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Openings and Closings: Killen's Finally Opens, The Original Hot Dog Factory Coming Soon

Barbecue is still an important part of Killen's new restaurant.EXPAND
Barbecue is still an important part of Killen's new restaurant.
Photo by Megha Bhandari

Killen's, 101 Heights Boulevard, opened August 19 after months of pop-ups. The Southern comfort restaurant comes from Ronnie Killen, owner and operator of Killen's Restaurant Group which he founded in 2006. Killen trained and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris where he graduated at the top of his class. Killen is also a two-time James Beard Award semi-finalist.

His newest restaurant is simply calling itself Killen's whereas his other restaurants have his surname but also hint at the type of cuisine on offer such as Killen's BBQ, Killen's Burgers, Killen's TMX and Killen's Steakhouse. The one word name is a tribute to his family and inspiration for the newest enterprise, his most personal to date. Drawing from the traditional and comfort food of his family, particularly his maternal grandmother, Mimie Simecek, Killen is offering up plates of fried chicken, old-fashioned desserts and smothered pork chops along with his world class barbecue. In a press release, the cuisine is described as "the love language of Ronnie's family".

"I was inspired by my grandmother’s drive to make people happy with food," says Killen. "I spent a lot of time with my grandmother Millie and her daughter and son-in-law, my Aunt Margie and Uncle Wilfred, who were also my godparents. My Uncle Wilfred took me fishing, taught me how to make jerky and sausage, how to make sauces, how to barbecue brisket and the importance of cleanliness while cooking... It was a simpler time, and everything was farm-to-table. My grandmother always made chicken on Sunday — so on Saturday, she would get the chicken, butcher it, soak it in buttermilk, and that was the chicken! The food was pure; it tasted so good and it made me happy."

Feast with the family on fried chicken at Killen's.EXPAND
Feast with the family on fried chicken at Killen's.
Photo by Megha Bhandari

The 178-seat restaurant is located in the former home home of Hickory Hollow, a longtime Heights barbecue and comfort food spot. The space was given a major makeover with Killen enlisting architectural design group Sullivan, Henry, Oggero & Associates to give the building a fresh and updated look, inside and out. Black shutter accents to the building’s white exterior mimic the aesthetic of Mimie's home in Moulton, TX  while the interior takes inspiration from her kitchen with white countertops and shiplap walls pairing seamlessly with the building's 1940s ambiance.

Framed family photos and glass canister lighting in the bar add to the homey feel as does the open kitchen, a central focal point of the dining room where guests can take in all of the action of the kitchen through the clear glass. The kitchen also houses a Little Red Smoker, custom built for Ronnie by J&R Manufacturing and larger than any other used within the Killen’s Restaurant Group. Killen will share the role of executive chef with Teddy Lopez, who has also helmed the kitchen at Killen's STQ.

Killen's famous chicken fried steak with country gravy will be on the menu as will his barbecue ribs and brisket.  New additions include Southern classics like fried green tomatoes with buttermilk sauce and chicken and dumplings. Killen's famed bread pudding gets an updated twist. The Killen’s Peaches and Cream Bread Pudding features a crème brûléed peach topping.  Ronnie’s German Chocolate Cake with homemade chocolate icing is a recipe passed down from his Aunt Margie.

Old-fashioned desserts take the cake at Killen's.EXPAND
Old-fashioned desserts take the cake at Killen's.
Photo by Megha Bhandari

Dee Dee Killen will serve as beverage director and head of the wine program, as she does at all of the Killen's concepts. Expect a wine list similar to Killen’s STQ, with global varietals available by the glass and bottle. An oak wine cabinet, once housed at the original Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, has made its way to the new bar at Killen's and can house more than 250 bottles of wine. Cocktails are inspired by the restaurant's comfort food fare and many will be served in vintage glassware, adding to the retro feel.

That's a lot of weenies.EXPAND
That's a lot of weenies.
Photo by Aries George

The Original Hot Dog Factory, 920 Studemont, will open September 4. The casual eatery was founded in 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia and became a household name with its frequent mentions on Bravo's television series, Real Housewives of Atlanta. It offers specialty hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwiches, wings, salads and sides like fries and onion rings. There are milkshakes, too.

