Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Good Vibes Burgers Pearland, Lefty's Cheesesteaks

Good Vibes and good burgers.
Good Vibes and good burgers. Photo by Fajar Hassan

Good Vibes Burgers and Brews
, 1329 E. Broadway, opens January 9 in Pearland. The new tiki joint and burger restaurant takes over the spacer formerly occupied by the original King's Biergarten, a move that surprised and disappointed many of the loyal patrons of Hans Sitter's Bavarian bar and restaurant, as we reported here in the Houston Press. While some Pearland residents may be slow to warm up to the new concept, owner and executive chef Eric Nelson is eager to welcome the community to his exciting venture. Nelson has previous experience working for the Ritz Carlton hotel group, Valencia Hotel Group, The RK Group and most recently as executive chef and managing partner at Number 13 in Galveston.

“With our tiki-forward burger concept and being so close to the water, we wanted to create that same freeing feeling of being on vacation paired with a fresh, sustainable concept,” said Nelson. He hopes that Good Vibes provides guests with a feeling of escaping to a beach vacation as the natural light and laid back decor offer a casual and comfortable ambiance for relaxing with a cold drink and a juicy burger or beer-battered fried shrimp.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY FAJAR HASSAN
Photo by Fajar Hassan
The food menu offers a variety of burgers including the The Good Vibes Signature,  a 1/2 pound RC Ranch Burger topped with smoked gouda, pepper bacon, Vibin’ sauce, lettuce, tomato and pickle on a cheesy garlic bun. Besides the line-up of burgers, the tropical theme is carried out with items like the Fresh Tuna Poke Bowl. It's made with fresh Yellow Fin Tuna tossed in house made Ginger Yuzu sauce, cucumber, seaweed, sesame, and Tobiko Caviar accompanied by crisp wonton chips. The Crab Cake is served as a pan seared cracker crusted Lump Crab Cake with lemon aioli and arugula salad. While Nashville Hot Chicken has become all the rage, Good Vibes will offer a Cajun Hot Chicken made with Good Vibes house Cajun spiced fried chicken thighs. For a taste of coastal New England, there's the Knuckle Sandwich, its version of a lobster roll.

click to enlarge The tropics arrive in Pearland. - PHOTO BY ERIC NELSON
The tropics arrive in Pearland.
Photo by Eric Nelson
The beach vibe continues with a raw oyster bar, fresh seafood dishes and a variety of shareables. No tropical vacation would be complete without cold beers and creative cocktails, both of which the restaurant will offer. Good Vibes is also kid-friendly, offering a children’s menu as well for the family staycation.

Photo by Charles Rostamloo
Lefty's Cheeseteaks, Hoagies and Grill, 1010 Federal, opened January 5. This is the second Houston location for the Michigan-based chain which began in 2010 in a suburb of Detroit. Founded by Sam Berry, it has grown to include 25 locations across Michigan. The Houston expansion is the first foray outside Michigan. It was was done in collaboration with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and CEO Allie T. Mallad. The trio recently opened the first Houston store December 15 at 8057 Kirby, as we reported here in the Press. The opening was attended by Texans players such as Laremy Tunsil and Brandin Cooks. Watson and Berry also donated individually packaged meals from Lefty’s to COVID-19 frontline workers at Methodist Hospital last week.

click to enlarge That's alotta meat! - PHOTO BY CHARLES ROSTAMLOO
That's alotta meat!
Photo by Charles Rostamloo
The second Houston location will be geared toward takeout and to-go orders.  It features a drive-thru, a first for Lefty’s in the Houston market. There is limited indoor seating for 12 to 16 customers. The 1,777-square-foot space was designed by MG Construction Pros and built by Houston-based Ontime Builders Group.

“If you want to do something big, you’ve got to do it in Texas,” said Berry, a 36-year-old cancer survivor. “We are the hottest franchise in America, and we are excited to continue our growth in the great city of Houston, which has been tremendously welcoming to the Lefty’s family thus far.”

Lefty’s cheesesteaks are made with USDA Choice ribeye on a soft white hoagie bun, including it original Cheese Steak with grilled onions, white American/Swiss blended cheese and cherry peppers. Berry, who is left-handed, pays tribute to lefties with signature menu items like the Southpaw  topped with cheese sauce and crushed Hot Cheetos. Other signature sandwiches include the Italian Stallion with pizza sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni and The Winfrey with seasoned shaved chicken.

Lefty’s plans to open 150 stores in Texas and 1,000 stores nationwide. A third Houston location at 5588 North Freeway is slated to open at the end of January 2021.

