Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Barrel of Monkeys Hospitality Launches, Layne's Chicken Fingers Houston

The layered El Sabio is refreshing.
The layered El Sabio is refreshing. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

Barrel of Monkeys Hospitality, a newly-formed restaurant group from Monkey’s Tail owner, Jessie Gonzales, launched June 2021. Gonzales founded Monkey’s Tail in 2019 and Barrel of Monkeys Hospitality plans to open several more concepts in the next few years including Grease Monkey, which will open this fall in the Oak Forest/Garden Oaks area at the former Petrol Station spot, 985 Wakefield.

In addition to Gonzales, the group consists of director of operations Steven Ripley (Jonathan's the Rub, Helen Greek) and industry veteran, Lainey Collum, as beverage director. Collum, who has experience from Houston bars and restaurants such as Hay Merchant and Prohibition, will oversee and manage all of the company’s bar programs. Most recently, Collum  worked with global hospitality group, Hakkasan Group, in San Francisco.

click to enlarge Jessie Gonzales, Lainey Collum and Steven Ripley are having more fun than a barrel of monkeys. - PHOTO BY KIRSTEN GILLIAM
Jessie Gonzales, Lainey Collum and Steven Ripley are having more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Collum launched the  new cocktail menu June 14 right before Monkey's Tail's second anniversary. The refreshed bar menu is the first major revamp since the bar and restaurant opened in the summer of 2019. That revamp includes refreshing frozen drinks perfect for the Houston summer, along with seasonal specialties and modern classics inspired by the melting pot of our Bayou City.

Colorful new frozen cocktails include the Northside and the Dragon Fruit Margarita plus six other original cocktails such as the El Sabio , a layered cocktail inspired by a refresqueria. The updated cocktail menu will include modern classics like Desnuda y Famosa, Swimming Pool, Kentucky Buck and a Gin Gin Mule. Monkey’s Tail also offers 20 taps on a custom designed tower with 15 beers, one nitrogenated ale and four Monkey’s Tail signature cocktails.

Collum and Ripley are currently in the process of building out the menus for more concepts including Grease Monkey which will open this fall in the former Petrol Station. The space is currently under construction.

click to enlarge The Swimming Pool offers an Instagram moment, shark included. - PHOTO BY KIRSTEN GILLIAM
The Swimming Pool offers an Instagram moment, shark included.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Grease Monkey will offer a large patio space and will be a neighborhood-focused bar similar to Monkey’s Tail. The popular Chango burger and dry-rubbed wings at Monkey's Tail will also find their way onto the menu at Grease Monkey plus Mexican-focused tacos as well. The beverage program will have an emphasis on tequila, mezcal and rotating seasonal beverages like the Guanabana Colada, a creamy concoction of Oaxacan rum, lime and tropical guanabana and coconut. There will be a craft beer wall, a small, curated selection of natural wines under $60 and the "Free-Spirited" menu with non-alcoholic options.  A separate to-go walk up station will offer curbside to-go service on all wine, cocktails, and packaged beer and food.

"We have all homed in on specific areas of this business, collectively regrouped, and feel very confident with this direction," said Gonzales. "Right now, we’re committed to producing great quality cocktails and delicious food at Monkey’s Tail and preparing to make a big splash with Grease Monkey this year."

click to enlarge The chicken fingers of choice for Aggies. - PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
The chicken fingers of choice for Aggies.
Photo by Becca Wright
Layne's Chicken Fingers, 23703 Cinco Ranch Boulevard, will open June 26. There will be a ribbon cutting with the Greater Houston Chapter of the Texas Restaurant Association June 24. This will be the first Houston outpost for the franchise which first opened in College Station in 1994. Its proximity to Texas A&M University created a student fan base but its signature hand-cut, marinated and breaded Soon to be Famous Chicken Fingers also made it popular among local residents which led to two more locations in College Station and restaurants in Lewisville, Frisco and Allen, Texas.

click to enlarge Layne's launches in Katy next week. - PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
Layne's launches in Katy next week.
Photo by Becca Wright
In addition to its famous chicken fingers, Layne's menu includes The Sandwich with three chicken fingers and Layne's Secret Sauce on Texas toast. The Club Sandwich takes it a bit further with the addition of thick, crispy smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. There are sides such as Thick-Cut Crispy Fries and housemade potato salad. Besides its signature secret sauce, there's buttermilk ranch and BBQ sauce.

