Our Openings and Closings is beginning to look familiar with a handful of new restaurants planned for the future, old favorites reopening and unfortunately, some inevitable closings. Some Houston restaurants are staying with take-out only while other are cautiously dipping their toes into the reopening waters. It's up to each person to decide what they are comfortable with at this point in the crisis.
Most restaurants have taken extraordinary measures to not only keep the Texas Restaurant Promise but to go beyond the guidelines laid out. These are the good guys that we should be rewarding with our custom. Some of the precautions may take a little joy out of the dining experience but as good citizens and good customers, we are part of the solution to the economic turmoil. So do your part, so they can do theirs. You don't want to end up in a viral video because you were getting violently impatient for your Cheddar Bay Biscuits at Red Lobster.
New Restaurants Opening:
Acme Oyster House, 1201 Westheimer, is expected to open this fall, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The restaurant began life as the Acme Cafe in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1910. When it burned in 1924, it was re-established at its current spot, 724 Iberville, also in the French Quarter. It has an additional location inside Harrah's Casino in NOLA, and restaurants in Baton Rouge and Metarie, Gulf Shores, Alabama and Destin, Florida.
It serves the usual Cajun and Creole fare such as seafood gumbo, etouffee, raw and chargrilled oysters, po'boys and seafood plates. This writer wants to try the Boo Fries: french fries topped with roast beef gravy and cheese, NOLA's version of poutine.
Dish Society, 4191 Bellaire Boulevard, will open later this year in the Southside Commons, a re-use development project that will be housed in the former Palace Bowling Lanes structure, which was built in 1955. The location was acquired by Triple Crown Investments in 2018.
This will be the sixth location for the modern farm-to-table concept from owner Aaron Lyons. The first Dish Society opened in 2014 in the Galleria area. Lyons has since expanded to Memorial Green, Katy, Finn Hall and most recently, the Heights in 2019. It offers sandwiches, soups, salads, fresh-pressed juices and coffee drinks from local roaster, Greenway Coffee. It also features a rotating line-up of craft beers plus wine and cocktails.
The restaurant will occupy the front, left side of the 80,000 square foot building which will also include other tenants, including Palace Social which will be the centerpiece of the project. Palace Social will have a 172-seat restaurant and lounge, a 60-seat patio, an eight lane bowling alley, arcade, E-sport lounge and more. Dish Society will have 3,600 square feet of dining and patio space, plus an indoor-outdoor bar. The patio will be covered and used year-round. Gin Braverman of Gin Designs designed the space. She previously collaborated with Lyons for the designs of the Memorial Green and Heights locations.
Molina's Cantina, 6300 FM 1463, is under construction and going gangbusters to open soon in Fulshear. After closing its Washington location in September 2017, the owners were scouting for a West Houston spot. Now, it is due to open very soon, close to the Westpark Tollway. It will seat 220 and offer a dedicated, full-service bar.
Molina's Cantina has been serving its Tex-Mex and Mexican fare since 1941. Its chili con carne is still made from the original 78-year-old recipe and is used to top the Enchiladas de Tejas. Its combo plates, fajitas and popular Jose's Dip, queso with spicy taco meat, have been keeping Houston families happy for decades.
You don't have to wait for the Fulshear location to open, though. The locations at 3801 Bellaire Boulevard and 7901 Westheimer have been serving curbside pick-up and delivery since all hell broke loose with the March 17 shutdown of restaurant dining. Both locations reopened for dine-in May 1 and have implemented the Texas Restaurant Promise with regards to safety protocols. It also began its online ordering May 5.
Molina's delivered some gratitude last week to the hard-working first responders at Houston Fire Department's Station 37 in the form of Tex-Mex meals, accompanied by City Council member Abbie Kamin.
Potbelly Sandwich Works may close up to 100 stores permanently, as reported by Restaurant Business Online.The Chicago-based sandwich chain reported sales down by 45 percent. At the peak of the pandemic crisis, they were down by 68 percent. As of March 29, the company had 427 corporate-owned units and 46 franchised stores. It temporarily closed 36 corporately-owned units, furloughed a third of its corporate employees and cut salaries for executives by 25 percent.
We took a ride by the Potbelly restaurant at Vintage Park and saw several Now Hiring signs in the window, so it may be that some are doing better than others.