Bocca Italian Kitchen/Lupo Pizzeria, 250 Assay, are currently in soft opening mode with a grand opening planned for January 15. The new Generation Park concepts come from Justin Turner, the former owner and chef of the Bernie's Burger Bus empire which Turner shuttered in May 2020. Turner is now Director of Culinary Hospitality at Gastropub Productions and helping to create new dining concepts for Redemption Square at Generation Park, a massive commercial development at Lake Houston. The new restaurants take over the space formerly occupied by Wholesome Kitchen and Wholesome Pies.

Bocca Italian Kitchen is an Italian-inspired eatery with "American flair" serving traditional Italian-American dishes such as Chicken Marsala, Chicken Piccata and a Grinder with pepperoni, coppa ham and soppressata.  Small plates like Arancini, Tuna Carpaccio and its Chips and Dip ('Nduja spread and crostini) start off the menu which also includes pastas such as Linguine and Clams and Coconut Crab with Spaghetti.

Lupo Pizzeria offers New York-style pies in twelve-inch and fourteen inch sizes or by-the-slice.

click to enlarge Chef Justin Turner aces the first two rounds. - SCREENSHOT
Chef Justin Turner aces the first two rounds.
Turner recently appeared on the Food Network's Chopped: Grudge Match which aired Tuesday, January 5. Turner had already been a Chopped champion in 2016. This go around saw Turner facing off against three other professional chefs with an elimination in each round. In the first round, Turner awed the judges with his Seared Scallops with Black Garlic Gremolata and Buerre Rouge. Fans of the show know that each contestant is given a mystery basket with unusual ingredients which they must use in their dishes. The judges loved Turner's use of the lemon meringue croissants and black garlic to make a delicious gremolata. His use of grape soda to make a buerre rouge was genius.

click to enlarge Turner's pho impressed the judges. - SCREENSHOT BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Turner's pho impressed the judges.
Screenshot by Lorretta Ruggiero
Turner advanced to the second round, creating a Tom Yum Pho with Steak using Chinese broccoli, piccallili and tuna-flavored cracker sandwiches. That earned him a chance to go head to head with Tara Khattar in the final dessert round. Unfortunately, Khattar's Frozen Tart with Coconut Vanilla Ice Cream and Pomegranate Salsa beat out Turner's Italian-style Doughnuts with Pomegranate Anglaise, eliminating the chef from the rest of the competition.  However, thanks to Turner, we learned that doughnuts can be made with a pate a choux dough.

click to enlarge Drink the rainbow. - PHOTO BY JAKE VILLAREAL/JUICELAND
Drink the rainbow.
Photo by Jake Villareal/JuiceLand
JuiceLand, 5103 Bellaire, is currently open with a grand opening planned for January 16 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. For the grand opening, JuiceLand is donating 100 percent of sales that day to Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke Foundation. Since its inception, the organization has donated over six millions dollars to charity and hospitality workers in crisis. Since the pandemic, the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund has donated $4,329, 402 to 2,180 people in the industry.

For customers, JuiceLand is offering a free fanny pack on grand opening day with purchase of a juice, smoothie or bowl. There will also be a raffle for one lucky duck to win half-off drinks for an entire year.

click to enlarge All the cool kids are wearing them. - PHOTO BY JAKE VILLAREAL
All the cool kids are wearing them.
Photo by Jake Villareal
This is the sixth Houston location for the Austin-based company which operates 35 stores across Texas. Currently, all stores are doing to-go only to keep patrons safe during the pandemic.

Besides fresh juices and smoothies, JuiceLand is known for its plant-based food options like the Frijole Roller a vegan seven-layer-dip wrap made with a potato and mushroom picadillo, black bean spread, spinach and vegan sour cream rolled in a spinach tortilla. Even coffee drinks get a superfood boost with the Golden Mylk Coffee Latte made with cold brew coffee, hemp seeds, dates, turmeric, coconut oil, cinnamon and vanilla.

click to enlarge The happy couple enjoy a brief break from Houston's busy restaurant scene. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
The happy couple enjoy a brief break from Houston's busy restaurant scene.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Chris Shepherd and Lindsey Folger Brown were married December 26, 2020 in New Orleans, according to CultureMap Houston. The James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef and Houston restaurateur had proposed to Brown, a well-known local public relations professional, a couple of years ago at a birthday party for friend and Houston photographer Julie Soefer. This past Christmas, Shepherd surprised Brown with a gift of his own wedding band under the Christmas tree. The couple hopped a flight to New Orleans and were married at Maison de la Luz with friend and chef Ryan Prewitt officiating. Prewitt is also a James Beard Foundation Award winning chef, having won in 2014 as Best Chef: South. He is also executive chef and partner at Peche in New Orleans where Brown and Shepherd later celebrated their wedding dinner. Prewitt's wife Camille was a witness as was Soefer and husband Chris Vandewater while family and friends watched via Zoom. According to Shepherd, there will be a bigger party once a wedding band for his lovely wife is found.

