Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: J-Bar-M Opens for Lunch, Trattoria Sofia Debuts Next Week

Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Torta di Cioccolate al Pistacchio is a simple but rich dessert.

Trattoria Sofia, 911 W. 11th, opens its doors November 26 for both lunch and dinner service. Originally, it was planned for November 19 but a gas line issue has delayed the opening. CenterPoint will not be able to replace the pipe until next week.

In a press release regarding the delay, owner Benjamin Berg said, "If it weren't for a LARGE electric and natural gas utility company that I won't name, we would have been open six months ago! We truly apologize for any inconvenience and we are obviously doing everything in our power to open our doors and start serving guests as soon as possible."
click to enlarge Caponata is a Sicilian dish with lots of flavor. - PHOTO BY KIRSTEN GILLIAM
Caponata is a Sicilian dish with lots of flavor.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
The newest restaurant from Berg and his Berg Hospitality Group will bring sophisticated Italian cuisine to the Heights with a romantic and intimate restaurant. Berg says, " I am so proud of how the food and the overall decor and vibe turned out and I can't wait for Houstonians to finally experience it next weekend."

Guests can expect authentic Italian dishes, many with a Sicilian influence. Polpo Arrosto is a starter of wood-fired octopus with a Sicilan pesto. Pasta offerings include Cacio e Pepe, Bucatini alla Siciliano and Casarecce all Norma, a plate of fried eggplant in a spicy tomato sauce topped with ricotta salata and breadcrumbs. There are also several pizzas plus secondi, or mains, such as Pollo alla Parmigiana and Pesce Spada alla Sicilaina, a dish of pan-seared East Coast swordfish with olives, capers, red onions, pine nuts and lemon.
click to enlarge If you like Amaro Coladas... - PHOTO BY KIRSTEN GILLIAM
If you like Amaro Coladas...
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

Cocktails also get an Italian touch with the Amaro Colada made with rum, Amaro Montenegro, coconut creme, pineapple juice and lime or the Tuscan Pipe, a drink with Rooibos Tea-infused whiskey. Laphrooiag 10 Scotch, honey and black pepper. Berg has recruited local mixologist and Julep owner, Alba Heurta, to serve as beverage consultant for Berg Hospitality, which will be opening two more restaurants in the next year.

Berg has also enlisted master bread baker Magnus Hansson to consult on the menu along with executive chef LJ Wiley.

As for the two new restaurants, they will open in spring 2022 at Autry Park, a 14-acre mixed-use development from Houston-based Hanover Company, in partnership with Lion Investments. Annabelle's will be an American brasserie serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with views of Buffalo Bayou. The second restaurant, Turner's Cut, will be a high-end steakhouse with a luxurious interior, serving rare cuts of meat from Japan and the Americas. Local architecture firm, Isaac Preminger, will design both concepts.

click to enlarge J-Bar-M has some powerful talent and equipment to produce barbecue like this. - PHOTO BY ROBERT J. LERMA
J-Bar-M has some powerful talent and equipment to produce barbecue like this.
Photo by Robert J. Lerma

J-Bar-M Barbecue, 2201 Leeland, opened for lunch November 11. Taking its place in East Downtown, the new barbecue restaurant from owner and founder John Toomey has pitmaster Willow Villareal at the helm along with fiancĂ©e and chef de cuisine, Jasmine Barela. This isn't the couple's first rodeo, barbecue-wise. Villareal earned a following with his food truck Willow's Texas BBQ, including a write-up in Texas Monthly in 2018. Unfortunately, it closed the same year. This also isn't Toomey's first barbecue venture. He owned The Green Room in the 1970s, across from the Alley Theatre.