Along with classic dogs like the All American or the typical corn dog, the restaurant also has some over-the-top creations like the LA Dog, which is a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with chili cheese fries and grilled onions. There's also the Italian Dog, a deep-fried Italian sausage with bell peppers and onions. Be prepared for some "angina" if you're over 40. There's also the San Francisco Veggie Dog made with vegetarian soy or the Boston Dog, topped with baked beans. Those still working on their "quarantine fifteen" can take it to the limit with the Factory Loaded Fries which start out as chili cheese fries then get enhanced with bacon and diced hot dogs.

The first Houston location comes from franchisees Juanita and Bridgette Sharkey. The Original Hot Dog Factory rebranded itself in 2015 and has opened locations in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. However, it's moving fast across the country with locations slated for Birmingham, Charlotte, Raleigh and Detroit in the next couple of months.

Feel the energy from Nguyen and Mui.
Feel the energy from Nguyen and Mui.
Photo by Stephanie Tran/Tutor Route

Saigon House Food Truck, 2310 Decatur, launched last weekend, as reported by Eater Houston. It's a partnership between Saigon House owner and chef, Tony Nguyen and longtime friend, Matt Mui of Muiishi Makirritos. The two first knew each other from early days at Wokker Food Truck.

Nguyen originally opened Saigon House at 3102 Main in 2017 but closed it in September 2019. He recently reopened a new location of the Cajun/Asian restaurant on the Northside at 3645 Cypress Creek Parkway, or FM 1960 for those of us who have lived here for decades.. Nguyen told the Houston Press that due to the seasonal nature of crawfish, having a permanent location was expensive so he decided that he needed a strong food truck operation and someone to head the venture. Mui came to mind.

Saigon House's pho blends Texas with Vietnam.
Saigon House's pho blends Texas with Vietnam.
Photo by Mai Pham

Mui's own enterprise, Muiishi Makirritos, will be on hiatus as it eventually rebrands into the Saigon House Food Truck. Mui and Nguyen are working together to develop new menu items for both Saigon House and its food truck. For now, customers can delight in the blend of Texas, Cajun and Vietnamese flavors with choices such as Mini Shrimp Egg Rolls ($5.99), House Dumplings with ginger soy ($5.99 + $1 for Death Oil)  and Swanging Cat ($11.99) with blackened catfish, shrimp and fried rice. There's also Viet-Cajun Crawfish ($11.99) with a choice of Nguyen's signature H-Town Bang, Sissy Unicorn, Fiery Phoenix or Angry Dragon flavors.

The food truck has visited a number of places around town but its main parking spot is at the former space where Beaver's used to be on Decatur, which most recently housed Decatur Bar and Pop Up Factory. That space is currently undergoing preparations to open as Xin Chao, a modern Vietnamese restaurant Nguyen is opening with chef Christine Ha, who most people know as The Blind Chef from her championship win on Master Chef in 2012 and her  restaurant, The Blind Goat at Bravery Chef Hall. Nguyen told the Press that Xin Chao will be opening soon.

BCK has new deals for hungry diners.EXPAND
BCK has new deals for hungry diners.
Photo by Leslie Nguyen

BCK, 933 Studewood, has resumed operations in the Heights after closing July 5 for the safety of its staff and customers during the uptick in coronavirus cases. It reopened in early August and has added an updated menu with options like wings and tacos plus milkshakes in flavors such as chocolate, S'mores and Butterfinger. There are boozy adult shakes, too, which are 50 percent off on Thirsty Thursdays along with beer, wine and cocktails.

The new menu features items like a dozen wings for $15. They come with two sauces such as chipotle BBQ, mild, spicy, lemon pepper and sweet chili. The new taco plate has three tacos of either chicken, beef or pork. It comes with tomato rice and refried beans. The asking price is $12 but guests who mosey on down to BCK for Taco Tuesday can get the taco plate for a wallet-friendly $8. BCK  has begun a Wednesday Steak Night for $25.

