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Openings and Closings: Chris Shepherd Fires Up Another Concept, MARCH Madness Arrives

A live wire meets live fire.
A live wire meets live fire.
Photo by Catchlight Photography
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Underbelly Hospitality will open a 5,000 square foot restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Chris Shepherd in late 2021. Regent Square, an urban infill development near Buffalo Bayou Park and Allen Parkway, led with the announcement of Shepherd as a tenant promising more surprises to come. The Phase 2 section of the Allen Parkway Corridor development will have three free-standing restaurant spaces along with two green spaces, a signature water feature and a pedestrian promenade. It will also anchor a 600 unit multi-family building along with retail businesses oriented to walking passers-by.

The new Regent Square development will be pedestrian friendly.EXPAND
The new Regent Square development will be pedestrian friendly.
Rendering by Regent Square

Shepherd's new venture will showcase his love of live fire cooking, something he has taken quite a shine to in the past year, working with various smokers and grills in his backyard. Not only will he explore the use of live fire in cuisines around the world but he is keen to see how key flavors are imparted by different woods like post oak, pecan, hickory and mesquite. While the team at Underbelly are still working through details for the new concept, Shepherd said in a press release, "The idea of live fire cooking using multiple types of wood really excites me. Regent Square is an ideal location for this restaurant and for Underbelly Hospitality —— convenient to Montrose, downtown, River Oaks ——and it's great to be part of a project with so many like-minded people."

So, look out Houston. Chris Shepherd's got wood and he's really excited about it.

Bar manager Alex Negranza crafts a cocktail in the pretty bar at MARCH.EXPAND
Bar manager Alex Negranza crafts a cocktail in the pretty bar at MARCH.
Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

MARCH, 1624 Westheimer, will open March 31, after a year's delay due to the pandemic. It will begin taking reservations March 25 and you're going to need them. The restaurant will be taking reservations up to 60 days in advance for its ticketed tasting menu. That's how anticipated this fine dining restaurant is.

Its premiere has been in the making since it was announced in June 2018 as part of Goodnight Hospitality's portfolio, which also includes Rosie Cannonball, Montrose Cheese and Wine and Goodnight Charlie's. The partners, Chef Felipe Riccio, June Rodil (Master Sommelier), Bailey McCarthy and Peter McCarthy have combined years of research into the regional cuisines of the Mediterranean. The restaurant's concept reflects the intersection of boundaries which create richness and diversity in the food but also tensions politically and culturally. The name March is inspired by the word 'march' which signifies a territory in the boundary lands. These areas are often frontiers between regions, creating layers of different cultures, languages and ideas.

MARCH's take on tagine is unique.EXPAND
MARCH's take on tagine is unique.
Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

Riccio, a native of Mexico, comes from a heritage that exemplifies cultural layers having grown up with an Italian father and a Spanish mother. His exploration of his roots has led him to create a menu that dives into the Mediterranean region, beginning with the Maghreb in Northwest Africa.  The six or nine course tasting menus take their direction from the Arab World starting with the Tuna Ventresca, made with tuna belly accented by smokey Cuquillo olives. Its Fifth Quarter Tagine uses less common cuts of meat like lamb heart and pig's ear to create a dish that still pays tribute to tagine, a core dish in North African cuisine.

Guests at MARCH can be assured of a highly qualified team in charge of the wine list and the 11,000 bottle cellar. Led by general manager/ beverage director Mark Sayre, the award-winning sommelier team will also act as captains, bringing an elevated wine service to the tasting menu and dining experience. The cocktail program will showcase eight Mediterranean herbs with drinks like the oregano cocktail, bar manager Alex Negranza's take on a Green Zombie. It features a blend of rums, fruit liqueur and a house-made oregano falernum.

Original artwork pairs beautifully with MARCH's creative essence.EXPAND
Original artwork pairs beautifully with MARCH's creative essence.
Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

All of this Mediterranean pleasure is experienced in a space designed as a collaboration with Curtis& Windham Architects, Studio Robert McKinley and Goodnight Hospitality partners. A custom-made Murano glass chandelier anchors the lounge with art by German artist Christoph Ruckhaberle and Matt Kleberg, a Brooklyn-born, Texas-raised painter. The dining room also gets artsy with an Oliver Jeffers painting from his All We Know collection and the private dining room features a commissioned piece by Argentinian artist Alexandra Kehayoglou. Hayley Riccio, wife of Chef Riccio, designed the main dining room tables.

