Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Lucille's Hospitality Launches, Kanpai Club Opens

Chefs Dawn Burrell and Chris Williams team up.
Chefs Dawn Burrell and Chris Williams team up. Photo by Jenn Duncan

Lucille's Hospitality Group, the new endeavor from Houston chef Chris Williams, is on track to produce four new restaurant and lifestyle concepts by 2022. Williams, known for his restaurant Lucille's in the Museum District, has launched the venture as a tribute to his grandmother, Lucille B. Smith, who not only inspired his restaurant's moniker but also Williams' own entrepreneurship with her own achievements as a business woman, chef and educator.

The new operation will also create industry partnerships with local restaurants stars including Dawn Burrell, the James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef: Texas in 2020 and former executive chef at Kulture.  Burrell will serve as chef and concept partner within LHG. Burrell and Williams first partnered together in 2019 for the launch of the Food Apartheid Dinner Series along with chefs Jonny Rhodes and Dominick Lee to bring awareness to Houston's food deserts. Burrell also founded PIVOT, a chef-driven meal prep service which will transition into a monthly pop-up series. With Lucille's Hospitality Group, Burrell will lead a new concept, Late August, a restaurant that explores the soul of Afro-Asian flavors. It is slated for a late 2021 opening.

click to enlarge Lawrence Walker, Khang Hoang and Chris Williams  take a break for some laughs and beers. - PHOTO BY AYAAN AHSAN
Lawrence Walker, Khang Hoang and Chris Williams take a break for some laughs and beers.
Photo by Ayaan Ahsan
LHG plans a community cafe concept in Third Ward called Rado Cafe in 2022 and Hogan Brown Gallery, a sister concept to Rado which will showcase African American Art and Artists in spring 2022. Further afield, LHG will open Williams' first concept in Canada, Emile's Black Point Bistro, in spring 2021.

The four new concepts join Lucille's 1913, the group's non-profit with a mission to build a vertically integrated ecosystem to combat food insecurity and create training and employment opportunities in neighborhoods that lack traditional resources. Lawrence Walker will serve as Culinary Director for the non-profit which has provided more than 150,000 meals to Houstonians in need. Robertine Jefferson will take up the mantle as Director of Development, helping to set up three satellite kitchens and create four community gardens to provide garden therapy and fresh produce to residents in Houston's Southwest and Fifth Ward neighborhoods and in nearby Richmond.

Meanwhile, Khang Hoang, chef de cuisine at Lucille's, has joined as a partner in LHG and will also take over day-to-day operations for Williams who will focus on LHG's expansion. Josh Lopez will steps up as General Manager.

click to enlarge Go for Relaxing Times, stay for Late Night. - PHOTO BY KANPAI CLUB STAFF
Go for Relaxing Times, stay for Late Night.
Photo by Kanpai Club Staff

Kanpai Club, 518 W. 11th, opened February 3 next door to its sister concept Hando. The two share a door in between. While Kanpai Club is a convenient area for the overflow of guests at Hando, it offers its own vibe of a cozy Japanese bar tucked away in a back alley with an intimate space of 400 square feet and ten seats at the bar.

It also shares Hando's Relaxing Times menu, a happy hour menu of $5 dishes like Geso Karaage (fried squid), Wasabi Shumai (steamed pork in a wasabi wrapper) and a Matchstick Salad. During happy hour, there is also a selection of half-price house cocktails. The Relaxing Times menu is available at Kanpai Club from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and at Hando from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

However, Kanpai Club has its own bar menu as well. Kanpai is the Japanese equivalent of 'Cheers!' and patrons can indulge in house cocktails like a simple Japanese Highball made with Toki whiskey and Rambler sparkling water or a martini-inspired drink like Everything is Lychee Keen made with vodka, lychee, falernum and grapefruit. For something tropical, there's the Flux Capacitator, a creative concoction of aged rum, cognac, macadamia and banana.

click to enlarge Kanpai Club offers a cozy, tucked-away bar. - PHOTO BY KANPAI CLUB STAFF
Kanpai Club offers a cozy, tucked-away bar.
Photo by Kanpai Club Staff
The drinks menu also includes a wide range of sake from Nihon Sakari Red to Amabuki JG Ichigo to Funaguchi Black. There's a small offering of reasonably priced house wines and a good-sized selection of Japanese beer including brews from Kirin, Hitachino, Sapporo, Kyoto and Kawaba.

Kanpai has a small plates menu with munchies such as shishito peppers, edamame and rainbow cauliflower. There's also the Wagyu Gyoza, made with Wagyu beef, shiitake mushrooms, shallots and kuro ponzu. For night owls, there's a Late Night menu available from 10 p.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday. It offers snacks like Curry Fries, Chicken Kara-Age and Wagyu Kushiyaki.

click to enlarge Serious coffee for serious connoisseurs. - PHOTO BY BLENDIN COFFEE COMPANY
Serious coffee for serious connoisseurs.
Photo by BlendIn Coffee Company

BlendIn Coffee Company
, 3201 Allen Parkway, opened January 29 in the 1930s building which formerly housed Stages Theatre. The building was recently remodeled by Radom Capital.