It has also brought back its weekend brunch service which features comfort foods like Chilaquiles Verdes and Frito Pie Scramble. Guests can try one of the brunch-friendly cocktails or DIY with the Build Your Own Mimosas ($30). It includes a bottle of bubbles and a choice of juice.

For those not ready to dine-in, there are plenty of options to-go, including Burger Combos ($15) and a Wings Family Pack ($40) which has 36 wings plus a pound of French fries.

Pick a fave flave at Miss MIni Donuts.EXPAND
Pick a fave flave at Miss MIni Donuts.
Photo by Leslie Nguyen

Guests can also pick up boxes of donuts from BCK co-owner Leslie Nguyen's Miss Mini Donuts. The petite treats are offered in boxes of four, 25, 50 and 100. Flavor choices include colorful bites like Fruity Pebbles, Circus Animals, Cotton Candy or more traditional options such as Cinnamon Sugar and Powdered Sugar. Chocolate lovers can try Oreo or Kit Kat minis.

Papa was a rollin' stone and so is Daddy's Burgers.
Papa was a rollin' stone and so is Daddy's Burgers.
Photo by Shannon Smith

Daddy's Burgers, 5212 Morningside, is leaving its pop-up space in Rice Village and moving shop again. Where will it land next? We don't know but we have been promised that the new location will soon be revealed.

Coppa Osteria, 5210 Morningside, has resumed its Monday and Tuesday lunch service which means it is open daily for lunch and dinner. It offers freshly made pasta, pizza and seasonal specials.

Brasserie 19 is making quarantine classy.
Brasserie 19 is making quarantine classy.
Photo by Caroline Johnson

Brasserie 19,1962 W. Gray, has resumed its lunch service for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, beginning August 18. It is closed on Monday. Besides its dine-in and take home menus, the restaurant is offering a Happy Hour at Home menu from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily (except Monday). The menu to-go features nibbles such as the Charcuterie Board ($23), Tuna Tartare ($19) and Deviled Eggs with caviar ($12). There's also Pomme Frites on the menu, perfect for snacking on the drive home. For to-go happy hour cocktails, choices include Sangria ($8), the West Gray G & T ($8) and the Part and Parcel ($10), made with vodka, St. Germain, grapefruit and grapefruit bitters.

In-N-Out will arrive soon at Willowbrook.
In-N-Out will arrive soon at Willowbrook.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

In-N-Out Burger, 7611 FM 1960 W., is expected to open this summer, according to a customer service representative who told the Houston Press that it may be within the next month. That's not a definite, but the building itself looks ready for occupancy.

Namaste Indian Cuisine, 202 Sawdust, reopened in July 2020. The Woodlands restaurant was first opened in May 2015 by Jitu Chudasama and wife Hema after he was laid off from his job at Hewlett Packard. The restaurant closed in 2017 when they chose to sell. Now, Chudasama has re-purchased the restaurant and begun again. The interior has been refreshed and the new menu offers items for creating a customized Indian feast.

The first version was a buffet restaurant but customers are preferring the transition to a la carte. Starters include samosa, vegetable pakora, paneer pakora, papdi chaat, pani puri and dahi puri. There's an Indo-Chinese section of the menu with dishes like Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower fritters with sweet and sour sauce), chicken fried rice and vegetable noodles with Szechuan sauce. There is a variety of curry options including Vegetarian Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken plus lamb, goat and shrimp options as well. South Indian fare such as Mysore Masala Dosa and Uttapam are also part of the offerings.

Cinco de Mayo Mexican Restaurant and Bar, 1922 Greenhouse, opened in late July. It serves Mexican fare with Tex-Mex combos, burritos, tacos, chimichangas and quesadillas. The enchilada menu offers a variety including Chicken Ranchero, Beef Fajita, Verdes, Shrimp and Spinach. Sizzling fajitas, margaritas and handmade tortillas make every day a Cinco de Mayo.