Starbucks, 2029 W. Gray, has closed. The fact that it was directly across the street from another Starbucks in the River Oaks Shopping Center has always been humorous to we Houstonians and comedian Lewis Black used that fact in a comedy sketch. Declaring that he had seen the end of the universe and that it was "oddly enough, in Houston, Texas" he went on to rant about the two Starbucks. Well, if we needed more evidence beyond this pandemic that the end of the universe is happening, one of the twins has shuttered, leaving the Starbucks at 2050 W. Gray on its lonesome. Unless you count the Starbucks located in Kroger less than a mile away on West Gray.
Sweet Tomatoes closed all 97 locations of Sweet Tomatoes and Souplantation, including four Sweet Tomatoes restaurants in the Houston area due to the COVID-19 crisis in March. The restaurant chains, known for their soup and salad bars with customizable, fresh ingredients were unable to open due to the restrictions on buffet and salad bar dining. Now, the restaurant's parent company, Garden Fresh Restaurants, plans to file for bankruptcy, as reported by RestaurantBusinessOnline.
CEO John Haywood says there is no "viable way to reopen" in regards to the ban on buffet dining. Haywood does not see the restaurants operating with table service, but he is not completely ruling out reopening under a new model. Garden Fresh Restaurants emerged from bankruptcy in 2017 when it was acquired by Perpetual Capital Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm. It was in the middle of remodeling all of its current locations with plans to open new stores as well. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of all of its restaurants, with 4,400 employees being furloughed in March.
Restaurants Reopening For Dine-In:
The Burger Joint, 2703 Montrose and 2002 N. Shepherd, reopened for patio and outdoor dining May 13. Both locations are following strict protocols, so know the score ahead of time. The line will start at the entrance with tape marking 10 feet between parties. This will allow families and small groups (six persons and under) to be together but distanced from other guests. One person will be allowed in at a time to order, then will be seated at a table by a staff member after ordering. Seats and tables will be sanitized between guest seatings. Curbside pick up will continue at the outside tents.
The Burger Joint's menu features Angus beef burgers like the Mexi with avocado, jalapenos, queso fresco, grilled ham and chipotle mayo and the Kimchi. It also has the Veggie and an Impossible Burger in addition to its Classic Burger. There are hot dogs and salads plus ice cream shakes, with or without booze. Beer and wine are available and the Heights location features a full bar.
Etoile Cuisine et Bar, 1101 Uptown Park Boulevard, reopened its dining room and patio for both lunch and dinner with the same hours as pre-pandemic shutdown. Reservations are required for the dining room, which will have tables spaced out in compliance with the TRA guidelines. There will also be sanitizing stations for guests and staff will wear masks. In all, 30 seats will be available for dine-in. Curbside take-out will continue for guests who prefer to stay home for now. Dishes like Sole Amandine, braised beef short ribs, shrimp and asparagus risotto and a cassoulet of pork and duck are classic and beautifully executed, a testament to Chef Philippe Verpiand's designation as a Master Chef of France.
Hugo's, 1600 Westheimer, opened for dine-in service May 14 at 3 p.m. One of the eight restaurants under the H Town Restaurant Group umbrella, Hugo's serves Chef Hugo Ortega's modern Mexican cuisine, which has earned him the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest 2017. It will be open Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Due to the ban on buffet-style service, the Sunday brunch buffet will be replaced with the same a la carte brunch as Saturday.
Reservations are strongly encouraged. Walk-ins will be seated as tables become available but guests are asked to please wait in their cars or outside, a distance from the front door.
Backstreet Cafe, another Ortega restaurant, will reopen its dining room in late May after the interior repair work is completed. However, its kitchen and bar are still open for curbside pick-up and delivery. Caracol and Xochi, two other restaurants in the H Town Restaurant Group portfolio, remain temporarily closed.
For those not ready for dining in, curbside service is still available daily from noon to 3 p.m., then 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Besides a menu of Texas Kobe Beef skewers, sushi and sashimi, the restaurant has added its Mother's Day DIY sushi kits ($55) to the curbside and delivery menu. The kit serves two persons and includes two cups of miso soup, sheets of nori, fresh fish, julienned vegetables and toppings. You and your quarantine cutie can roll together and see who has the mad sushi skills.
Maggiano's Little Italy, 700 Baybrook Mall,602 Memorial City Mall and 2019 Post Oak, have reopened for dine-in service. The restaurants will continue carryout specials as well including Family Meals. They can be ordered as two ($39) or four ($58) servings and offer a family-sized salad, pasta, chicken entree and ciabatta rolls. Add on a dessert for $5 or two for $10.