The cost of all this glamour? For the six-course Discovery Menu, it's $145 per person with optional wine pairing at $65 or the premier wine pairing at $125. The nine-course Exploration Menu is $195 per person with an $85 wine pairing or a premiere wine pairing for $185. Reservations can be made through Resy and are a must since the restaurant only seats 28.

Lyle Bento (center) and Greg Perez (far right) have built a young team with strong personalities.EXPAND
Lyle Bento (center) and Greg Perez (far right) have built a young team with strong personalities.
Photo by Dylan McEwan

Night Moves Hospitality is planning to open four new concepts in 2021. The newly-formed hospitality group comes from principals Greg Perez and Lyle Bento with partners Jivar Fonty, Charles Hancock, Georges Giannukos and Jamal Kaileh. Perez and Bento also bring with them a young, dynamic team, seven of whom were key staff members at Monkey's Tail, the popular craft cocktail bar Perez opened in July 2019 with partner Jessie Gonzales and owner Sharif Al-Amin. Perez and Monkey's Tail have since parted ways.

Perez, a former assistant football coach at Houston Baptist University, began his beverage industry career when he was brought in as beverage director for Edison & Patton in 2016, helping to create the bar program before moving on to Calle Onze in 2018. His cocktail menus and vast knowledge of agave spirits and creative mixology led to his stint as partner and beverage director for Monkey’s Tail in his native Lindale Park where his original creations and implementation of of draft cocktails garnered critical acclaim, both locally and nationally.

As founder of Night Moves Hospitality, Perez plans to create a beverage empire of his own while partnering with
Lyle Bento, who takes on the role of culinary director.  Bento is best known for his restaurant Southern Goods, which unfortunately was destroyed by fire in 2017. Previously, the Hawaiian-born chef had stints at Bedford and Rainbow Lodge before helping to open Stella Sola in 2009 as line cook. A year later, Bento was helming the kitchen at Feast, the nose-to-tail concept in Montrose. He also spent three years as sous chef with Chris Shepherd at Underbelly. In 2015, Bento left to open Southern Goods, which was hailed for its creative take on Southern cuisine. After the fire ended the restaurant's run, Bento returned to Underbelly Hospitality as chef de cuisine then joined the Sambrooks Management Company as culinary director and opened 1751 Sea & Bar. He most recently spent several months in the kitchen at Riel with chef Ryan Lachaine, another Underbelly alumnus.

While four concepts are under development at Night Moves Hospitality, a press release announced that two bar/restaurants would be opening quite soon. Space Cowboy, 100 W. Cavalcade, is shooting to open in late April at the newly renovated Heights House Hotel. Formerly the Astro Inn, the new hotel blends retro vibes with a modern aesthetic, making a perfect home for the new bar which will focus on fruit-forward, boozy cocktails from twenty-somethings Samantha Ruiz and Karen Cervantes. Bento's food menu will be 'island comfort food' with Hawaiian, Polynesian and Yucatan influences.

The second concept, Trash Panda Drinking Club, 4203 Edison, will open in the former Edison and Patton space with Chris Manriquez, who opened Edison & Patton in 2016,  as a partner in the project. It will be an indoor-outdoor bar with Logan Pollack and Matthew McEwan creating a personality-driven beverage program befitting a bar with a raccoon mascot. The food menu from Bento promises to be more in the line of his Southern Goods fare with spice-infused comfort food.

Burt's Meat Market and Cajun Foods, 5910 Lyons, will close its doors for good March 31. It was opened in 1946 by Alfred Burt and has been supplying the Houston area with meats and Cajun ingredients for decades.

In a Facebook message to the Houston Press, a spokesperson said, "Thank you Houston for the incredible support over these past 75 years! So many wonderful memories make this decision bittersweet. We will be open through March 31 so come stock your freezers with our 5 star boudain, andouille and other homemade sausage! Beef tips and gumbo, too! Much love and respect, All of us from Burt's."

No reason for the closure was given but a Facebook post simply said, " When it's time...IT'S TIME."

The Continental Club, 3700 Main, will reopen for live music April 1. Hours will be limited to shows in the backyard only. Masks will be required while not seated, tables will be limited to parties of six and sanitization stations will be available. Covering up your maw is a small price to pay to hear live music again at one of Houston's best-loved music venues.

The return kicks off with all-Beatles cover band BEETLE April 1, then Charlie and the Regrets take the stage April 2. Houston's own Blaggards will perform their brand of "Stout Irish Rock " April 3.