This is the second location for the coffee company which operates another store in Sugar Land. It recently celebrated its third anniversary in November 2020. Founded by Weihong Zhang, a molecular biologist turned coffee brewer, BlendIn takes its coffee very seriously with Zhang competing in national contests showcasing his scientific approach to brewing. Zhang took third place at the U.S. Brewer's Cup Championship in 2020.

click to enlarge BlendIn lets the coffee rule with its minimalist design. - PHOTO BY BLENDIN COFFEE COMPANY
BlendIn lets the coffee rule with its minimalist design.
Photo by BlendIn Coffee Company
The new location features a San Remo Cafe Racer espresso machine for its espresso bar. The shop also boasts over ten single origin coffees with limited time only selections, too. The coffees can be traced back to the region, farm and even the specific lot where they were grown.

BlendIn is more than just a coffee shop, however. It also hosts tastings, espresso classes, brewing competitions and is certified by the Specialty Coffee Association to host courses in brewing, sensory, green coffee, roasting and barista skills.

The light-filled interior was designed by Zhang's wife, Xuan.

Hungry Howie's, 9213 West Road, opened January 27. This pizza chain was founded in 1973 by Jim Hearn in Taylor, Michigan. It now has over 550 locations across 22 states. The new store makes the third in Houston.

Hungry Howie's was at the forefront of the flavored crust pizza craze, introducing it in the early 1980s. Its roster of flavors includes Butter, Asiago Cheese, Ranch, Onion, Butter Cheese, Sesame, Garlic Herb and Cajun. It also has a rotating featured flavor. The pizzas range in size from the Junior to Extra Large. Diners can create their own pizzas or opt for a signature Howie's including Asian Chicken, Buffalo Chicken or for the niche pineapple pie lovers, the Howie Maui. While pineapple on pizza is almost as contentious a topic as politics, for those who are on the pro-pineapple side, the Howie Maui is topped with pineapple, ham, bacon and mozzarella.

Besides pizza, the chain's menu includes subs, entree salads, wings, rolls, a chocolate chip cookie pizza and its proprietary Howie Bread, which offers various stuffings. For soft drinks, Hungry Howie's serves Pepsi products, another consumer issue as divisive as pineapple on pizza.

Expert poke-eaters use chopsticks. - PHOTO BY MARK SETTERINGTON
Expert poke-eaters use chopsticks.
Photo by Mark Setterington
Island Fin Poke, 24345 Gosling, opened January 25 in Spring. The company been serving Hawaiian-style poke since 2016. It currently has over a dozen locations across a handful of states with over a dozen more franchises planned very soon. In fact, there's a location in Katy shooting to open its doors February 22 at 9910 Gaston. Two additional stores are planned for The Woodlands.

click to enlarge My Bowl, my bowl, talking 'bout my booowl. - PHOTO BY MATT GUSTAFSON
My Bowl, my bowl, talking 'bout my booowl.
Photo by Matt Gustafson

The brand prides itself on using sustainably-sourced fish, fresh ingredients and no preservatives, artificial colors or sweeteners. Customers can opt for the Build Your Own Bowl ($12.95) and choose from proteins such as Ahi tuna, salmon, shrimp, chicken, octopus, SPAM and tofu. All of the sauces are homemade and gluten-free. Toppings include choices such as cucumber, pineapple-mango salsa, furikake, crispy onions, pickled ginger and more. The premium toppings such as avocado, macadamia nuts, masago and surimi are an additional dollar.  There are also signature bowls such as the Spicy Tuna Poke or the Vegetable Poke with ponzu sauce.

For dessert, don't leave without ordering a DOLE Whip. It's cheaper than going to Disneyland to get your fix.

click to enlarge We're still crushing on Simon Le Bon. - PHOTO BY ANDY ADAMS
We're still crushing on Simon Le Bon.
Photo by Andy Adams
Hungry Like the Wolf, 920 Studemont, is shooting to open after Valentine's Day, anywhere between February 15 and February 19, according to a spokesperson. Currently, team members are putting the last minute touches on the kitchen, readying it for its Americana diner menu which will include dishes like meatloaf, chicken and waffles and what we have been told is a spaghetti and meatball dish that is guaranteed to be life-changing.

The 1980s-themed diner comes from Anthony Hassen, Frank Morello and Andy Adams, a trio that claims to be totally and almost fanatically dedicated to the '80s vibe. It will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a late nite (open till 4 a.m.) on the weekends. Expect a Totally All '80s Brunch in the future complete with Houston's best '80s DJs on Sunday. We are in like Martha Quinn!

