Goro and Gun are the two main characters in Tampopo, a 1985 Japanese cult classic that's often referred to as the "first ramen Western" (a play on the old spaghetti westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). It's fitting, then, that Joshua Martinez's upcoming downtown restaurant would be named after the two: Not only is Goro & Gun the first ramen shop in Houston, it's also a tribute to two characters who transformed a decrepit roadside joint into a place devoted to the "art of noodle soup making."
The downtown restaurant which will house Goro & Gun hasn't been home to anything successful in years. Its last resident was a sandwich shop, which closed almost as quickly as it opened. But like his fellow neighbors Charity Saloon and the upcoming Batanga and "Bad News Bar," Martinez hopes that Goro & Gun will be part of the ongoing revitalization of the downtown area near Market Street Square -- although he and partners Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse (also partners in the nearby "Bad News Bar") aren't quite ready to reveal Goro & Gun's exact location.
What he can reveal, however, is that he has big plans for the renovated shotgun-style space. Martinez has revealed the original turn-of-the-century tile floors and hopes to restore them to their original glory. He also purchased many interior fixtures and fittings during a recent auction from the 65-year-old Houston Club, which is scheduled for demolition later this year -- items like brass sconces, which will decorate the exposed brick walls, and a railing which will outline Goro & Gun's sidewalk patio when it opens in a month or so.
Martinez is most excited, however, about what's going on inside. A massive pasta extruder squats in one corner of the surprisingly large kitchen, and this is where Goro & Gun's culinary team -- executive chef David Coffman and sous chef Matt Womack -- will be pulling ramen noodles fresh every day. This means that not only will Goro & Gun be the only ramen shop in Houston, it will also be the only ramen shop in the entire country pulling its own noodles in-house.
"In New York and L.A., they have shops that only make noodles," Martinez notes. "And they make really good noodles. So why make them yourself?" That's the model that all ramen shops follow, after all, and Martinez is quick to acknowledge that both making and serving ramen noodles might be too much to handle.
"Either we're really smart or we're really, really stupid," Martinez laughs. He has a contingency plan in place, however, with a local ramen noodle manufacturer in case it all goes horribly awry.
He's also quick to note that there's more to Goro & Gun than just noodle soup.
"It is a ramen restaurant, it is a ramen shop, but it is not only that," Martinez teases. "We also will serve things that I love and can't find done well here." One example? Soup dumplings. "I can't find a good soup dumpling here," he says.
Goro & Gun will also serve some of the favorites found on-board Martinez's other project, The Modular food truck. "The bone marrow will make it onto the menu over here."
Also look for a full slate of cocktails, beer, wine and sake at Goro & Gun -- but not hot sake. Martinez doesn't believe in it. "I think we've gotten to a point now where people understand good sake," he says. Rouse and Moore are still pressing him to change his mind. "Maybe we'll say that's a soft no," jokes Rouse.
The bar is the focal point of the narrow space, which will ultimately house 65 people in total. Five of those seats will be at a chef's table, where Coffman will be able to showcase his extracurricular talents each night. "He's not just restricted to Asian food," says Martinez. "If he wants to do shrimp and grits, he can do shrimp and grits," he says by way of example.
The rest of the seats will hug the long, broad bar or the brick walls, in the form of both pub-height tables and black banquettes. There are only 15 inches of space behind the bar to put in shelving, so Goro & Gun will build up: ceiling-height shelves will span nearly the entire wall on one side, with a library ladder built in to reach the highest parts.
If that layout seems familiar, Rouse says that it's intentional. He and Martinez drew inspiration for the narrow, high-ceilinged restaurant from Rickhouse in San Francisco, a similarly laid-out space managed by former Houston bartender Claire Sprouse -- a friend of the Goro & Gun team.
With the bar as such a main element in the small space, patrons may think at first that Goro & Gun is simply that: a bar, and nothing else. Martinez and Rouse want to emphasize that it's more than that.
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"It's a restaurant," says Martinez. "A bar," says Rouse at nearly the same time. They both laugh. "It's everything," says Martinez.
"We want you to come in to eat, but feel comfortable sitting at a bar and eating," says Rouse. "All of us like sitting at the bar to eat."