Catching Up with the Corduas
Our favorite heavyweight Houston restaurateurs have been busy lately: The current scorecard for Glenn and Michael Cordua includes four -- count 'em, four -- Churrascos and Americas locations in Houston, plus the Churrascos that opened last December in Chicago.
You can't miss the newest black-and-white-cowhide-spotted Churrascos site just off the Gulf Freeway (1320 West Bay Area Boulevard, (281) 461-4100). The brothers have no reason to fear doomed locations -- this one was most recently an On the Border -- but they will have to combat the indigenous ignorance of, and indifference to, the Houston restaurant scene. "Clear Lake isn't a Houston bedroom community, like Sugar Land," says Bill Floyd, director of Cordua operations. "People live down here, work down here and dine down here. They've never heard of Churrascos." So much for a decade's worth of national "Best Restaurant" and "Best Chef" awards.
Undaunted, the Corduas retained a publicity firm and recently hosted a media luncheon to educate their new Bay Area neighbors in the finer points of "Nicaraguan home-style" cuisine: empanaditas, ceviche, marineros and caramanolas (see "Hot Plate," page 58), crabmeat-topped Gulf red snapper, smoked lamb "lollipops," Churrascos' trademark chimichurri-basted grilled tenderloin and the rich tres leches for dessert.
Foodie footnote: I'd always wondered how Michael Cordua came up with the notion of smoking crab claws with corn shucks. Turns out that the smell of burning corn shucks reminds him of springtime in his homeland, when the Nicaraguan farmers burn off their fields. He experimented with matching that scent to an appropriate food.
But back to the luncheon. Floyd gracefully fielded questions about the future expansion of the Cordua empire while juggling a matched pair of cellular phones. Three more stores are eventually slated for Chicago. Yes, there will be another Churrascos in Texas, most likely Dallas, in the next 18 months. The Corduas have crossed Austin off their list, at least for the time being, possibly noting that Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe has tucked its tail and run out of that city.
But the real news is that a third Cordua concept is in Houston's future. Bearing the working title "The Amazon Grill," the restaurant is conceived as a laid-back version of its sophisticated siblings. The Amazon Grill will feature both counter service and carryout from an 80-item roster of casual foods such as empanadas and sandwiches. Floyd was a little vague about the planned location (either in the Woodway/Voss area or downtown), but says the Grill should start cooking by the end of this year.
-- Margaret L. Briggs
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