Mala Sichuan Bistro, 9348 Bellaire Boulevard, 23119 Colonial Parkway and 1201 Westheimer reopened its three locations for dine-in service May 10. The restaurants are following the Texas Restaurant Association guidelines and Governor Abbott's order of limiting capacity to 25 percent. Curbside pick-up and delivery are still available as well.
For those not quite ready to dine-in, the Build-Your-Own Family Meal Combos ($48) offer a choice of five dishes which include protein, vegetables, soup and rice in deluxe portions. Customers can add on a bottle of wine or a six-pack of Tsingtao beer for $20 (pickup only).
Owners Cori Xiong and Heng Chen are also going forward with plans to open a fourth location in Sugar Land.
9955 Barker Cypress
23918 Highway 59 N.
The Union Kitchen has reopened four of its six locations in the Greater Houston area. Owners Paul and Doris Miller made the decision to close all eight of Gr8 Plate Hospitality's restaurants, which included six TUK and two Jax Grills, March 24. The Cypress, Ella and Memorial locations opened May 1, while the Kingwood restaurant opened May 13. The Bellaire and Washington locations are still temporarily closed. The Millers plan to open two more locations in Katy later this year.
Restaurants with Take-out Offers:
Brasserie du Parc
Beverage manager and mixology expert Kimberly Paul has created some cocktail kits available for curbside pick up at the restaurant along with its to-go menu. Each kit makes three drinks and includes the ingredients, liquor and directions. They are attractively packaged and each one will have a surprise swag item from the liquor companies. Options include the Unusual Times ($39), a kit with Hendricks Gin, housemade lemon syrup, rose sugar, Topo Chico and tonic. Other choices such as the Le Grand Fizz ($42) with Grey Goose Vodka and Legend Has It ($32) with Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey will make your stay-at-home life a little brighter.
Customers can also treat themselves to take-out dishes like Steak Frites ($20) and Coq Au Vin ($18). Brasserie du Parc is still closed temporarily for dine-in service.
MARCH, 1624 Westheimer, 832-380-2481
Montrose Cheese and Wine, 1618 Westheimer, 832-380-2461
Rosie Cannonball, 1620 Westheimer
Goodnight Hospitality has three concepts right next to each other, so you can order whatever wine, cheese, snacks or food you need and pick them up at the same time. MARCH, its retail wine shop, requires the purchase of food when ordering wine, so customers can coordinate the pick up with Rosie Cannonball's "Rosie to Go." MARCH just released its wine list which offers a French and California-heavy bent, along with old world wines from Italy, Spain and Portugal plus a number of South Africans wines as well. Prices range from a $35 bottle of bubbles to over $300 for more-high end quaffs.
Montrose Cheese and Wine has plenty of wine, snacks and cheeses to choose from, plus food and wine kits. It is also offering Provision Boxes under the Saturday Groceries heading on its online ordering site. The contents vary, but this week's offering includes fresh local produce like beets, carrots, kale, squash, herbs and a half dozen fresh farm eggs from Whitegurst Farms in Brenham. The box also features two cheeses, fresh ricotta and Latteria Vecchio from Lira Rossa along with recipes for a vegetable lasagna and baked brie with berry compote.
Each concept offers online ordering from Goodnight Hospitality's website.
Chris Shepherd and his team from Underbelly Hospitality reopened the kitchen and its wood-burning taboon for curbside pick-up May 8. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Shepherd had planned to turn the last iteration of his One-Fifth concept into One-Fifth Lightning Round, as we reported here in the Houston Press. The fourth version was One-Fifth Gulf Coast. Now, the team has gone back to the third concept, One-Fifth Mediterranean and there it will stay until the lease runs out. Shepherd did not see a way of doing the Lightning Round responsibly considering the current restaurant restrictions. One Fifth Mediterranean will open for dine-in service when the team feels it can do so comfortably.
Until then, customers can order online from a menu that focuses on small plates and mezze like kataifi-wrapped haloumi cheese, salatim (cold vegetable salads) and dips such as hummus, mutabal (eggplant) and muhamara (red pepper and walnut). The taboon will be turning out fire-roasted kebabs of lamb, beef, eggplant or mushroom and pita bread. Desserts like kataifi cheesecake and cocktail packages such as the Bloody Mary ($35) which makes four to six drinks round out the to-go experience.