Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Howdy Homemade Heroes in Houston, Flight Club This Fall

The young guns of Howdy Homemade are ready to serve.
The young guns of Howdy Homemade are ready to serve. Photo by Howdy Homemade Ice Cream

Howdy Homemade Ice Cream, 20920 Katy Freeway, will open July 22. The opening of the ice cream shop just so happens to coincide with Trae Day and local Houston rapper Trae Tha Truth just happens to be a partner in the franchise, along with Roderick Batson, a longtime friend of the artist.

Howdy was founded in Dallas by Tom Landis with a mission to not only serve great ice cream but to employ people with special needs, most with Down syndrome and autism. Batson saw Landis on an episode of Today discussing Howdy Homemade and its mission along with the company's vice-president Coleman Jones, a young man with Downs syndrome. That very day, Batson knew he wanted to be a part of that mission and decided to reach out to Landis.

Six months later, he has partnered with Trae to open the first Houston area franchise in Katy. He said Trae was in on it from Day One because the popular rap artist is also involved in helping people in the special needs community through the non-profit U'Neek & Gifted. The organization is named for his son D'Neeko who was born with a chromosome 13 abnormality. D'Neeko will turn 18 on July 23, the day after Trae and Batson launch the Houston location of Howdy Homemade.

click to enlarge From left to right: Roderick Batson, Trae Tha Truth and Trae's eldest son Jared. - PHOTO BY TROIE GONZALES
From left to right: Roderick Batson, Trae Tha Truth and Trae's eldest son Jared.
Photo by Troie Gonzales
The venture has a personal meaning for Batson as well. He grew up with a cousin with Down syndrome. Unfortunately, his cousin passed away at the age of 33 several months ago. He told the Houston Press that the opening of Howdy Homemade in Houston is a tribute to his cousin and that he wants to raise awareness about Down syndrome and autism by not only bringing the franchise to Houston but also expanding the concept nationally. Batson estimates that about 95 percent of the staff at the Katy shop have autism or Down syndrome.
click to enlarge The Frozen Hot Chocolate is one of the rotating flavors at  Howdy Homemade. - PHOTO BY HOWDY HOMEMADE ICE CREAM
The Frozen Hot Chocolate is one of the rotating flavors at Howdy Homemade.
Photo by Howdy Homemade Ice Cream
Batson and Trae's venture in Katy will be the first franchise for the company which will open Texas locations in McAllen and El Paso plus two more in Asheville, North Carolina and Las Cruses, New Mexico.

Among the ice cream shop's core flavors is its signature Dr Pepper Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. That should make a lot of Houstonians very happy. Very happy indeed.

click to enlarge Posh nights return at Turner's. - PHOTO BY KIRSTEN GILLIAM
Posh nights return at Turner's.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
The Annie Cafe & Bar and Turner's, 1800 Post Oak Boulevard, reopened June 26 at 4 p.m. The side by side fine dining concepts have been closed temporarily due to a water damage issue resulting from sprinklers going off following a fire in the recently-cleaned exhaust hoods in May.

The reopening was celebrated with live music from pianist Barry Sames and singer Kim Prevost. In gratitude for the firefighters who reacted quickly to save the restaurants from fire and smoke damage, Berg Hospitality hosted a reopening celebration upstairs at The Annie Cafe & Bar June 29 in which part of the proceeds went to the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

click to enlarge A  British import brings an immersive experience to Houston. - PHOTO BY RED ENGINE
A British import brings an immersive experience to Houston.
Photo by Red Engine
Flight Club Houston, 3515 W. Dallas, is set to open in late 2021. The UK import has two other U.S. locations in Boston and Chicago. It will take its place fittingly in the newly developed Regent Square, though a bit more modern than London's famous Bloomsbury address.

The concept began the Social Darts phenomenon in London in October 2015. It made its way to our shores via State of Play, a Chicago-based company that operates technology-enabled leisure venues in multiple cities across the United Kingdom and the United States. it combines long-established activities and games with immersive technology encouraging social interaction and gameplay.

click to enlarge Flight Club offers a clubby but still modern vibe. - PHOTO BY YUYA OHASHI
Flight Club offers a clubby but still modern vibe.
Photo by Yuya Ohashi
Alan Cichon is the President of U.S. State of Play. In a press release Cichon said, " Houston is an incredibly diverse city with vibrant food and drink scene - we are so thrilled that our first Texas location will be in this market. Houston has shown the world time and time again how resilient it is and we cannot wait to be a part of the fabric that makes up the Houston culture."

