UB Preserv's crawfish and crispy noodles.
UB Preserv's crawfish and crispy noodles.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Openings and Closings: UB Preserv Opens, Gus's WF Fried Chicken Arrives

UB Preserv, 1609 Westheimer, opened May 8 rather quietly and without much fanfare, though Food and Wine
magazine already gave them a shout out this week. Chris Shepherd's newest restaurant concept aims to represent and celebrate the Bayou City's culinary and cultural diversity with its ever-changing demographics and immigrant communities.

It's no secret that Shepherd is a fan of the Vietnamese culinary scene in Houston, in which restaurants not only serve authentic Vietnamese food and French colonial-influenced dishes, but have adapted to specific Houston taste buds with Cajun crawfish and even banh mi tacos.

Shepherd closed his signature restaurant, Underbelly, March 31 to concentrate on his newest efforts to expand his culinary footprint. While the sourcing of ingredients from local farmers and vendors is still important to him, he felt limited by the constraints he set at Underbelly with its focus on local produce and meats. The concept at UB Preserv is one of communal dining, incorporating global flavors from chef de cuisine Nick Wong and Underbelly Hospitality's culinary director, Nick Fine. And of course, Shepherd himself.

Crispy pork ribs with fermented black bean mole.EXPAND
Crispy pork ribs with fermented black bean mole.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Those global, yet Houston-centric flavors are represented by dishes like crawfish and noodles, a dish of garlic-butter crawfish served over a crispy rice noodle cake made with noodles from Van Loi Bakery. Houston loves its Mexican food and UB Preserv's menu includes a queso fundido, but this one is made with blood sausage and served with pork fat tortillas.

UB Preserv's seafood tower won't bring to mind the iced shellfish of Brittany. Instead, the seafood Tower of Power is served hot in bamboo dumpling steamers cradling king crab, nuoc nam marinated shrimp, Valentine butter roasted oysters and steamed singing pink scallops.

The decor still retains some elements from Underbelly, but now has communal tables built by co-owner Kevin Floyd's brother David. There are also photos of people and places that have inspired Shepherd over the years, showcasing the diversity from which our city blooms. UB Preserv's website pays tribute to some of the Houston restaurants and people that Shepherd admires.

The team at Underbelly Hospitality is like a family and many familiar faces are on the scene at UB Preserv. Victoria Dearmond is the pastry director, having been with Underbelly since it opened in 2012. Katy Brittany, formerly general manager at Underbelly, will serve in the same capacity at UB Preserv. Westin Galleymore will be crafting the cocktails as spirits director, while the wine program under director Matt Pridgen is curated to accompany the unique menu and a look at the wine list shows reasonable pricing as well.

The 80-seat restaurant operates with no reservations, but there is a dedicated patio area with its own cocktail menu for those who may be waiting for a table. UB Preserv's website mentions complimentary bites, but we aren't sure yet what that might entail. Tom Petty may have sung, " The waiting is the hardest part", but sipping a Mr. Floyd (a cocktail of bourbon, lemon, chartreause and gose) on the patio at UB Preserv while waiting probably won't be that tough.

UB Preserv will also have a dim sum style brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken has finally arrived in Houston.
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken has finally arrived in Houston.
Photo by Cuc Lam

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, 1815 Washington, opened May 7, serving its famous fried chicken to eager Houstonians. The first Gus's was started by Vernon "Gus" Bonner and his wife Gertrude, in Mason, Tennessee. Using a 60-year-old recipe he inherited from his father, Na Vanderbilt and his wife Ms. Maggie, who ran a restaurant for years, the Bonners started their own successful fried chicken place in 1984. In 2001 it expanded when loyal customer, Wendy McCrory, opened a Gus's in downtown Memphis.

The restaurant became a sensation with food writers and fried chicken devotees extolling its virtues. Gus's has now grown to 25 locations in 11 states, with Houston's being the 25th and the newest.

Is the crispy fried chicken with a secret blend of spices and tender, juicy meat really worthy of its name? According to local fried chicken junkie, Cuc Lam, who quickly booked it to the new chicken joint, it is. She is also a fan of the greens, mac n' cheese and thinks the sweet potato pie is " out of this world!"