The new Katy location will offer 2,400 square feet of space and comes from franchisee Masroor Fatany, who happens to be a graduate of Texas A&M. Fatany said in a press release, "I'm thrilled to be part of bringing Layne's to Houston. Layne's runs such an impressive operation, evidenced by the growth they've already achieved. I can't wait to see many of my fellow Aggies introducing their Houston family and friends to Layne's starting June 26."  Fatany also owns and operates six Houston locations of The Halal Guys.

click to enlarge The Pandemic Age meets Jazz Age at Daisy Buchanan. - PHOTO BY ADRIAN BARBOZA
The Pandemic Age meets Jazz Age at Daisy Buchanan.
Photo by Adrian Barboza

Daisy Buchanan Lounge, 4321 Montrose Boulevard, will open June 19. The swanky, sultry complementary bar to Gatsby's Prime Steakhouse will offer late night cocktails and food service from Gatsby's, perfect for party people who don't roll out of bed until dusk. The space formerly housed the posh and glamorous Bar Victor, which owner Luis Rangel acquired and reopened in May 2020 before shuttering it once again.

Taking its cue from F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age world, Daisy Buchanan offers flappers and brash, young dandies an enchanted world where they can can indulge in whispered conversations amid chandelier lighting, red leather banquettes, marble accents and the music of a different era. No Fitzgerald fantasy would be complete without cocktails. His stories and characters mirrored much of his real life world with his wife Zelda and their literary friends and it was a world of booze, music and champagne. Mixologist Rigo Aranguren, (Pass & Provisions, Mastro's Steakhouse) will be in charge of the cocktail program that will add the final touch of romance to an evening with friends or romantic partners.

click to enlarge Postino is bringing its bruschetta boards to Town and Country Village. - PHOTO BY POSTINO WINE CAFE
Postino is bringing its bruschetta boards to Town and Country Village.
Photo by Postino Wine Cafe
Postino Wine Cafe, 791 Town and Country Boulevard, is slated to open late summer 2021. This will be the third Houston location for the Arizona-based wine and snacks bar. The first Houston one opened in 2017 at the Heights Mercantile followed by the Montrose location in 2018. The new Postino will join other dining hot spots like Dish Society and B.B. Italia at the open-air Town and Country Village shopping center, adjacent to CITYCENTRE.

The sophisticated, yet laid back atmosphere lends itself to friends getting together or couples looking for a casual date night. Much of its menu takes its cue from the tapas culture with shareable "Snacky Things", bruschetta boards and charcuterie choices that pair well with the selection of curated wines. For heartier lunch and dinner options, there are paninis, salads, soups and several desserts.

Wine and bruschetta make for a lovely afternoon escape. - PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
Wine and bruschetta make for a lovely afternoon escape.
Photo by Becca Wright
Postino is also popular for its $5 glasses of select wine and $5 pitchers of 32 ounce local brews from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, making day drinking not only fun but a bargain. Its brunch on the weekends also invites lazy day loungers to enjoy dishes such as Umbria Egg Toast and Croque Monsieur with $5 mimosas and Bellinis on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The new T&C location will be a spacious 4,500 square foot open-air layout with rollaway glass walls and an expansive patio. There will also be occasional live entertainment. Part of the Postino brand is its dedication to representing the neighborhoods in which it lands and the interior at the Town and Country restaurant will feature a ceiling with decoupaged '60s-era vintage shopping ads and restored mid-century mod lounge chairs. There will be cozy booths under vintage glass and brass pendants and a community table will be lit by an over-sized vintage Murano glass chandelier. There will be a large 300-square-foot art installation of hanging keys (27,805 to be exact) that have been crowd-sourced by Postino guests.

Another location is planned later this year for Uptown Park.

FM Kitchen & Bar, 907 Westheimer, opens June 23. This will be the second location for the concept which first opened in 2017 on Shepherd. The Montrose spot will offer much of the same menu as the original location including its FM Burger, Grilled Salmon Tacos, Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich and Birria Torta with guajillo chile consomme. Valentin Garcia (Tiny Boxwoods) will serve as chef de cuisine. There will be a late night menu on Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and brunch service Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The new location will feature a U-shaped bar indoors and an outdoor sidewalk beer garden along Westheimer for people (or car) watching. Craft cocktails, wine and 26 beers on tap will also be available.

click to enlarge Lakeland Village Center is adding Russo's to its catalog. - PHOTO BY THE HOWARD HUGHES CORPORATION
Lakeland Village Center is adding Russo's to its catalog.
Photo by The Howard Hughes Corporation

Russo's New York Pizzeria, 10615 Fry, is expected to open in October 2021. It will be located at Lakeland Village Center in Bridgeland, a master planned community from The Howard Hughes Corporation. It will join other retail and dining spots such as Chilosos Taco House, Local Table, Le Macaron, Bridgeland Fine Wines and Marble Slab Creamery.

click to enlarge Anthony Russo uses family recipes for his Italian cuisine. - PHOTO BY RUSSO'S NEW YORK PIZZERIA
Anthony Russo uses family recipes for his Italian cuisine.
Photo by Russo's New York Pizzeria

The New York-style pizza restaurant first opened in downtown Houston in 1992. Founded by Chef Anthony Russo, it now has over 40 locations and franchises in Texas, Oklahoma, California and Florida plus overseas stores in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Russo is the son of first-generation Italian immigrants and the restaurant serves family recipes that have made the concept successful. Russo's father brought the family from New Jersey in 1978 to open Russo's Italian Restaurant in Galveston where Russo first got his taste of the restaurant industry.