We wish the couple many years of love and happiness! If anyone has a recipe for success, it's these two.

click to enlarge Matthew Coburn will take on a new role this year. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Matthew Coburn will take on a new role this year.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Georgia James Tavern, 777 Preston, will open on the ground floor of Market Square Tower, a luxury high-rise with 463 units. The casual offshoot of Chris Shepherd's upscale steakhouse, Georgia James, is projected to open late spring or early summer.

Georgia James Tavern will incorporate the same sourcing, technique, service and attention to detail that reflects the philosophy of the Underbelly Hospitality team and its leader. Shepherd admits that Georgia James is not a restaurant where most people can go on a daily or even weekly basis. Shepherd says, " Georgia James Tavern is designed to be a place where our guests want to, and can, eat every day."
Georgia James Tavern will also serve cast iron- seared steaks. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Georgia James Tavern will also serve cast iron- seared steaks.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Shepherd has picked Matthew Coburn as chef de cuisine for the new concept. Coburn is currently sous chef at Georgia James and has been for the past two years. The tavern menu will offer a selection of salads, sandwiches, burgers and even Shepherd's cast iron-seared steaks. There will also be entree dishes coming from the wood-burning oven. Coburn said in a press release, " We want to build a sense of community with this restaurant strengthened by our relationship with local farmers and ranchers and the simple technique-driven menu will reflect those relationships."

Also on board will be Underbelly Hospitality's pastry director Victoria Dearmond creating a dessert program with simple comfort choices like cheesecake and an apple crumble that pays homage to the apple pie served at Georgia James.  Matthew Pridgen, wine director at Underbelly Hospitality, is creating an approachable wine list for Georgia James Tavern while Westin Galleymore, spirits director, will oversee the cocktail program. Expect Galleymore to include some highly sought after whiskeys on the tightly curated list.

All of this action will take place in a space designed with a touch of Old Hollywood glamor with vintage wall sconces, tufted leather banquettes and marbleized silk drapery panels. Handmade Zellige tiles from Morocco will decorate the back bar. The space is being redesigned by NEST Interior Group and its lead designers, Jana Erwin and Audrey Tehauno.

click to enlarge Nick Fine will sow his Wild Oats at Houston Farmers Market. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Nick Fine will sow his Wild Oats at Houston Farmers Market.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Wild Oats, 2520 Airline, is expected to open at the Houston Farmers Market this summer. The restaurant comes from Nick Fine, currently the culinary director at Underbelly Hospitality. Fine blends experience from his travels cooking abroad with his native Texan roots. The menu at Wild Oats will reflect his culinary point of view with dishes like Shrimp Diablo, Fine's take on shrimp and grits which uses masa as a nod to one of Texas' best loved foods, tamales.

Scoop Craft Creamery, 937 W. Bay Area Boulevard, is hoping to open this month.  The artisan ice cream shop comes from Camille and Julian Haynes, a young couple who reside in Clear Lake. The ice creams are made in house and feature fun flavors like Peanut Butter and Jelly and Blueberry Cake Donut. The Sunday Brunch is made with chunks of Belgian waffle, syrup swirls and bacon, a decadent combination considering Camille holds degrees in nutrition. Still, we all need to treat ourselves once in a while to something naughty. For those being nice, there's Beaumont Vanilla made with whole vanilla bean.

The proximity to Baybrook Mall makes it a convenient break for shoppers who can drop in for a scoop, cone or pint to-go. There are ice cream flights, milkshakes, cookies and coffee, too.

click to enlarge Cannolos make for a magical tea party. - PHOTO BY ARIEL PASTORE-SEBRING
Cannolos make for a magical tea party.
Photo by Ariel Pastore-Sebring
 Voodoo Doughnut, 3715 Washington, is one of the eight Voodoo locations introducing seasonal and limited time treats including three Cannolo flavors and a Strawberry Go-Tart.

