The restaurant community in Houston is reopening and the June 12 guidelines set out by Governor Greg Abbott will now allow restaurants to go to 75 percent capacity. Some opened May 1 with 25 percent capacity while others waited till the May 22 allowance of 50 percent. While many of our favorites have weathered the storm, others have not. We don't want to be prophets of doom and gloom but there have also been cases where restaurant staff have contracted the COVID-19 virus, necessitating two week closures for the restaurants themselves. These voluntary temporary closures have occurred due to an over abundance of caution by restaurant owners and operators rather than state orders. These are wise choices, but expensive ones.
So, if you want to support local restaurants, you can dine-in or continue to order take-out and delivery. We have seen some creative solutions from Houston's restaurateurs and their teams in order to keep afloat during this crisis. However, it's the customers that keep them sailing.
Island Grill, 1701 Lake Plaza Drive, opened June 3 at CityPlace, a mixed-use development in Springwoods Village, north of Houston. This is the fifth location for the brand which launched in 2000. This is the first location out of the Beltway. The other four locations are at Woodway, Bunker Hill, Rice Village and Bellaire.
The cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean and American fare served in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Its founders, Faysal Haddad and Maria immigrated from Syria in 1981 and many of the dishes at Island Grill are created from family recipes. The fare on offer runs from items such as falafel balls and tabbouleh to Angus burgers, pasta and pizza. There's a variety of different pitas including a gyro, turkey or grilled vegetable version. Island Grill serves breakfast until 11 a.m. with choices such as egg plates, pancakes, breakfast pitas and tacos. There's a smoothie and juice menu plus a number of coffee drinks. There's a kids menu as well.
The restaurant offers 3,584 square feet of space along with an outdoor patio.
Jax Grill, 9910 Gaston, opened in Katy June 8. This is the third location for the brand which has not opened a new location in more than 25 years. Its first location opened in Bellaire in 1993 followed by a second spot on Shepherd in 1994.
The new restaurant offers seating for 250 in a 4,600-square-foot space, including seating for 50 in the bar area. There are sliding garage doors opening from the bar to an 80-seat covered patio facing a green space. It will be shared with the upcoming seventh location of The Union Kitchen, also operated by Gr8 Plate Hospitality. The opening will be announced soon.
The menu has been updated from the current Jax menu and will be implemented at the other two locations eventually. New dishes include Bang!Bang! Shrimp, Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls, a Tex-Mex Burger, and a Buffalo Chicken Club Sandwich. Familiar favorites such as the mesquite-grilled Jax Burger will stay on the menu.
Gr8 Plate Hospitality owners Doris and Paul Miller, who bought Jax Grill in 2015, have brought over Tito Ayosa to help ensure a smooth transition. Ayosa has served as general manager at the Bellaire location since 1993. He will be joined by Cristobal Alvarado, who has been the kitchen manager at Jax in Bellaire for 23 years and Antonio Juan Lara, who has been a manager at the Shepherd location for 15 years. That is some serious employee loyalty. COO Doug Wilson will serve as general manager during the opening weeks.
The ambiance at the new Jax Grill is open and casual with the logos of Katy ISD's nine high schools decorating the wall above the kitchen pass. The Millers are Katy residents.
Americas, 2040 W. Gray, will not reopen, according to CultureMap Houston. It was the second location for the concept from Michael Cordua and son David and opened in 2010. The original Americas opened on Post Oak in 1993, then closed in 2011. The third Americas opened in The Woodlands but rebranded to Churrascos in 2017. The Corduas parted ways with Cordua Restaurants in 2018 and subsequently it became Churrascos Restaurant Group.
The official statement from Churrascos Restaurant Group's COO Fred Espinoza read: "Due to the business effects of the coronavirus and the high-cost structure of the operations, we decided not to reopen Americas. We are extremely grateful to all our loyal fans for all the support throughout the years, and we hope to see you at one of our Churrascos' locations."