The pizza starts with hand-tossed dough topped with sauce made from fresh-crushed California tomatoes and imported Italian cheese blends. Besides pizza, the Italian kitchen serves up calzones, traditional pastas, New York deli sandwiches, salads and Italian soups.

click to enlarge This is the kind of Republic that we could belong to. - PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
This is the kind of Republic that we could belong to.
Photo by Becca Wright
Gyro Republic, 4808 Waterview Town Center, will open in mid-July. It will be followed by another location at 7549 Southwest Freeway at The Pillars at HBU in mid-summer. The new restaurants will make the second and third for the concept and will offer indoor and outdoor seating. The first Gyro Republic opened at 19920 Southwest Freeway in 2019. More stores are planned for The Heights, Midtown, Montrose, Westchase and West Houston in the future.

The fast-casual concept comes from Founder and CEO Rehan Ranpuri. His love of street food from the carts of New York gyro vendors inspired him to venture forth with his own concept that relies on proprietary sauces and flavors with dishes created from scratch daily. Customers can design their own mix and match meals beginning with a choice of pita, rice or salad as a base. Guests then add a protein from options like chicken, falafel, gyro (beef and lamb) or a combo of chicken and gyro meat. All of the meats at Gyro Republic are halal.

A choice of "Fresh Republic" toppings comes next with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, black olive, jalapeno, chickpea, pickle, corn and feta cheese. The final step is the Get Sauced where customers can choose from Creamy White, a white sauce with herbs, or the Mild Orange, a Republic Original sauce that offers the flavor of hot sauce without the heat. Another sauce option is the Red Hot, which delivers on the heat for spice lovers. Guests can also try all three for a flavor bomb.

Crust Pizza
, 30129 Rock Creek, is still under construction and it looks as if the Kingwood location will open a bit later than the June 2021 debut that we reported here in the Houston Press. The Woodlands-based restaurant first opened in 2011 serving pasta, salads, and Chicago-style thin crust pizza.

Big City Wings will open three new locations in the next three months with the Cinco Ranch restaurant at 22762 Westheimer Parkway set to open any day now. We reached out for a definitive date and are awaiting a response. We were told that another location will open at 2240 Navigation in EaDo within a couple of months, followed by a Richmond Lakes spot at 9115 FM 723 a month or so later.

Big City Wings first opened in Atascocita in 2015. There are currently nine locations with the most recent opening in Fall Creek April 15, 2021. Besides a wide variety of chicken wings, it offers a menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads and not-so-healthy but oh-so-good starters like Fried Mushrooms, Potato Skins and Tachos, its version of nachos made with tater tots, chili, cheese, lettuce and tomato. There's a selection of beer, wine and cocktails, too.
click to enlarge Celebrate equality and diversity with tasty cookies. - PHOTO BY ANDREW HEMINGWAY
Celebrate equality and diversity with tasty cookies.
Photo by Andrew Hemingway
Common Bond Bistro and Bakery has new menu items debuting this month plus special desserts for Pride Month and Father's Day. From June 17 to June 20, all six Common Bond locations will offer a Peanut Butter & Jelly Entremet ($6.50)for Father's Day. In celebration of Pride Month, it will offer Pride Shortbread Cookies from June 18 to June 28. at all locations. It will also offer a Rainbow Pride Cake, available only at its four Common Bond Bistro & Bakery stores, from June 21 to June 28. The colorfully iced shortbread cookies are $4 and 50 cents from the sale of each will go to Pride Houston. The Rainbow Pride Cake sells for $64 or $8 per slice. The six-layered vanilla cake is multi-colored with buttercream icing. Common Bond will donate $5 from each cake sold or $1 from each slice to Pride Houston, a non-profit organization that holds events to promote equal rights and diversity for the LGBTQIA community.

click to enlarge Give Dad the gift of PB&J. - PHOTO BY ANDREW HEMINGWAY
Give Dad the gift of PB&J.
Photo by Andrew Hemingway
In addition to the special treats, two new items will debut on the pastry menu June 21. The Opera Cake ($6.50) is a "success" cake made with  almond egg white cake soaked in coffee simple syrup with a silky ganache, French coffee buttercream and a chocolate glaze. There's also the Limoncello Macaron, with white chocolate ganache, lemon zest and limoncello liqueur.

Common Bond Brasserie and Bakery
, 800 Capitol, will open in downtown Houston in the fall of 2021. 
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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.