Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Back Table's New Chef, Austin Waiter's New Gig

The Ham and Pimento Cheese Bar exemplifies elegant Southern fare.
The Ham and Pimento Cheese Bar exemplifies elegant Southern fare. Photo by Back Table Kitchen and Bar
Back Table Kitchen and Bar, 2301 Millbend, has brought in a new chef de cuisine, Jonathan Lestingi. His background includes working as chef de partie under Patrick O'Connell  at The Inn at Little Washington,  and a decade spent in New Orleans, Louisiana working at such venerable spots as Brennan's and the James Beard Award-winning Willa Jean. Lestingi also owned the now-shuttered gastropub and whiskey bar, Oxalis.
click to enlarge Chef Jonathan Lestinigi at Back Table - PHOTO BY MARIO SANTOS
Chef Jonathan Lestinigi at Back Table
Photo by Mario Santos
Lestingi will bring a reimagined seasonal menu to The Woodlands restaurant of Southern-inspired cuisine. Though favorites like the Cane Syrup Braised Pork Belly and Beer Can Brick Chicken will remain, Lestingi's offerings will include Truffle and Crab Deviled Eggs, Six Hour Bordeaux Braised Chuck Short Ribs and Blackened Redfish with cream cheese tzatsiki. His version of Steak Frites will be a juicy hangar steak with charred shallot, duck fat fries and smoked onion bernaise. The weekend brunch menu at the restaurant, which features a view of the 18th hole of the Panther Trail course, will offer a robust assortment of crafted snacks and artisanal cheeses plus dishes like Shakshuka, a Middle Eastern poached eggs dish, and Old Charleston Shrimp & Sweet Corn Cakes.

Back Table also has creative and elegant cocktails such as the Pineapple Lavender Martini and Acapulco Sunset. The B. T. Boulevardier is a bourbon drink infused with orange, thyme, rosemary and vanilla.
click to enlarge Austin Waiter switches gears. - PHOTO BY STP IMAGES
Austin Waiter switches gears.
Photo by STP Images

The Marigold Club
, 2531 Kuester, will open in Fall 2022 in the space which formerly housed Goodnight Charlie's, the upscale honky tonk from Goodnight Hospitality that fell victim to the restrictions on live music venues and bars at the beginning of the pandemic.

The new venture from the group, which includes Goodnight Hospitality partners Bailey and Peter McCarthy, chef/partner Felipe Riccio and Master Sommelier/partner June Rodil, will be an upscale, sophisticated and modern restaurant and the group is bringing in Austin Waiter as executive chef/partner for the new concept.

Waiter is the former executive chef at the esteemed Tony's and in 2017, took over the position from the restaurant's first-ever female executive chef, Kate McLean. In a turnabout that never seems bizarre in Houston, McLean will be back in the role at Tony's, February 10.
click to enlarge Goodnight, Charlie's. Good morning, Marigold. - PHOTO BY CAMERON BLAYLOCK
Goodnight, Charlie's. Good morning, Marigold.
Photo by Cameron Blaylock
The McCarthys previously had worked with another Tony's alum, Grant Gordon, and were in the process of opening a restaurant, The Edmont, with him when Gordon unexpectedly passed away in 2014. Without him, the couple felt it was impossible to create his vision.

For Waiter, Goodnight Hospitality will be giving the young chef the freedom to showcase his talents while collaborating with some of the best talent in the city. He said in a press release, " When I first heard about The Marigold Club, I was hooked. I've been searching for a place that is inventive, hip and exciting with a talented team to learn from...I can't wait to get started."

