Openings & Closings: What the Hell Happened This Week, Houston?
Bobby Heugel and Alex Padilla are helping take Ninfa's and Antone's in great new directions.
Photo by Eric Hester
Seriously, guys. What the living hell. This has been one of the craziest weeks for openings and closings that I can recall in a long time. So when I say prepare for a ton of news ahead, I mean it.
The biggest news of an already huge news week was word that Bobby Heugel and company are the new operating partners for the original Ninfa's on Navigation as well as the original Antone's Famous Po'Boys. I think that most of us can agree that both parties responsible for the stewardship of these Houston institutions did a bang-up job of running them into the ground over the last decade (the original Ninfa's being the sole exception in the otherwise crumbling Ninfa's empire, thanks to Niel and Chase Morgan), so it's heartening to see a younger generation of restaurateurs stepping up to be stewards of two restaurants which should be well-preserved for future generations of Houstonians to enjoy.
Legacy Restaurants, which bought Ninfa's on Navigation and Antone's in 2006, will still own and operate the restaurants, and the talented Alex Padilla will still serve as executive chef for both. Bobby Heugel, Michael Burnett and Kevin Floyd will be responsible for the future operations of both the Original Ninfa's and Antone's, while Niel Morgan and his son Chase will continue as owners and custodians of two of Houston's oldest and most iconic brands -- both of which are celebrating anniversaries soon. Ninfa's will turn 40 next year, will Antone's will turn 50.
"We have worked hard to preserve both the Original Ninfa's and Antone's traditions for a new generation to enjoy. There is no other group of restaurateurs we would trust more to help us continue this effort," said Niel Morgan in a press release. "Their dedication and success in preserving and enhancing the culinary scene of Houston makes them perfect."
Will the El Tiempo margaritas be any match for Ninfa's?
Photo by Jeff Balke
Meanwhile, Ninfa's on Navigation is getting a new neighbor -- and some serious competition -- in the form of a brand-new El Tiempo Cantina. The restaurant chain has Houston roots that go even deeper than Ninfa's, too: It's been around for 55 years and is run by none other than Dominic Laurenzo, grandson of Mama Ninfa Laurenzo herself. Dominic's father, Roland, purchased the property next door to his mother's original restaurant and has already laid the slab for what will be a $1.75 million restaurant when it opens early next year.
Meanwhile, another culinary team has announced big plans: The Revival Market crew will be opening Coltivare this coming spring in the Heights at 3320 White Oak, not far from Revival's current location. Coltivare, which means "to cultivate" in Italian, will serve Italian food created with local, seasonal ingredients -- many of which executive chef Ryan Pera hopes will come from Coltivare's adjoining 3,000-square-foot garden.
"The Italian cooking philosophy is all about using the seasonal ingredients on hand and keeping the preparation pure and simple," said Pera in a press release. "At Revival Market, we've cultivated an environment in which our diners come to experience the purest essence or presentation of a given dish, whether it be the perfect cup of coffee, the best B.L.T. sandwich, the kolache that gets you up in the morning. I cannot wait to get at the challenge of making a pizza worthy of the Revival name."
Coltivare plans to open in this spring for dinner and weekend brunch. And in keeping with the Heights "dry" tradition, the restaurant will offer "private club" membership with a unique wine list and full bar.
Since leaving Concepcion earlier this month (which, I might add, is still open for business), Jonathan Jones has already secured a new position: as executive chef for the Monarch at the Hotel Zaza. Chef Adam West left to pursue other interests, leaving a spot open for Jones, who hopes to shake things up at the hip Museum District hotel.
"I will...take two weeks to assess the team and the menu," reported Jones. "It's a large operation with many working parts. But they want a dynamic fall menu based around farm-to-table produce and proteins and an aggressive Gulf-to-table seafood program." Jones starts at the Monarch this Monday.
The grocery store that Houstonians have been waiting for with fanaticism and fervor finally opens its doors today: Trader Joe's has finished its renovation of the Alabama Theater and is open for business as of today. While I wouldn't recommend a visit unless you enjoy feeling the hot crush of wanton humanity, you can take a much more pleasant stroll through the new store in 29-95's sneak peak slideshow. Preservationists will thrill to see the original art deco medallions inside have been restored to their original glory, even if the theater is otherwise unrecognizable in its new incarnation.
And last but not least, pour some tequila out for Vida Sexy Tex-Mex. The ill-fated Tex-Mex restaurant that we gave a scathing review to back in February has closed. Owner Trey Melcher tells Sarah Rufca at CultureMap that he plans another concept for the space, one which will hopefully be more well-received.
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