Time will tell if Social Darts becomes as much a part of Houston's culture as it is for the Brits. And Flight Club offers more pub games as well plus semi-private game areas for socializing and award-winning cocktails and food for refreshment. The bar program at the upcoming Houston location will be led by Peter Vestinos, a fixture on the Chicago mixology scene having won numerous awards for his bar programs at restaurants such as Sepia, The Betty, Michael Jordan's Steak House and many more.  The food menu will be curated by Chicago chef Rich Gresh, the U.S. Director of Culinary Operations for AceBounce and Flight Club.

click to enlarge At least the fruit cup is healthy. - PHOTO BY SHAWN CHIPPENDALE
At least the fruit cup is healthy.
Photo by Shawn Chippendale
The Toasted Yolk, 5103 Bellaire Boulevard, opens July 12. This will be the sixteenth location for the Houston area-based restaurant which is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch. This is the first Bellaire location for the company. In celebration of local heroes, the new location will offer complimentary meals for First Responders Day July 8 and Healthcare Workers Day July 9 for the corresponding professionals. All others must wait until July 12 to try out the new summer menu items.

The items include three crepe specialties: Nutella Berry Banana, Toffee Toffee Cream Cream and Lemon Very Berry.  Chicken and waffles and hot chicken sandwiches seemed to still be riding a wave of massive popularity on restaurant menus nationwide and The Toasted Yolk has created a dish sure to please lovers of both. The Arnie Yolk's Chicken and Waffles sandwiches crispy chicken tenders between two Belgian-style waffles made from a batter of cheddar cheese and jalapenos. The decadent dish is then topped off with Mike's Hot Honey for a spicy and sweet kick.

The Toasted Yolk is offering a digital raffle in which guests can scan a QR code with their smart phones and be entered to win a free breakfast a week for a year. That's 52 meals so the winner may want to opt for a Garden Breakfast Bowl or a Strawberry Field Salad every once in a while to balance out dishes like Biscuits and Gravy and the Double Decker Omelette.

BB's Tex-Orleans, 21441 Highway 249, will open later this fall, according to Community Impact. It will make the eleventh location for the Houston-based Cajun/Creole restaurant which will be followed by a BB's in Kingwood at 25635 U.S. 59. There are also plans for a San Antonio location, the first outside the Greater Houston area for the company.

Antone's Famous Po'Boys has shuttered its Medical Center store. - PHOTO BY NICK SCURFIELD
Antone's Famous Po'Boys has shuttered its Medical Center store.
Photo by Nick Scurfield
Antone's Famous Po' Boys Medical Center, 6618 Fannin, closed June 28. The Houston sandwich company opened the location in January 2020, a couple of months before the pandemic restaurant restrictions. Its white paper-wrapped sandwiches will still be available at Texas Children's Hospital and other medical offices and hospitals.

According to Ana Fernanadez, Director of Operations, "Closing the Medical Center location allows us to serve more staff and employees in the area by making our sandwiches available directly to hospital cafeterias and medical offices through our extensive catering and delivery program rather than them having to walk to a brick and mortar location. Additionally, it allows us an opportunity to shift Antone's employees to our recently expanded food production facility."

Every Houstonian knows the Antone's wrapper. - PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
Every Houstonian knows the Antone's wrapper.
Photo by Becca Wright
Antone's sandwiches and products are available at 200 local area grocers and other venues, including H-E-B, Kroger and Randall's. There are still two restaurant locations at 2724 W. TC Jester and 4520 San Felipe. The restaurants serve sandwiches such as The Original Houston Po' Boy, The Piggy and hot sandwiches like the Tex-Mex Cheesesteak. There are salads and soups, including Lemon Chicken Orzo and its popular Chicken and Andouille Gumbo.
click to enlarge Every good barbecue restaurant needs outdoor picnic tables. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Every good barbecue restaurant needs outdoor picnic tables.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Texas BBQ Lab, 13521 Jones, celebrated its grand opening June 21. This is a relocation for the family-owned restaurant which was originally located down the road next to a gas station. The new spot is much larger, has waaaay better parking and offers dine-in and take-away.

The owners are from North Carolina and the restaurant specializes in whole-hog eastern Carolinian barbecue but serves some Texas-style barbecue as well. There are smoky favorites like ribs, the Brisket Plate, the Turkey Q plate and the Brisket Burger. Fans of Carolina barbecue will definitely want to try its Whole Hog Pulled Pork. Customers can also order meat by the pound or as Family Packs to-go and there is online ordering available. Dessert choices include banana pudding and peach cobbler, two must-have sweets for a true Southern barbecue joint. There is also a small kids menu.