The Cannolo, is a twist on an Italian cannoli (or cannolo, to be grammatically correct) and is similar to a pastry horn. It first debuted at Voodoo in 2019. Flavor choices vary and this season, until March 28, customers can try the Elderberry Buttercream, Ginger Snap and Matcha Sesame.

click to enlarge The Strawberry Go-Tart tastes great and does good. - PHOTO BY ARIEL PASTORE-SEBRING
The Strawberry Go-Tart tastes great and does good.
Photo by Ariel Pastore-Sebring
The new Strawberry Go-Tart is a strawberry-filled doughnut topped with vanilla frosting and poppin' sprinkles. It is part of Voodoo Doughnut's Quarterly Giving Campaign and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each Go-Tart goes to a charity or non-profit. This quarter's beneficiary is HERA Ovarian Cancer Foundation whose mission is to provide early detection resources to women and also conduct research in the fight against ovarian cancer.

Voodoo Doughnut is opening a second Houston store in Montrose at 1214 Westheimer. A drive by last week saw construction nearing completion. We reached out for a projected opening date and were told "soon".

Warm up with ramen. - PHOTO BY JESSIE JIA
Warm up with ramen.
Photo by Jessie Jia
Airi Ramen, 28404 U.S. 290, softly opened December 7 in the Cypress/Fairfield area. It is shooting for a grand opening January 20. This is the second location for the ramen restaurant which has another location in New Caney. The Japanese/Asian restaurant serves ramen with broths that can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to make. The noodles are made in-house as well. It also serves bao, tuna poke, fried rice, yaki udon and tasty starters such as crab puffs and desserts like mango pudding. From photos on its Facebook page, we are intrigued by its Lidako, a dish of red baby octopus with eel sauce.  It also offers sake, wine and soft drinks, including Ramune, a Japanese soda, on the beverage menu.

The restaurant has been giving back to the community with meal donations to hospitals, organizations assisting the homeless and frontline workers, including 200 meals for staff at Houston Methodist most recently.

click to enlarge Galleria residents can order B.B Italia from Cloud Kitchen. - PHOTO BY JENN DUNCAN
Galleria residents can order B.B Italia from Cloud Kitchen.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
Berg Hospitality Group has launched a "ghost kitchen" at Cloud Kitchen, 5832 Fairdale, this month. The new pick-up and delivery venture will offer menu items from three of its concepts: B. B. Lemon, B.B. Italia Kitchen and Bar and selected cuts from The Butcher Shop at B&B.

Customers can order online from Berg Hospitality's OLO site for pick-up or delivery within five miles of the Fairdale location. For delivery from GrubHub, UberEats, Postmates and DoorDash, it's a three mile radius limit.

click to enlarge The Opera Cake at Le Colonial  is its own aria. - PHOTO BY KIRSTEN GILLIAM
The Opera Cake at Le Colonial is its own aria.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Le Colonial, 4444 Westheimer, is helping to raise funds for Hope Farms with its Dine Out for a Cause program. Through the month of January, the restaurant will donate $1 from each lunch or dinner prix fixe menu that is ordered. The lunch menu ($25) might include Chilled Shrimp Summer roll, Spicy beef tenderloin Rice crepe and Miso Glazed Salmon. The elevated dinner menu ($45) will have some of its signature items plus additional chef's specials. Options may include Jumbo Gulf Shrimp and Amish Farm Chicken Breast with dessert choices such as Tarte Au Citron or its Opera Cake.

Hope Farms is a seven-acre farm that is part of the Recipe for Success Foundation, an organization founded by Grace Cavnar to fight childhood obesity and educate young people about incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into their daily meals. It was recently burgled with thieves making off with $40,000 worth of property.

click to enlarge Dawn Burrell  is creating special birria tacos. - PHOTO BY AMY SCOTT PHOTOGRAPHY
Dawn Burrell is creating special birria tacos.
Photo by Amy Scott Photography
Tacos A Go Go has teamed up with local chefs to raise funds for I'll Have What She's Having, a Houston-based non-profit that helps to provide healthcare assistance for women in the hospitality industry. Restaurant and bars rarely are able to provide health insurance for employees and IHWSH aims to fill in the gap for women and also advocate for women's reproductive health issues.

This month, starting off a new year, the taco chain has collaborated with Dawn Burrell, former executive chef at Kulture, James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef Texas 2020 and a U.S. Olympian to create a birria taco. Burrell's Beef Cheek Birria Taco is made with beef birria, adobo, Monterey Jack cheese, red onion, fresh cilantro pickled leaves and sliced radishes. It is available at all five Tacos A Go Go locations on Tuesdays throughout the month of January 2021 with part of the proceeds going to I'll Have What She's Having.

Tacos A Go Go launched the “Taco Tuesday Team-Up” program in August 2020. So far, the company has teamed with local chefs such as Ryan Lachaine of Riel, Monica Pope, Erin Smith of Feges BBQ, Tony Castillo of Mastrantos and also with Sticky's Chicken to create limited time tacos which have helped raise funds for I'll Have What She's Having.
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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.