As far as details go, the team is still creating, though Houstonians can be assured of a stellar wine and cocktail program, modern continental cuisine and a sophisticated decor that includes rich upholstery, intimate banquettes and art deco touches, with a speak-easy-inspired private room as well.
A young man and his dream in 2011. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
A young man and his dream in 2011.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Underbelly Hospitality, 1100 Westheimer, will vacate its home of the past ten years January 23. It will be the last day of service for both Hay Merchant and Georgia James. Hay Merchant, at least for now, is shuttered for good, while Georgia James will move temporarily to One Fifth, 1658 Westheimer, as One Fifth Red Sauce Italian finishes out its final week. Georgia James will operate at the 1658 Westheimer location until its new home at Regent Square is ready.

In an email, owner and James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd said, "Ten years ago, here I was. Standing in the middle of Westheimer looking at my dream restaurant... When I think back on everything that's happened at Underbelly, Hay Merchant and Georgia James and all the people who have been a part of it, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude."

Shepherd added, "We hope you stay on this crazy ride with us and we thank you for your support."

We are pretty sure Houston is going to stay on the crazy Underbelly ride.
click to enlarge Kenny & Ziggy's is moving on down the road, really. - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
Kenny & Ziggy's is moving on down the road, really.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen and Restaurant
, 2327 Post Oak, closed its original location after service January 16 in order to prepare for its relocation down the street to 1743 Post Oak. After 21 years of serving its towering deli sandwiches, homemade soups, stick-to-your-ribs dinners and decadent desserts, the restaurant is relocating to make way for the razing of the strip center in which it has served the public for over two decades.
click to enlarge Kenny & Ziggy's mountain of corned beef and cabbage. - PHOTO BY PAULA MURPHY
Kenny & Ziggy's mountain of corned beef and cabbage.
Photo by Paula Murphy
However, it's good news for those who have experienced a packed K&Z at lunchtime. The new spot will be much larger, offer two covered outdoor patios and a cocktail bar. The Schmooze room will reappear as well.

Its Facebook page says that it hopes to open in the new location within ten days. We'll keep you posted.

Steamboat House, 8045 N. Sam Houston Parkway, will close for good January 29. In a Facebook post, the owners, Senie and Charlie Fogarty, cited the challenges of the last two years as the reason.

The restaurant first opened In September 2005 after the Fogartys sold their interest in Goodson's Cafe in Tomball to their son, Jimmy. With the inspiration of two 1936 oil paintings of Sam Houston and George Washington, the couple created a veritable museum to Sam Houston and Texas history with a giant statue of the American general, statesman and hero of the Texas Revolution standing guard outside. The rooms of the restaurant varied between elegant fine dining and more cozy log cabin-like nooks. Original oil paintings of the Battle of San Jacinto and The Battle of the Alamo from Joe Garland Sweeney decorated the walls of the main dining room along with Texas memorabilia scattered throughout the restaurant and bar.

Senie Fogarty said in the Facebook post, "The unforgettable and precious memories of Steamboat House celebrations, awesome customers and staff will live on in our hearts forever...as Ron Stone and Charlie would say, "Old Sam would be proud!"

click to enlarge Tikka Shack is bringing "Indian grub" to Vintage Park. - PHOTO BY PRAMOD PRODDUTURI
Tikka Shack is bringing "Indian grub" to Vintage Park.
Photo by Pramod Prodduturi
Tikka Shack, 134 Vintage Park Boulevard, softly opened at the end of December but it is having a grand opening January 24. The fast casual Indian restaurant first opened in Lubbock, Texas in 2016. It comes from Pramod Prodduturi, a former computer scientist, who founded the Masala Wok concept in 2002 in Dallas. There are two Masala Wok locations in Houston but this is the first location for its sister concept, Tikka Shack, in the city.

The menu offers traditional Indian dishes like tikka masala chicken, butter masala chicken, its Original Curry Chicken but also unique snacks such as Masala Fries, Kofta Tots and Tikka Pizza.