Currently, the restaurant is BYOB as they await their license to serve alcohol. Call ahead to verify.

McIntyre's Spirits and Friends, 901 Commerce, softly opened July 1. It is the second location for the neighborhood bar which has another location at 1230 W. 20th in the Heights.

click to enlarge Walk-On's needs smiling staff for its upcoming Katy location. - PHOTO BY TAYLOR OLIVER
Walk-On's needs smiling staff for its upcoming Katy location.
Photo by Taylor Oliver
Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux, 23213 Grand Circle Boulevard, is still seeking local team members for its slated late July opening. There are still 150 positions to be filled including, cooks, server, bartenders, bussers and hosts. Applicants can apply online or visit its hiring trailer next to the new Katy location.

Will the incomparable Spaghetti Carbonara stay? - PHOTO BY JEREMY PARZEN
Will the incomparable Spaghetti Carbonara stay?
Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Roma Ristorante, 2347 University Boulevard, has a new chef, Sandro Scarafile. He will replace Angelo Cuppone, another native Italian who helped to make Roma one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Cuppone is leaving the restaurant after two and a half years to spread his culinary wings.

Scarafile was born in Puglia to a Slovenian mother and Pugliese father. After living in Italy and Germany, the family moved to Nice, France where Scarafile grew up. As an adult, he landed a stint as executive chef on the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean, where he met his wife Niki. The couple eventually put down roots in Houston where Niki's mother grew up.

click to enlarge Chef Sandro Scarafile has grandi scarpe to fill at Roma. - PHOTO BY ROMA
Chef Sandro Scarafile has grandi scarpe to fill at Roma.
Photo by Roma
Many Houstonians may recognize Scarafile from his days at Sud Italia, Shanon Scott's Italian concept which previously occupied the bungalow that now houses his restaurant Roma. Scott transitioned Sud Italia to Roma in January 2019 with executive chef Angelo Cuppone creating a slightly more casual and affordable menu. Cuppone, grew up along the Adriatic Coast of Italy and like Scarafile, had a Pugliese father. The menu at Roma reflected his Italian heritage and cuisine. After two years leading the kitchen, Cuppone was hungry for new experiences and is looking to work with other chefs who will inspire his cooking evolution.

A Facebook post from Roma read: "As much as we are sorry to see him go, we also know that the next chapter of his career will be as exciting and interesting as the one that is coming to an end...Grande Angelo! We love you, man. Know that you will always have a home at ROMA."

Chef Angelo Cuppone and owner Shanon Scott in the early days of Roma. - PHOTO BY AL TORRES PHOTOGRAPHY
Chef Angelo Cuppone and owner Shanon Scott in the early days of Roma.
Photo by Al Torres Photography
One of Cuppone's most notable achievements at Roma was the implementation of the virtual wine dinners he and wine director Jeremy Parzen created during the pandemic. Originally an extra source of income to offset the dine-in restrictions, the virtual wine dinners quickly gained a loyal following and became a weekly constant for the restaurant. Now, Scarafile has taken up the mantle. He debuted his first virtual wine dinner July 1. The event will now be bi-monthly rather than weekly.

Scarafile plans to add a number of Pugliese dishes inspired by his childhood like his Orechiette con Cime di Rape. There will also be new seafood dishes including a selection of crudo. However, Roma regulars need not fret that the menu will change drastically. Scarafile says, "I'm not going to be changing the core dishes of Roma's menu. I want to keep our regular customers happy."

click to enlarge Mastrantos has a new partner and a new summer menu. - PHOTO BY CHRISTA ELYCE STUDIO
Mastrantos has a new partner and a new summer menu.
Photo by Christa Elyce Studio
Mastrantos, 927 Studewood, has promoted chef Tony Castillo to partner. Owners Mari and Xavier Godoy offered the restaurant's executive chef the partnership role and he accepted, resulting in a collaboration between the trio on the restaurant's global tastes menu.

The 33-year-old chef said that the opportunity has fulfilled his vision of becoming a restaurant owner by the age of 35. "When I joined the team prior to Mastrantos opening in December 2018, I had high hopes of working at a company where I could contribute to the brand and its culture outside of building menus."

click to enlarge Chef Tony Castillo joins Mastrantos owners Mari and Xavier Godoy as partner. - PHOTO BY CHRISTA ELYCE STUDIO
Chef Tony Castillo joins Mastrantos owners Mari and Xavier Godoy as partner.
Photo by Christa Elyce Studio
Castillo brings a multi-cultural instinct and innovation to his food having grown up with a Filipino mother and a Mexican father. He studied at the Art Institute of Houston which was followed by stints at The Daily Grill, The St. Regis Houston and Tiny Boxwoods.  His goal is to "cook the world" and "take tradition out of tradition."

