Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Bludorn's Navy Blue Opens, Underbelly Hospitality's Big Plans

Clams Casino give oysters a run for their money.
Clams Casino give oysters a run for their money. Photo by Julie Soefer

Navy Blue, 2445 Times Boulevard, opens November 18 and dining reservations have already begun. The new restaurant from chef/restaurateur Aaron Bludorn will have Jerrod Zifchak as executive chef. Ziffchak most recently held the role at Cafe Boulud in New York City which closed during the pandemic and made the decision permanent in May 2021.

Zifchak took over as executive chef at Cafe Boulud when Bludorn departed in 2019, so the two have a history together working in highly-acclaimed restaurant kitchens. Bludorn opened his namesake Houston  restaurant, Bludorn in 2020 with his wife Victoria.

This new collaboration between the talented chefs is not only an homage to the ocean but also to Bludorn's father, a naval aviator whose call name was "Blue".
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Jerrod Zifchak, Aaron Bludorn and Cherif Mbodji want diners to have an upscale dining experience without any pressure.
Photo by Michael Anthony
The ocean vibe makes its presence  known as guests enter the restaurant and are greeted with an oyster-shaped wall made with sandy concrete breeze blocks. The 110-seat dining room uses organic elements to represent the rawness of nature with warm tones of oak throughout. Long tables are separated by white oak partitions giving diners a sense of being hidden away, though still in view of the restaurant.

Bludorn and wife Victoria have worked with partner Cherif Mbodji and a team of well-chosen hospitality professionals to operate the new restaurant with the same standards of service that have made Bludorn so successful and highly regarded. Bludorn and Zifchak have also created a menu that showcases ocean delicacies like Swordfish au Poivre with Green Peppercorn Sauce or Whole Dover Sole, which can be prepared almondine, Oscar or provencal. In fact, there will be rotating fresh fish options and the kitchen will be flexible on different preparations. Besides fish dishes, such as Blackened Red Snapper with Ahi Amarillo, there are seafood pasta dishes like Lobster Ravioli and Linguine Vongole (that's clam sauce, y'all). There's also a lush Seafood Risotto.
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Swordfish au Poivre makes a pretty picture at Navy Blue.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Sommelier Molly Austad has curated an extensive wine list of 160 bottles and Darryl Chan has created a cocktail program in which drink names get a touch of whimsy from misheard lyrics and recipes.

For now, Navy Blue is open for dinner Monday through Saturday with Sunday service to be added December 4. Lunch and Sunday brunch will launch sometime in 2023.
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The Wagyu Chicken Fried Steak at Wild Oats is known for being delicious and pricey.
Photo by Claudia Casbarian

Underbelly Hospitality announced that it will be opening a second location for both Wild Oats and Underbelly Burger at 1222 Witte Road. Construction on the mixed use development from MLB Capital Partners will begin in early 2023 and both concepts are expected to open by the middle of the year.

Nina Quincy, Director of Operations for Underbelly Hospitality said in a press release, "Wild Oats and Underbelly Burger are our most family-friendly concepts and it felt very natural to want to introduce those brands to the Spring Branch community."
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Big plans are being made for Witte Road.
Rendering by Norton Creative
In the past few months, Underbelly Hospitality has seen some major changes with James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd leaving the restaurant group in July of this year, as we reported here in the Houston Press. The hospitality group took its name from his first restaurant, Underbelly, which first opened in 2012. Subsequent concepts followed like Hay Merchant, Georgia James and One Fifth cementing Underbelly Hospitality's reputation for opening premiere restaurants in Houston.

Some other departures have occurred as well. Nick Wong left Underbelly Hospitality and his gig as executive chef at its Georgia James Tavern this past April. Nick Fine, who started Wild Oats under the Underbelly Hospitality umbrella in February 2022, recently stepped back from his role as culinary director at Underbelly but will continue to consult on the menu and the direction of the Texas-inspired Wild Oats brand.

The new Wild Oats will be a space of 4,563 square feet, seating 184 diners in its main, private and outdoor dining areas. The decor will be similar to its Houston Farmers Market spot with a contemporary Texas-influenced look and feel.
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Underbelly Burger will bring quality beef to Spring Branch.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Underbelly Burger also opened its first location at Houston Farmers Market. Its impetus comes from the hospitality group's commitment to whole animal butchery. Underbelly Hospitality sources its steaks for Georgia James from 44 Farms and R-C Ranch, which leaves about 250 pounds of beef that can be ground, which is then used for the grind at Underbelly Burger.

