights were reasonable wine prices, and korean dumplings. I get that its a seasonal, different menu every day kind of place, and that would be enjoyable if the menu actually reflected what they had. Bread with a berry butter shouldn't come with an herb replacement. If you don't have it, tell me, and then I'll make a decision accordingly. Everything just felt rushed, from the service we received to the quality of the food.

Sampsondelilah
Sampsondelilah

Wonderful rev on wonderful rest. I really love Shep's sensibility of being open-minded about all sorts of cuisine and learning from it. Actually doing it. There is the dreaded fusion thing going on, but it's not a marketing centerpiece, just his appetite for flavors that are all over the place and good.

JP
JP

Dammit!!! That should say Pridgen, not Pringle....my bad.

JP
JP

Very good review, for a very good restaurant. My wife and I were big fans of Catalan, and unfortunately, had Catalan expectations with regards to the food at Underbelly. We were pleasantly surprised with the difference, and look forward to our next visits. I feel an extra special note needs to be made for Mr. Pringle, who has introduced/paired some of the best wines that my wife and I have enjoyed. He's in his element, and damn good at what he does. Very lucky to have Chris, Pringle, and the rest of the crew local to us....we'll be first in line when the "LEG" is ready...

Patrick Pringle
Patrick Pringle

That Korean goat dumpling dish is so damn good. I've been told by the staff, if it ever comes off the menu, the fully expect a diner's revolt.

Kelli
Kelli

Man I can't wait to eat here!!!! Loved him at Catalan, love Hay Merchant and I imagine this will easily become my favorite restaurant!

 
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