Now, Villareal and Barela get a much larger venue in which to showcase their smoked meats and tasty sides. And the equipment with which Villareal gets to work his pitboss magic is pretty tremendous. The pit room at J-Bar-M has four 1,000 gallon offset steel barrel smokers hand-built by Moberg Smokers out of Dripping Springs, Texas. There's also two direct-heat whole-hog smokers along with Houston's only coal preparation fireplace.
click to enlarge Great views and great barbecue await at J-Bar-M. - PHOTO BY ROBERT J. LERMA
Great views and great barbecue await at J-Bar-M.
Photo by Robert J. Lerma
The menu will focus on Texas barbecue favorites like brisket, pork ribs, sausage and pulled pork. Barela, who created the sides for the barbecue truck originally, is in charge of dishes to accompany the meats that emerge from the pit room. Updated classics include Cajun-style potato salad, house-made charro beans and red cabbage slaw. Diners can also expect accompaniments like marinated cherry tomatoes and cauliflower au gratin. In addition to must-have barbecue joint desserts like banana pudding and peach cobbler, Barela will have giant cinnamon rolls and chocolate ganache pie on the menu.

The restaurant is only open for lunch currently but things are progressing in phases. Dinner service is expected to commence after Thanksgiving with an expanded menu to include entrees like steak, chicken and prime rib. Live music will be introduced in the future. For now, guests can enjoy views of Houston's downtown skyline from the large outdoor patio as they enjoy a barbecue lunch.

Biderman's Deli
, 110 Vintage Park Boulevard and 2031 Westcreek, are supposed to both open in November, according to the deli's website. However, we have reached out for more information and have yet to receive a response regarding the actual opening dates.

The first Biderman's Deli opened in 2016 in Austin. Founded by Zach Biderman, the Jewish-inspired concept is credited as a tribute to his grandparents, both Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Texas after World War II. They eventually opened a dry goods store where Biderman spent much of his time with his Nana and Papa.

The deli restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch serving bagel sandwiches and breakfast bagels plus classic sandwiches like pastrami, French dip and Philly cheesesteak. The Jewish Italian is a sandwich made with beef salami, corned beef, bologna, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, mustard and vinaigrette served on sourdough.

There are also salads, matzo ball soup, potato latkes and breakfast tacos.
click to enlarge Hotel Lucine will draw visitors and locals alike. - RENDERING BY KARTWHEEL STUDIO
Hotel Lucine will draw visitors and locals alike.
Rendering by Kartwheel Studio
Hotel Lucine, 1002 Seawall Boulevard, is slated to open summer 2022. The new 61-room boutique hotel takes over the structure that was built in 1963 as Treasure Isle Motel. It was most recently the Pearl Inn. The building and grounds will be completely transformed into a cozy oasis with its main facade opening to the Gulf of Mexico. There will be an inviting and sophisticated Den area for morning coffee, a midday lunch or an evening cocktail. The heart of the property will be the pool and patio for relaxing and the rooftop bar will offer 180-degree views of the ocean. While the renovation of the structure will refresh and renew the property, some of the building's original mid-century style will be incorporated into the design, paying homage to the hotel's status as the oldest remaining mid-century beachfront motel in Galveston.

Some of the biggest news surrounding the new hotel is the fact that Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel, two of Houston's most celebrated hospitality professionals will lead the restaurant and bar program as food and beverage partners. Yu is a James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Theodore Rex, Better Luck tomorrow and Squable, his collaboration with co-owner Heugel, best known for his Anvil Bar & Refuge which elevated the cocktail scene in Houston when it opened in 2009. This is the first concept within a hotel for the duo.

click to enlarge Honeychild's has frozen custard scoops, homemade waffle cones and sandwiches. - PHOTO BY HEIRLOOM INTERACTIVE
Honeychild's has frozen custard scoops, homemade waffle cones and sandwiches.
Photo by Heirloom Interactive
Honeychild's Sweet Creams, 600 N. Shepherd, opened November 18 at M-K-T Heights.  This is the first brick and mortar for the frozen custard purveyor which was founded in 2014 by Kathleen Morgan. her mission was to connect people to their food systems while supporting local farmers such as Mill-King Creamery, Plant It Forward, PPF Farming and Lightsey Farm. Over the years, Morgan has served Houstonians through farmers markets and retail stores such as Whole Foods and Urban Eats. Her sweet custards have also appeared on menus at local restaurants such as Georgia James, UB Preserv and Casa Nomad.
click to enlarge Kathleen Morgan is all smiles in her new brick and mortar shop. - PHOTO BY HEIRLOOM INTERACTIVE
Kathleen Morgan is all smiles in her new brick and mortar shop.
Photo by Heirloom Interactive
Frozen custard uses more egg yolks than ice cream giving it a denser mouth feel and a rich flavor. At Honeychild's that richness is taken up a notch with flavors like Buttermilk Pie and Pecan Praline, two scoops that we think would pair well together. There's also choices such as Peach Cobbler, Dewberry, Texas Sheet Cake and Mint Chocolate Chip. For lovers of dark chocolate, the Black Chocolate uses Black Onyx Cocoa for an intense choco experience.