The new summer menu at Mastrantos includes its first Filipino-inspired dish, Adobo Secreto Pork. It's pan-seared pork, adobo sauce, soy-braised pineapple, baby onions and coconut rice. Mastrantos is known for its house-made pasta and for the first time, pappardelle makes its way onto the menu in the Trufa and Setas Pappardelle with onions, garlic, forest mushrooms, taleggio cheese, white wine, lemon, parmesan and truffle oil. The restaurant is also adding one of its best selling items to the dinner menu. The tequenos will appear as MAS TexQueno, a large, fried cylinder of Venezuelan cheese wrapped in homemade dough served with cilantro sauce.

click to enlarge Adobo Secreto Pork joins the summer menu at Mastrantos. - PHOTO BY CHRISTA ELYCE STDIO
Adobo Secreto Pork joins the summer menu at Mastrantos.
Photo by Christa Elyce Stdio
Earlier this year, Mastrantos received a ComcastRISE award, part of an initiative from Comcast Corporation to help small businesses hit hard by COVID-19. The prize gave the restaurant access to a national commercial spot airing on networks such as CNN, MSNBC, Travel Channel and MTV. The commercial was produced by Houston Studio.

click to enlarge Harol Ortiz takes the reins at Safina. - PHOTO BY ALEX MONTOYA
Harol Ortiz takes the reins at Safina.
Photo by Alex Montoya

InterContinental Houston-Medical Center, 6750 Main, has brought in chef Harol Ortiz to take over the kitchen at Safina and The Naturalist Cafe and Lounge Bar. Its previous executive chef, Tiago Almeida, left in April of this year.

Ortiz is a native of Caracas Venezuela and  has worked in kitchens across the United States including a number of restaurants in Florida, including most recently, a stint as executive chef at Hotel Colonnade Coral Gables. He earned his associates degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miami and his bachelor's from San Ignacio University.

Safina's Mediterranean menu will see some new additions as well as some Venezuelan touches with Ortiz adding a steak menu that will pair with the hotel's extensive wine list. Its summer menu will offer a Poached Pear Salad, Bone-in Short Ribs, Pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass and Grilled Octopus with fennel roasted potatoes and yellow Romanesco sauce.

Restaurants Reported Open June 2021:

Abuelita's Gourmet Kitchen, 5700 Highway 6 N., opened May 7
Abu Omar Halal, 2424 Yale, opened July 10
Agnes Cafe & Provisions, 2132 Bissonet, opened June 8
Angel Share HTX, 924 Congress, opened June 11
Baan Thai Cuisine, 5350 FM 1960 E., opened June 8
Badolina, 5555 Morningside, opened June 3
Barkley's Midtown, 2300 Louisiana, softly opened June 11
Daisy Buchanan Lounge, 4321 Montrose, opened June 19
Elin Asian Bistro & Ramen, 13708 Northwest Freeway, opened June 13
Feges BBQ, 8217 Long Point, opened June 30
FM Kitchen & Bar, 907 Westheimer, opens June 23
Homestead Kitchen, 600 N. Shepherd, opened June 4
Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, 801 Town and Country Boulevard, opened early June
Joe's Burger Bar, #7 Kemah Boardwalk, opened May 28
Joe's Crab Shack, #7 Kemah Boardwalk, reopened May 28
Layne's Chicken Fingers, 23703 Cinco Ranch, opened June 26
Mo' Better Brews, 1201 Southmore, opened June 19
NoPo Cafe, Market and Bar, 1244 N. Post Oak, opened June 10
One Fifth Red Sauce Italian, 1658 Westheimer, debuted June 29
Salata, 1555 Lake Woodlands, opened June 24
Shokku Ramen, 933 Studewood, opened June 5
Sonoma Wine Bar, 9920 Gaston, opened June 4
Soto, 224 Westheimer, opened May 29
Stacked Pickle, 6944 FM 1960 W., opened June 11
Sweetgreen, 600 N. Shepherd, opened June 15
Woodall's BBQ, 22920 Kuykendahl, opened June 12

Restaurants Reported Closed June 2021:

Surprisingly, zero.
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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.