Churrascos, however, will continue operations at its five locations around Houston and is geared up for a Father's Day brunch June 21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the regular dinner menu beginning at 4 p.m. The South American steakhouse is also offering Father's Day Family Packs to-go. There are several to choose from. The regular family pack includes a choice of two proteins such as petit filet, shrimp, salmon and a variety of chicken dishes. Customers can choose either the Churrascos Salad or the Caesar Salad, then choose two desserts like tres leches, flan and dulce de leche cookies. The Family Pack is $69.95 for four people and $94.95 for six and includes sweet plantain chips and chimichurri. There are premium family packs such as the Chateaubriand ($89.95) which serves four to six and comes with jasmine rice, mashed potatoes, moduros (fried plantains), vegetables and salad.
Churrascos also offers cocktail kits to-go like the Mimosa Kit ($19.95), the Mojito Kit ($31.95) and the Margarita Kit ($34.95)
Tropicales, 2132 Bissonnet, will not reopen, as reported by CultureMap Houston. The Latin-inspired cafe closed March 17 due to dining restrictions laid out by Texas Governor Greg Abbott at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. It opened in May 2019 as a partnership between Greenway Coffee's David Buehrer and Steve and Hilary Ibarra. Jillian Bartolome, formerly pastry chef at Aqui and Common Bond, was brought in as was Morningstar's Carlos Ballon.
The restaurant offered creative cocktails like the Avocolada or Coconut Grove plus craft beers. The food menu was on the petite side with breakfast tacos, enchiladas, a Cuban sandwich, ceviche and empanadas served in a clean, modern space designed by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture.
Musaafer, 5115 Westheimer, will reopen June 12 at 5 p.m. The opulent Indian restaurant opened May 18, as reported here in the Houston Press. Unfortunately, it closed May 30 for two weeks after a team member contracted COVID-19, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Due to already rigorous safety measures, the employee was quickly identified. The owners, Mithu and Shammi Malik, decided to close the restaurant for two weeks, though it was not required.
In a press release, Mithu Malik said, "It was certainly difficult to close our doors for two weeks following our opening, however, we understand this situation is greater than a business decision — these choices directly impact the well-being of others." The restaurant brought in professional sanitization teams and are continuing to check the temperatures of staff and will also do that of guests, though it is not mandatory for guests. There will also be contactless dining and social distancing measures along with extra hand sanitizing stations throughout the restaurant.
Millie's Kitchen and Cocktails, 3542 Oak Forest, has closed temporarily for a minimum of two weeks. The closure was first reported by EaterHouston. According to its Facebook post, an employee of Millie's called in sick. Due to the symptoms, owner Ken Bridge had the employee get tested immediately. Unfortunately, the team member tested positive for COVID-19. The employee in question has been ordered to quarantine. Though none of the other employees have shown symptoms, all are scheduled for testing and have been told to quarantine until the results are known.
In the meantime, Bridge told the Press that he will spend the next few days finishing the interior buildout and prepare the dining room and patio for the reopening which is planned toward the end of the month.
Mico's Hot Chicken, 1603 N. Durham, has transitioned from its food truck to its brick and mortar kitchen. The owners are working to expand the kitchen to keep up with the demand for its Nashville Hot Chicken. The long lines in Houston heat are a testament to the quality and flavor of its items like the Sammich, with its fried chicken breast, slaw, pickles and Mico's sauce. There's the Animal Fries; waffle fries topped with fried chicken tenders, melted cheese and Mico's sauce plus a chicken tenders basket.
Currently, the owners have put the food truck up for sale as they prepare to open the restaurant for dining in. The owners told the Houston Press that they are planning a grand opening very soon.
For those looking for a job, they are currently interviewing potential staff. Ask for Kat.
Campioni Restaurant, 13850 Cutten, reopened May 1 and is continuing to open in phases according to the guidelines set out by the State of Texas and the Texas Restaurant Association. Campioni has been around since 1991 when it originally opened on FM 1960. It now has a much more elegant location in Champions that offers a view of trees and a garden area. Owner Ric Mausser was recognized as Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year in 2011, the first time the honor had been bestowed on a restaurant outside the 610 Loop.
The restaurant offers Italian favorites such as lasagne, pizza, and eggplant parmigiana plus entrees of veal, chicken, seafood and steak. The Chicken Pamela, a chicken breast with toasted breadcrumbs, apples, gorgonzola cheese and walnut butter atop a bed of spinach, is a popular dish. This writer likes Campioni's canneloni because it's made with tender homemade spinach pasta. And the complimentary bread is a delicious bonus.