Besides the famous fried chicken,there are other Southern comfort foods like fried okra and fried green tomatoes. The chicken plates come with coleslaw and baked beans, which have a slightly sweet flavor, plus a slice of white bread.

Standard's gumbo looks anything but.EXPAND
Standard's gumbo looks anything but.
Photo courtesy of Standard Bar Houston

Standard Bar Houston, 5306 Washington, opened April 5. The "grown up" cocktail bar and restaurant shares a strip center with Pink's Pizza and a tattoo parlor, so people watching on the patio while sipping a brew like the Vietnamese porter Rocket Fuel, could be interesting.

Openings and Closings: UB Preserv Opens, Gus's WF Fried Chicken ArrivesEXPAND
Photo courtesy of Standard Bar Houston

The patio also offers a space for those wanting to smoke a cigar along with their bourbon. In fact, you can grab the rest of the Rat Pack and start the week off right with Standard's Steaks, Stogies and Scotch evenings on Mondays. From 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. you and your friends Dino, Sammy and Frank can enjoy steak ($16), stogie ($7), and scotch or bourbon ($7).  You might just get lucky and meet up with an Ava or a Mia.

For date night couples, the menu at Standard's offers dishes like salted caramel shrimp($16) and rubbed tuna steak with crab cream sauce ($18).

Have a happy hour (or two) with Standard's shrimp tacos.EXPAND
Have a happy hour (or two) with Standard's shrimp tacos.
Photo courtesy of Standard Bar Houston

Happy Hour runs Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and includes drink specials and bar bites like shrimp tacos ($8) and boudin balls ($7).

Live music can sometimes be had at Standard and bingo night is in its future.

Feast at Hunan's.EXPAND
Feast at Hunan's.
Photo courtesy of Hunan's Kitchen

Hunan's Kitchen Chinese Cuisine, 20702 Katy Freeway, opened  early March, according to ABC13.com. With dishes like Duck Loves Beer and Frog Loves Pickled Chili, it's too bad the restaurant doesn't serve a cold Tsingtao or Lucky Beer to go with them. They do, however, have Arctic Ocean soda, which is from China.

Pork belly for your belly.EXPAND
Pork belly for your belly.
Photo courtesy of Hunan's Kitchen

The pig rules at Hunan's Kitchen from Chairman Mao's favorite braised pork belly to Hunan-style bacon to pork tripe. There are plenty of chicken, shrimp and vegetarian dishes for those who aren't in a piggy mood.

Two new pho spots have opened in Asiatown, according to Eater Houston. Pho Ga Dong Nai, 11528 Bellaire Boulevard, opened at the end of April and specializes in pho ga or chicken pho. Family representative and owner of Cajun Kitchen, John Nguyen, says that the chicken is free-range, organic and sourced from a Vietnamese-owned chicken farm in Austin. The restaurant has a $22,000 water-filtration system for making the purest broth. In the future, the restaurant will be making its own pho noodles.

There is also a variety of beef pho, including a bone marrow version. For vegetarians or vegans, there is a vegan pho on the menu.

Mr. Pho, 11210 Bellaire, had its soft opening April 15. The new pho place comes from three friends, Kenny Pham, Yen Gia Lang and Sonny Pham who decided to open a restaurant after rave reviews from friends about their food. Well, now it's not just their friends raving. Yelpers are giving the restaurant five stars for its simple, but tasty menu. From its North Vietnamese style  pho bac to the Vietnamese roasted chicken and rice, diners are pretty darn happy in an area where Vietnamese pho abounds.

Music, laughter and colorful drinks. All the party people in the house say Yeaaahhh!EXPAND
Music, laughter and colorful drinks. All the party people in the house say Yeaaahhh!
Photo courtesy of Norman's Dueling Pianos

Norman's Dueling Pianos, 9441 FM 1960 Bypass, recently opened in Humble, according to Kingwood.com. The piano bar held its grand opening May 3-5, and is bringing musical, comedic and sometimes bawdy entertainment to folks who may not want to make the drive downtown for a crazy night out.