We will have more details in the next couple of weeks as the restaurant gets closer to opening. We've been promised a funny and interesting story from the owners as well.

Federal American Grill, 727 W. Grand Parkway S., is hoping to open February 15 in Katy. Owner Matt Brice told the Houston Press that the restaurant is just waiting on permission from the Fire Marshal's Office. This will be the third location for the classic American restaurant which offers up steaks, seafood and hearty fare like the double Bone-In Pork Chop. There are also entree salads, sandwiches and a delicious Akaushi Wagyu Burger. It is also known for its extensive whiskey selection.

To get a sneak peek at the interior, check out its Facebook page.

click to enlarge The Birria King Cake will have birria fans drooling. - PHOTO BY DINOLOION.
The Birria King Cake will have birria fans drooling.
Photo by Dinoloion.
Eighteen36, 2221 W. Alabama, has teamed up with Lovelady's Pop-Up to offer savory King Cakes for pick-up, with some delivery options available according to distance. Owned by Karren Lovelady, the pop-up focuses on Southern cuisine and this month, it's a unique take on King Cakes. Instead of cinnamon, cream cheese or fruit, these cakes offer delicious savory options like brisket and roast beef. The first is the Birria King Cake. It's made with fresh jalapenos, sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo, pickled onion, brisket and oaxaca and queso cheeses. There's consomme for the birria part. The BBQ Brisket is a savory creation of fresh and pickled jalapenos, barbecue brisket, cheddar and jalapeno Muenster, pickled onions, and barbecue sauce. Finally, there's the French Onion, loaded with caramelized onions, mushrooms, roast beef, Swiss and provolone cheeses plus Fontina and Gruyere mac 'n cheese. It's served with au jus for dipping.

The "cakes" serve 10-12 persons and are $40 each. There's online ordering available through February 11 for a February 13 or February 14 pick-up or delivery.

click to enlarge Thomas Nguyen is taking on a new role. - PHOTO BY KRISTINE CANTERBURY
Thomas Nguyen is taking on a new role.
Photo by Kristine Canterbury

Thomas Nguyen, co-founder of Peli Peli restaurant and occasional contributing writer for the Houston Press, has taken on a new position, joining the team of Brian Ashby and Sydney Dixon at CBRE, the largest commercial real estate services company in the world. Nguyen will remain an equity partner at Peli Peli and will assist them in the future as needed.

In a Facebook post, Nguyen said that the most prized possessions from his time at Peli Peli were the relationships he built and the lessons learned from his successes and mistakes. Nguyen said, "I am confident that my experience, insight and perspective will be helpful to others in the industry who are seeking profitable locations for their concepts. I am hopeful that our clients will find value in working with someone who has been in their shoes and can consult on all aspects of their business."

click to enlarge Be your own sommelier with the Relish Wine Merchant Program. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Be your own sommelier with the Relish Wine Merchant Program.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Relish, 2810 Westheimer, has launched its Relish Wine Merchant Program. Owners Addie and Dustin Teague are joining a number of restaurants around the city that are adapting to the lifestyle changes many Americans have had to make since the start of pandemic restrictions almost a year ago. One of those changes is the uptick in at home imbibing. The couple feel that offering a retail wine program will allow them to connect with the Houston community while offering a convenient way for wine lovers to get their bottles in one place.

The small, but well thought out wine list offers a range of wines from inexpensive bottles such as Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti ($18), Stag's Leap Winery Merlot ($22) and one of this writer's favorite roses, Fleur de Mer from Provence ($15). There are more expensive vintages as well including Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), Ruinart Champagne Brut Rose ($80) and a Penfolds Shiraz "Grange" BIN 95 2015 for a whopping $750.

There is easy online ordering with a 12 bottle minimum for pickup or delivery. The program also offers online retail price-matching. Curated cases are available for those who may be oenophiles but lack the skills of an expert sommelier.

The Teagues plan to offer pre-packaged foods in the future to go along with the retail wines. The restaurant has also switched to full service at lunch and is currently taking daytime reservations as well as for the evening.

We've been following reopening plans for a long time. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
We've been following reopening plans for a long time.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Wunsche Bros. Cafe, 103 Midway, reopened to the public February 3. The restaurant has been closed since a fire damaged the addition in 2015. The property was bought in 2017 by Casey and Nancy Kosh, owners of Amerigo's Grille in The Woodlands. Now, the building has been remodeled and reopened with a fairly slim menu that still includes some favorites like Country Fried Steak, Chicken Fried Chicken, The Wunsche Burger, The Black and Blue Burger and Fried Catfish. Southern sides like okra and tomatoes, mac and cheese, squash casserole and baked cream corn will keep Spring residents happy. Desserts include Buttermilk Pecan Pie and Chocolate Whiskey Cake. And not to worry. There's still beer bread.

We will have more details next week about this exciting reopening.
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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.