There will be a grand opening November 26 for those who would prefer a Sweet Friday over the chaos of Black Friday. In celebration, the shop will be offering Buy One-Get One Free scoops.

Leaf & Grain, 5525 Weslayan, opened in August but owner Deets Hoffman said he wasn't ready to announce the opening until the buildout was at a place where he felt comfortable and all the open items on the construction were closed out. This is the third location for the healthy-eating restaurant which first opened downtown four years ago. The new buildout upgraded the space by brightening it with a lot of natural light and a patio. Owner Deets Hoffman says there are plans to host pop-ups with other local businesses in the future as well as serving beer and wine in 2022. Currently, the restaurant serves tea and coffee with breakfast coming soon.

Its salads and grain bowls helped it to earn Best Healthy Restaurant in the Houston Chronicle's Best of the Best 2021.
click to enlarge California loves Texas. - PHOTO BY ERICA ALLEN
California loves Texas.
Photo by Erica Allen
Mendocino Farms, 600 N. Shepherd, is shooting to open December 14 at M-K-T Heights. Before then, it will have a pop-up at the Airstream at Building 3, November 30 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  There will be free tastes of its healthy and fresh food. To be a part of the Eat Happy pop-up, it is best to register with eventbrite.

The California-based sandwich and salad concept was founded by married couple Mario del Pero and Ellen Chen in 2003. The first restaurant opened in downtown Los Angeles in 2005. Its use of fresh, quality ingredients led to a booming expansion across California before making its way to Texas, the only other state thus far to be in its portfolio. There are two locations in the Dallas area and three here in Houston. The Heights location will make number four with another planned for Two Allen Center in spring 2022.
Some like the red sauce, some like the white. We say get them both. - PHOTO BY THE HALAL GUYS
Some like the red sauce, some like the white. We say get them both.
Photo by The Halal Guys
The Halal Guys, 10621 Broadway, opened November 18 in Pearland. It began as a street food cart in Manhattan, founded by Egyptian immigrants, in 1990. The brand now has multiple locations across the United States and a few international ones as well. The food is halal and includes beef, chicken and falafel rice platters, gyros and sides like hummus, baba ganoush and crinkle-cut fries. For dessert, there's baklava and chocolate chip cookies.
click to enlarge Raja is opening a new location. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Raja is opening a new location.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Raja Mediterranean Grill, 11650Jones, is expected to open around the second week of December. This is the second location for the Mediterranean restaurant which serves grilled skewers, shawarma wraps (steak or chicken) or platters with rice, lamb gyro and a variety of salads including fattoush, tabouli and the chopped Lebanese. For those who love garlic, the Mediterranean Fries are a particular favorite with cilantro, garlic, herbs, lemon and garlic sauce atop crispy fries. For veggie fans, the Vegetable Platter offers hummus, falafel, baba ganough (as written on its menu), mama ganough, grape leaves, salad and pita.

The new location will be better for dining in with a much larger space, seating 120 persons.

Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe, 3307 Irvington Boulevard, opened October 4. This is the fourth location for the Mexican restaurant which has had another location on Irvington for years plus its Airline and West Belfort spots. The menu is not yet online for the new location but we were told that it will be the same as the other restaurants including its happy hour specials Monday through Wednesday all day and Thursday and Friday till 6 p.m.

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner serving fajitas, carne asada, tacos, quesadillas, seafood and a variety of enchiladas from mole to seafood to the popular La Tona Spinach Enchiladas.