Check out its Facebook page for a 50 percent off coupon for the grand opening.
click to enlarge The Spring location has a grand opening planned. - PHOTO BY TIFF'S TREATS
The Spring location has a grand opening planned.
Photo by Tiff's Treats
Tiff's Treats, 1660 Louetta, will have a grand opening January 22 from 10 a.m. to noon. To celebrate the opening and to raise funds for People Against Leigh Syndrome, the store is offering tickets through eventbrite for $5. All proceeds go to the non-profit which helps families affected by Leigh Syndrome, a pediatric-onset, progressive and fatal neurological disease, similar to Parkinson's.
click to enlarge Warm chocolate chip cookies are the best. - PHOTO BY TIFF'S TREATS
Warm chocolate chip cookies are the best.
Photo by Tiff's Treats
The $5 ticket includes a dozen cookies, 6 chocolate chip and 6 snickerdoodles, no substitutions.  Attendees can also purchase additional boxes for $5 and gift cards will be given out to folks who bring donated items such as child/ adult diapers, non-perishable food items and sanitizing products such as wipes and hand sanitizer.

The cookie delivery company began in 1999 when co-owner and founder Tiffany Chen made "sorry I stood you up" cookies for then boyfriend Leon Chen. He convinced her to start a cookie business, which opened its first storefront in Austin, Texas in 2000.  The now-married couple have a company worth about $500,000 with big-time investors.
BB's Tomball is really open. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
BB's Tomball is really open.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
BB's Tex-Orleans, 21411 Tomball Parkway, opened January 13 after teasing locals with a few soft opening days. This is the 13th location for the brand which operates 12 stores in the Greater Houston area and one in San Antonio. It recently opened its Kingwood location in November and big-haired Kingwood Kim gives its weekday happy hour, Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., two feet up.
Happy hour frozens make a nurse's life easier, according to Kingwood Kim. - PHOTO BY KINGWOOD KIM
Happy hour frozens make a nurse's life easier, according to Kingwood Kim.
Photo by Kingwood Kim
It serves New Orleans favorites like Maw Maw's Gumbo, Miller's Red Beans and Rice and Lloyd's Crawfish Etouffee but also its Tex-Orleans menu of Boudin Flautas, Mama B's Shrimp N' Grits and Rockdale Redfish.
its version of po'boys called The 'Boys offers a variety of seafood, chicken and roast beef sandwiches including its roast beef debris, Midnight Masterpiece. there are also great munchies to start like fried Pickle Chips, Cajun Empanadas and the obligatory Boudin Balls. Crawfish season has just hit and its locations are already boiling up the bugs.

Its Voodoo Bar serves wine, beer and cocktails. Ask Kingwood Kim for recommendations.

Solecita Churreria y Taqueria, 413 Travis, opened mid-January in downtown Houston. It comes from the owners of Frank's Pizza next door, according to CultureMap Houston, who have turned the former Frank's Backyard into a casual spot to pick up tacos, tortas and churros. Frank's Backyard shuttered permanently in April 2020 due to the pandemic shutdown.

Solecita, much like Frank's Backyard, has mostly outdoor seating and the Airstream trailer bar has been turned into a kitchen. The menu offers tortas and tacos with fillings such as chicken tinga, pork carnitas, beef birria and barbacoa de borrego (goat). For vegetarians, there's the potato, mushroom and poblano option and for decidedly non-vegetarians, the campechanos offers a carnivore's delight of carne asada, Mexican chorizo and pork chicharron.

There are adult beverages to be had such as beer, hard seltzer and frozen cocktails.

Noe's Cafe, 2120 Spring Stuebner, is having a soft opening beginning January 21, with a limited menu. It's the sister restaurant to Charm Thai Bistro across the street. The 3rd wave coffee shop will serves espresso beverages and a multitude of other coffee drinks plus bubble tea.

It will also have a breakfast and brunch menu with items like waffles, pancakes, French toast, omelets and eggs Benedict.

Velvet Taco, 9120 Gosling, is expected to open in The Woodlands this February. Online listings say February 7. We have reached out to see if that is indeed the case and will keep readers updated if things change, as they so often do in the restaurant biz.
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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.