The doors will open at 6 p.m. and the shows will begin at 7p.m. The performances will run to 10 p.m. with the doors closing by midnight, if not sooner. Guests are asked to please follow instructions from the staff regarding social distancing guidelines and closing times, which may be variable. Life is variable too, so get used to it. Don't eff this up for the rest of us.

The Son-in-Law is one of Chef Tan's specials.EXPAND
The Son-in-Law is one of Chef Tan's specials.
Photo by Rattana T

Trinity Street Food Woodway, 5709 Woodway, opened February 22. This is the second location for the Thai restaurant which first opened in Euless, Texas three years ago. Founder and former owner Tan Tansub decided to return to Houston and introduce the city to his fusion of eastern cuisines and American flavors. The Tansubs say they are starting with Thai flavors because "We're Thai!"

Appetizers include items such as Shrimp Tempura, Crab Rangoon and Takoyaki (octopus ball). There are traditional soups such as Tom Yam Goong (shrimp in lime broth) plus a variety of Thai curries including green, red and yellow plus Panang and Massaman. There are street noodle options like Pad Thai and Pad See Yew.  The Brown Butter Cake with fresh mango sounds like a perfect way to end the meal but the Mango in Fresh Coconut is its best selling dessert.

Fresh mango with coconut rice is a refreshing dessert at Trinity.EXPAND
Fresh mango with coconut rice is a refreshing dessert at Trinity.
Photo by Rattana T

Tan plans on introducing more chef's specials with dishes like Lamb Lollipops Massaman Curry but for now there are dishes such as Coconut Shrimp and the Son-in-Law, a dish of braised pork shoulder, crispy five-minute egg with tamarind sweet sauce and jasmine rice to whet the appetite.

It's a boiling good time at Seafood Connection.
It's a boiling good time at Seafood Connection.
Photo by Devante Long

Seafood Connection, 507 Westheimer, opened March 12. The new casual seafood restaurant specializes in Low Country boils. Like Gulf Coast crawfish boils, it usually includes potatoes, corn and sausage but it features shrimp and crab instead of mudbugs. Seafood Connection's version is a unique blend of Maryland, Georgia and Florida influences and offers a choice of nine different sauces on its boils including its Original Secret Sauce, which is a best seller on its online shop, flavasauce.com.

Seafood Connection has fried seafood, too.
Seafood Connection has fried seafood, too.
Photo by Devante Long.

In fact, the popularity of its sauces in Houston was one of the motivating forces behind CEO and Founder Jamie Walker's decision to open a location here, according to Eater Houston. Walker, a native of Savannah, Georgia, began selling his take on Low Country boil in Dublin, Georgia in 2015. He then opened a brick and mortar spot in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2016. It quickly became, as Walker says, "The Turkey Leg Hut of the Queen City", likening its three-hour long waits in line to the popular Houston restaurant that is known for its lines of hungry customers snaking around its building. Unfortunately, the Charlotte location closed temporarily in October 2020 due to the pandemic. A second location, which opened in August 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina, closed five months later.

So far, Houston is digging the boils and the sauces. Von Juan, PR spokesperson for Seafood Connection, said that the restaurant is selling out every day and expects that will be the case for the next thirty days or so as the restaurant seeks to fill out its staff. With its motto of " It's Something in the Sauce", maybe Seafood Connection has found the right home here in the Bayou City.

Island Fin Poke lets you create your own bowl if so desired.
Island Fin Poke lets you create your own bowl if so desired.
Photo by Matt Gustafson

Island Fin Poke, 9910 Gaston, opened March 15 in Katy. The poke chain was founded in 2016 and now has over a dozen locations, including most recently a store at 24345 Gosling which opened January 25. There are two more locations planned for The Woodlands.

Diners can choose the Build-Your-Own-Bowl option starting with a base of white rice, brown rice or spring mix greens. Protein choices include chicken, shrimp, salmon Ahi tuna, spicy tuna, octopus, tofu and being that it's Hawaiian style-poke, SPAM. Guests can choose toppings like pineapple-mango salsa, edamame, mango, crispy onions, seaweed salad, nori and the new spicy pickled vegetables. The selection of marinating sauces offers a gluten-free soy (Shoyu), the citrusy Ponzu, OG Sauce with sweet onions and jalapenos, Island Fin Fine with habanero and Wicked Wahine which combines sweet and heat. There are four finishing sauces from which to chooses like Avocado Cream, Wasabi Cream, Togarashi and Jamaican Cream with jerk seasoning. There are also signature bowls to take the stress out of ordering.