Dueling piano joints tend to be popular with bachelorettes, birthday partiers and fun seekers. If you are one of those seeking fun and fishbowl cocktails, make the drive north to Humble with your friends and a designated driver.

Wine and beer prices run from $4.95 to $6.95. Fishbowls start at $20.95. There are cocktails with names like Piano Man and Amarillo By Morning. Kingwood resident, Big-haired Kim, will definitely be ordering the Journey. She had a thing for Steve Perry.

There is a bar menu with snacks like mini-sliders, soft pretzels and jalapeno poppers.

The songs are all by request so bring a group of people who have decent tastes in music.

Chinois Orient Bistro 2, 11550 Louetta, is now open for dine-in, delivery and online ordering. The Chinese restaurant offers the usual items like Happy Family, General Tso's, and crispy roast duck, with lunch specials from $6.95 to $7.95 and dinner in the $12 to $13 range. Do it old school and order a Pu Pu platter and some steamed dumplings.

There is also a Chinois Orient Bistro in the Jersey Village area.

Antonini's Subs, 602 6th, opened its third location April 1 as reported here in the Houston Press. Patrons of the family-owned sandwich shop can choose the standard 6-12" sandwiches either hot or cold. The cheese steak and meatball subs are the most popular, though the Italian and tuna, from a secret family recipe, hit the spot for the cold sammie eaters. The restaurants are pretty bare bones, but the sandwiches are inexpensive and filling.

This is what people do for a year's supply of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
This is what people do for a year's supply of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
Photo courtesy of Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A, 9130 Highway 6, Missouri City, will celebrate its grand opening May 17 at Sienna Crossing. Owner Tony Levine was formerly head football coach at University of Houston.The chicken chain has a loyal following, one might say cult-like, in a good way. Its following is so devotional that people are willing to endure a night out in the elements for the chance to win an entire year of their favorite fowl.

The Sienna Crossing location will have dual drive-thru lanes, touch screens, and mobile ordering for pick-up. There will be  dining room seating for 110 chicken lovers and a patio seating 34 more.

Chick-fil-A, 8510 Spring Cypress, will open May 24 in Gleannloch Village.

If you want to try your luck at being one of the first 100 to win free Chick-fil-A at either grand openings, check out its chicken wire website for more details.

Truck Yard, 2118 Lamar, opened May 2, according to the Houston Chronicle. The bar offers a large beer garden and covered patio, with tree houses and a ferris wheel. It is dog friendly. Under 21's are allowed until 9 p.m.

There is a selection of local beers by pint, pitcher, can or bottle. For grape lovers, there is wine on tap. If you're in a cocktail kind of mood (and who isn't?), there are drinks like the Mother Trucker and the frozen Trash Can Punch for a reasonable $8.

The bar sells cheese steaks and there are usually a couple of food trucks on hand for those craving something different. The live music line up and the daily food truck availability can be found on its website.

There is also a Truck Yard location in Dallas.

Whole Foods Market 365, 101 North Loop West, is expected to open this summer. It will be the second Texas outpost of the Whole Foods Market's less expensive brand. After the Amazon buyout, consumers were promised lower prices, so the new concept from the corporation is a welcome change for folks who don't want to pay $4 for water with cucumber slices. The exciting news about the upcoming market is not just the convenience for Independence Heights residents in having a supermarket in the area, but the fact that the store will have a Peli Peli Kitchen and also a Juice Society, according to Eater Houston.

Just as WF Market 365 is a less-expensive spin-off from its parent, Whole Foods, Peli Peli Kitchen is a fast-casual edition of the more expensive and elegant Peli Peli restaurant which serves South African cuisine

Peli Peli Kitchen serves naan tacos filled with choices like peli peli shrimp and Huguenot pork belly. There are also plated meals such as curried chicken and braised oxtails.

Austin-based Juice Society will have a juice and coffee bar inside the store for wellness minded shoppers looking for a healthy pick-me-up. The company was founded by certified health coach, Danielle Sobel in 2014.

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