The burger restaurant will be smaller than Wild Oats, only taking up 1,310 square feet with a dining room that seats 12 and a patio and greenspace that will accommodate more patrons for outdoor dinning. It will also have a walk-up window for to-go orders

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Craft Pita offers vibrant Lebanese cuisine.
Photo by Rebekah Flores
Craft Pita, 5172 Buffalo Speedway, will open November 19 in West University. Its first location opened on Fountainview in 2019. The new location in Plaza in the Park will offer an opportunity for the Mediterranean restaurant to bring its Lebanese cuisine to a bustling neighborhood that includes not only West U but areas like Greenway Plaza and the Medical Center which will offer the chance to expand delivery and catering.
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A clean and contemporary dining room offers a variety of seating.
Photo by Rebekah Flores
Founder Rafael Nasr says, "We are excited for everyone to try our Lebanese cuisine prepared from locally-sourced ingredients. We are a family-owned restaurant and look forward to serving the families of West University."

The menu at the new location is based on classic family recipes that have been given modern touches. There will also be new flavors like chicken and beef kebabs, a mezze dinner menu and sampler platter, a chicken shawarma-style pita and a beef gyro-style pita.
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A spacious front patio is perfect for a getaway lunch.
Photo by Rebekah Flores
For the grand opening, beginning at 11 a.m., there will be giveaways and raffle prizes. The first 25 attendees will receive a free pita and the first 50 will get a golden ticket which qualifies for a raffle prize. Sponsors for the event include Saint Arnold Brewing, Rambler Sparkling Water, Yoga Six, Michael's Cookie Jar, CycleBar West U and Refugee Services of Texas.
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Decadent eats are served in a glamorous atmosphere at Bungalow.
Photo by ALife Hospitality
Bungalow Downtown Dining, 407 Main, opened softly last month. It comes from Alife Hospitality Group and its founder Mojeed Martins and Jonathan Reitzell. The lavish concept takes up two levels and offers different intimate spaces in which to drink, dine and socialize. A rooftop patio gives guests spectacular views of downtown Houston. Patrons will be greeted with a glass of champagne as they enter through its marble-tiled lobby.
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Glitzy surroundings make for a special evening at Bungalow.
Photo by ALife Hospitality
Multiple dining options mean guests can choose the refined elegance of the main dining room with its plush velvet booths, the rooftop patio with its cityscape background or a high-energy bar for mingling. Just in time for the holidays, the Bungalow will offer a number of private dining options such as the Low Lounge, a speakeasy-style private bar for 20 guests that has a hidden entrance behind a bookshelf on the second floor. For a little larger group, the Prive' Room has its own dedicated entrance, exclusive bar and an advanced entertainment system.
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If you got the money, honey, they have the private room.
Photo by ALife Hospitality
The food menu was designed by Corporate Research & Development Chef Calvin Morgan. For starters, there are light bites such as Truffle Fries topped with crabmeat, Dynamite Shrimp and Blackberry Lamb Ribs. Diners can expect to indulge in prime steaks from filet mignon to a 32-ounce Tomahawk ribeye. Steaks get even more decadent with optional toppings such as Truffle Herb Butter, Oscar-Style and Seared Foie Gras.  There's also fresh seafood including Seared Redfish with Crab Bacon Butter, Whole Branzino and Lobster Tail. Other entrees like Wagyu Meatball Pasta and Apricot Chicken round out the menu along with shareable sides including Black Truffle Mac & Cheese and Cream Corn Brulee.

A dessert menu gets a old school glam touch with table-side flaming Baked Alaska while the cocktail menu offers drinks like the Heart Breaker Martini and Jalisco Sunset. Guests will also find an extensive wine list available.
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The Woodlands gets even more cookie options.
Photo by Crumbl Cookies

Crumbl Cookies
, 9595 Six Pines, is having its grand opening week beginning November 18 from 8 a.m. to midnight. There will be 6 of the 200-plus weekly rotating cookie flavors available. Customers can begin ordering in-person during the five business days that the store is open with delivery, curbside pick-up and catering beginning November 23. Nationwide shipping will be available through the Crumbl app and online at Crumbl.com

The new franchise location is owned by Joe Durfey, Robert Hartshorn and Roxi Walker. Durfey and partner Hartshorn opened the first Crumbl Cookies in the Houston area in 2020. Walker joined the ownership group in 2021. The company itself was founded in Logan, Utah in 2017 by Jason McGowan and Sawyer Hemsley. It has since expanded to more than 500 stores in over 40 states.
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A hideaway for the discreet and the discerning.
Photo by Brian Kennedy

Emilia's Havana, 1800 Post Oak, opened quietly October 28, as we reported here in the Houston Press. At the time, the details were rather vague without much being given away about the interior or the menu. This week, Berg Hospitality sent out a press release with a number of images of glamorous influencers, close-up shots of crystal chandeliers and a few photos that give a hint to the club's raison d'etre.
Bites for those who are impossibly thin and impossibly rich.
Photo by Brian Kennedy
Located in a former storage closet next door to Berg's The Annie Cafe & Bar, the 50-seat lounge has already been entertaining its high rollers and high-living scenesters with bossa nova-style music and a cocktail program from James Beard Award-winning mixologist Alba Huerta.

The food menu was also released with bites such as Truffle Tartar, Duck Cubano, King Crab Croquetas and Lobster Corn Empanadas joining the Emilia Havana's Caviar Reserve as part of the high-end edibles.