And of course, there's the Dole Whip which few customers can resist.

Chris Juergen and Josh Schwaiger will be brew buds in Tomball.EXPAND
Chris Juergen and Josh Schwaiger will be brew buds in Tomball.
Photo by Chris and Josh/Paradigm

Paradigm Brewing Co., 2310 South Persimmon, is underway, according to Community Impact. It is slated to join the Tomball Business and Technology Park in the last quarter of the year. The new brewery comes from master brewer Chris Juergen, formerly of Karbach Brewing. Juergen, who studied brewing at UC Davis, is currently Professor of Brewery Operations and Management at Texas A & M University. If your high school senior is looking for a career and you want free beer, there are pathways to the dream.

Josh Schwaiger joins Juergen for the venture as co-owner. Schwaiger also brings Karbach cred as a former sales manager at the company and it's where he met Juergen. Their working relationship has turned into a lifelong friendship. Schwaiger has also worked for giant beverage companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, so he's well-prepared for the packaging and distribution side of the brewery.  The 10,500 square foot space will also include a taproom/restaurant.

Canary Cafe, 4928 Fulton, is celebrating its grand opening March 22 through March 27. Yes, it's been open since September 2020 and a grand opening six months later is pushing the envelope but we're game. It's offering specials through the weekend, so check its Facebook for more details. You may luck out and find it's a "happy hour all day" special on beer and wine.

The cafe serves pastries, macarons and coffee drinks plus sandwiches, burgers and pizzas for lunch and dinner. There are also items for retail including soy candles, vegan soaps and prepared sauces and spices from Kin by Chef Evelyn.

Leaf & Grain takes over the former Einstein Bros. space.
Leaf & Grain takes over the former Einstein Bros. space.
Rendering by Deets Hoffman/Leaf & Grain

Leaf & Grain, 5525 Weslayan, is expected to open in early summer, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. This will be the third location for the brand and the first outside the downtown area. Owner Deets Hoffman said that there are no plans to close the spots at One Allen Center and the Shops at Houston Center but given the unknowns due to the "Work From Home" world, he and partners Edward Thompson and Murray Manley are very excited to open a location outside of downtown.

The Alamo bowl offers clean eating Texas-style.EXPAND
The Alamo bowl offers clean eating Texas-style.
Photo by Thien Le and Kevin Do

The new restaurant will be convenient to local neighborhoods like West U and Afton Oaks, making it not as dependent on business from office workers though having Greenway Plaza nearby will still provide that particular crowd. Hoffman loves the location because it's in the same shopping center as the long-gone Chuck E. Cheese where he celebrated his fourth birthday.

Leaf & Grain sources much of its ingredients locally, including from ranches like 44 Farms. Its salads and grain bowls, great for folks who practice clean eating and those who should, will be served in a modern, but homey space with lots of natural light. There will also be a patio.

Agnes Cafe and Provisions, 2123 Bissonet, is expected to open in May or June this year, according to CultureMap Houston. Construction is already underway on the former Tropicales space. The Mediterranean-inspired cafe comes from Molly Voorhees, president of Beck's Prime and Carolyn Dorros. Voorhees recruited Dorros, executive vice-president at Wolff Companies, to help create the menu and concept.

In the morning, the cafe will serve coffee and pastries, including a Turkish-style flatbread. For lunch, guests can expect sandwiches and salads along with a kabob plate. The restaurant will switch to table service for dinner with heartier, more elegant dishes like roast chicken and steak on the menu. There will also be beer, wine and cocktails. In addition to the restaurant, there will be a small retail area with grab and go sandwiches, salads and pastas, snacks, hostess gifts and ingredients for creating charcuterie and cheese boards.

Founder Peter Cancro, kneeling second from left, shares a smile with staff.EXPAND
Founder Peter Cancro, kneeling second from left, shares a smile with staff.
Photo by Jersey Mike's Subs

Jersey Mike's Subs will be giving 100 percent of its sales March 31 to local charities across the country. There are 34 locations in the Houston area and all sales that day will go to the Houston Chapter of The Muscular Dystrophy Association. The sub chain's 11th Annual Nationwide Day of Giving March 31 is its contribution to its 11th Annual Nationwide Month of giving in which customers have the opportunity to donate to local charities. Since 2011, the campaign has raised $32 million for charities across the U.S. Organizers expect that this year's event will raise eight million.

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