Mausser says that converting to take-out and delivery was actually easier than the normal day to day operations but the stress of retaining staff was more difficult. After delays with the bank, Mausser was finally able to secure a PPP loan and keep his staff employed.
The restaurant is adhering strictly to safety protocols and has converted the banquet rooms into regular dining areas to allow for more space between guests. A portion of the bar has also been dedicated to customers picking up to-go orders.
House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, reopens June 12 with live music. There will be nightly entertainment like the L.O.U.D. Muzik showcase with Khody Blake, Chelsea Cymone and DJ Hillo June 13, beginning at 9 p.m.Other upcoming shows include a 40th Anniversary of the Blues Brothers with The Texas Bluesmen, June 20, American Idol contestant Kate Watson, June 26, and the return of Drag Diva Brunch, June 27.
The restaurant and bar will reopen for take-out, delivery and dine-in. The restaurant serves a Southern-inspired menu of dishes like jambalaya, a fried catfish sandwich, shrimp and grits and loaded mac n'cheese with a choice of chicken tenders or crumbled brisket.
House of Blues has also launched a "Get Some, Give Some" meal-matching campaign in which it provides one meal to Kids' Meals for every entree ordered for dine-in, take-out and delivery. Kids' Meals delivers free healthy meals to preschool-aged children at their homes and helps to provide resources to their families to combat the cycle of poverty.
Sticky's Chicken, 2311 Edwards, reopens its dining room May 12 to 75 percent capacity. It will limit parties to four persons or less and guests will be spaced out (literally, not figuratively) at the counter and dining tables. It will also continue its take-out service along with delivery through UberEats.
In celebration of its reopening, it will introduce a new wing flavor, Sticky's Sweet and Spicy.
Sweet Paris Creperie and Cafe, 700 Baybrook Mall, softly opened March 13 then had to close its dining room four days later when Governor Greg Abbott ordered restaurant dining restrictions. Now, the newest location is back open for dine-in, including its lovely patio facing The Lawn, a turfed area situated between the restaurants and shops that doubles as an event space for outdoor movies and live music. It's also a space where children can play as their parents sip a mimosa or glass of wine within eyesight. In fact, all six of the Houston area locations are now open for dining. During the restrictions, they continued to successfully do take-out.
Guests can get a taste of France with the Croque Madam breakfast crepe or the Ham and Gruyere savory crepe. Besides a variety of crepes, there are salads soups and panini. On the sweet side, there are Nutella crepes and more. Sweet Paris has coffee drinks, wine, beer and decadent milkshakes.
UB Preserv, 1609 Westheimer, will reopen its dining room June 12 at 5 p.m. Chris Shepherd has not been quick to rush the opening of his Houston restaurants. While many owners took advantage of the 25 percent capacity on May 1, when restrictions were eased, Shepherd didn't open the doors on his restaurants until weeks later, though they continued to do take-out. One Fifth opened its dining room and returned to its former Mediterranean concept May 22 as did Shepherd's steakhouse, Georgia James. Now UB Preserv, a more intimate venue, is reopening with a few changes in place.
It isn't necessarily returning to its Underbelly days, but long-time customers will enjoy the direction that UB Preserv is taking. There will be an ever-changing menu that will be focused on seasonal ingredients and the availability of fresh ingredients. While some of the menu favorites will stay such as Pork Dumplings, Crispy Rice Salad, Vietnamese Fajitas and the oh-so-popular Ca Phe Sua Da Carrot Cake, Chef de Cuisine Nick Wong will be challenged with creating new dishes daily, a task that Wong along with sous chef Aidan Farris and the rest of the team are used to doing for the Sunday Dim Sum-style brunch.
While known for his focused and meticulous approach to new menu items, Wong sees this as an opportunity. He said in a press release, " I can finally run limited specials like soft shell crabs and other super seasonal dishes. If we run out during service, that's ok! We'll add a new dish tomorrow. " Those new dishes will be loaded to the website by 5 p.m. each day of service.
Underbelly Hospitality will also be installing Fulbright Isolate Mobile glass screens in all of its restaurants' dining rooms. It will obstruct airflow but will still allow guests to get a peek-a-loo at the tasty dishes (food and human) making their way to the tables.