Dutch Bros. Coffee, 9778 Highway 242, opens November 18 in Conroe at The Grove at Harper's Preserve in Conroe, a few miles north of The Woodlands. The drive-through coffee shop will be the first tenant to open at the development from Gulf Coast Commercial Group, which encompasses 21,500 square feet of multi-use, street level space plus two pad sites.

Dutch Bros. was founded in 1992 by brothers Dane and Travis Boersma in Grants Pass, Oregon.and has rapidly expanded across eleven states in the past thirty years with a number of locations in Houston and Texas opening within less than two years.

It offers a selection of coffee drinks, freezes, smoothies and frosts plus cold brew, teas, lemonades, hot cocoa and its proprietary Rebel Energy Drink. There is a small selection of muffin tops and a granola bar. Currently, it has a seasonal selection of beverages including its Sugar N Spice oat milk latte, Hot Sweater Weather Chai and Hazelnut Truffle Mocha Freeze.
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A new development is bringing retail and dining to Conroe.
Rendering by Gulf Coast Commercial Group
Pincho Burgers + Kebabs, Highway 242 & Harper's Trace, is shooting for a March 2023 opening as one of the tenants at The Grove at Harper's Preserve as well. It serves a menu of Latin American cuisine with build-your-own plates that offer options of pollo asado, steak, shrimp kebab, chicken kebab and vaca frita (shredded beef). The plates come with a choice of sides including rice and beans, roasted vegetables, side salad, sweet potato tots and more. There is also a variety of sauce options including cilantro, bbq, pincho, chipotle aioli and guava ketchup.

Burgers range from the classic Pincho Burger to the Toston that uses fried plantains as a bun. There's also a Toston Chicken Sandwich. There are also bowls like the Tex-Mex or the Latin plus the Pincho Salad. Hot dogs and a kids menu make it a family-friendly option.

Cookie Co.  will also open a location at the development in late January or early February 2023, making it the second Texas location for the California-based gourmet cookie brand. Freebirds World Burrito is also slated for early 2023 along with Jersey Mike's Subs.
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PJs and PJ's Coffee make a good pair for cooler weather.
Photo by PJ's Coffee

PJ's Coffee, 2533 W. Grand Parkway, is expected to have its grand opening December 5 in Katy. In the meantime, it is currently looking to fill up to 15 positions from baristas to management. Interested job seekers can apply online.

The new Katy store will be the third PJ's in the Houston metro area and number 15 in Texas. The coffee brand was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1978 by Phyllis Jordan (PJ) and was purchased by brothers Paul, Steven and Scott Ballard, all natives of NOLA, in 2008.

The company uses the best quality Arabica coffee beans and superior roasting techniques for its hot, iced and frozen coffee drinks. It also offers hot tea and fresh breakfast pastries. The PJ's Original Cold Brew is brewed daily using a special cold-drip process which produces a coffee that is far less acidic.
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The Cabo San Lucas-inspired concept has switched to catering.
Photo by Becca Wright
Fajita Willie's Cafe and Cantina, 15650 FM 529, is closing its doors after 20 years as the Tex-Mex sister of Willie’s Grill & Icehouse. However, it's not the end of the road for the brand which will now operate exclusively as a premier catering option for parties, corporate events, and other gatherings in the Houston area. While its margaritas and fajitas became staples in the surrounding neighborhood, the demand for its catering services outpaced the restaurant dining side.

This shift is not the first for the Willie's brand. Recently, the company launched its virtual kitchen, Rooster's Run, as part of its business-boosting plan. Rooster's Run operates out of all 19 Willie's Restaurants as a ghost kitchen with delivery-only of wings and chicken tenders.
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Loyal fans can still get fajitas out the door.
Photo by Becca Wright
Marty Wadsworth, Vice President of Marketing for Willie's restaurants says, "At Willie's, 25 percent of our business is generated through to-go and catering sales driven by our increasingly digitally savvy guests. The overwhelming majority of orders at Fajita Willie's were exactly that: Fajitas headed out the door." Wadsworth says basing the Fajita Willie's catering operations out of the Copperfield location of Willie's Grill & Icehouse, 7092 Highway 6 N., will allow the company to service all of Houston.
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Santa comes early at Sonoma Wine Bar.
Photo by VJ Arizpe
Sonoma, 2720 Richmond and 9920 Gaston, is holding its Holiday Wine Sale at both currently open locations. The Garden Oaks Sonoma at 1227 W. 34th is expected to open soon.

The wine sale will be November 20 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Upper Kirby location on Richmond with Santa making an appearance from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.  The Katy shop will have its wine sale from from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. November 20.

Admission for the event is $20. The ticket includes the opportunity to taste up to 50 different wines curated for Thanksgiving. There will also be a cheese tasting. Attendees will enjoy 40 to 50 percent off wine bottle purchases. For customers who order 6 bottles or more, the tasting fee will be waived.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.