Chris Williams 's new non-profit benefits our city's most vulnerable.EXPAND
Chris Williams 's new non-profit benefits our city's most vulnerable.
Photo by Jailyn Marcel

Lucille’s 1913, a non-profit initiative founded by Lucille’s chef/owner Chris Williams is partnering with Chris Shepherd's One Fifth restaurant to expand its 1913 Pop-Up Program.

Williams launched the patio bar pop-up series in July at his restaurant Lucille's, located in the Museum District. In partnership with Beam Suntory and Highway Vodka, the Thursday evening pop-up allows Houston-area bar teams to take over Lucille’s patio bar for the evening. The featured staff receive 100 percent of the sales and tips generated by their curated cocktails, with an additional $1 from each drink going to Lucille’s 1913, a non-profit which Williams launched in June of this year.

The pop-ups serve the joint purpose of supporting Houston’s bar professionals during COVID-19 and raising funds for the non-profit which has provided more than 45,000 meals to Houstonians in need, with a focus on the elderly in impoverished neighborhoods from Sunnyside to Acres Homes. Many of these seniors have been cut off from their families due to the risk of COVID-19.

Drink a cocktail, tip a bartender, feed someone in need.EXPAND
Drink a cocktail, tip a bartender, feed someone in need.
Photo by Jailyn Marcel

Shepherd’s One Fifth will become the second restaurant to implement the 1913 Pop-Up Program. With support from Lexus and Buffalo Trace, the fun pop-ups at One Fifth's patio on Wednesday nights, with $1 for every cocktail sold going to Lucille’s 1913.

Since kicking off the program with Marcus Davis'  Midtown bar and lounge, The Alley Kat, in July, Lucille's has hosted bar teams from NettBar, The Ready Room, Galveston’s Daiquiri Time Out and Eight Row Flint. The open-air patio at Lucille’s provides an environment which allows for strict social distancing. Customers can also support the program by ordering to-go cocktails via curbside pick-up. The Pop-ups are reservation-only with time caps on each reservation to maintain social distancing guidelines. Shepherd and his team plan to implement similar protocols at One Fifth.

“I’m so honored to be a part of this program,” Shepherd said in a press release from Lucille's. “It’s a win-win to be able to support both the struggling bar community and help feed vulnerable communities in Houston that have been devastated by COVID-19. We will get through this crisis together by supporting each other. So let’s do it, Houston!”

The Chris twins unite!

Get some Moontang for $3 at Rodeo Goat all day Monday.
Get some Moontang for $3 at Rodeo Goat all day Monday.
Photo by Daniel Villanueva

Rodeo Goat, 2105 Dallas, has some weekday specials that will make diners smile. Moontang Mondays offer $3 Moontangs, a frosty blend of Firefly Moonshine with Tang and "other things." Worthy Wednesdays mean half-price cheese fries and surprise fries. Its weekday happy hour runs Monday through Friday with $1 off wine and draft beers, $2,50 domestics and $3.50 well drinks. For those who like "linner," the Midday Meal Deal is a bargain with a $10 Burger of the Day plus French fries. The midday deal is available from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for dine-in or curbside pick up.

Flying Fish has Gulf seafood and American-farmed catfish.EXPAND
Flying Fish has Gulf seafood and American-farmed catfish.
Photo by Daniel Villanueva

Flying Fish, 1815 N. Durham, offers reasonably priced seafood, po'boys and burgers in a casual atmosphere but the deals get even better with some daily specials. Take-out Tuesday offers BOGO TO-GO all day which means customers can purchase a meal for up to $14.95 and get another menu item for the same price or less for free. Just place an order by phone for curbside pick-up. There are a couple of exclusions such as alcohol. On Wednesday, there is All You Can Eat Catfish for $17.95 and Sunday brings 75 cent oysters on the half shell.

The restaurant is open for dine-in, patio service, curbside pick-up and delivery. Make sure to add a $3 banana pudding.

Flying Saucer has growlers with Flair.
Flying Saucer has growlers with Flair.
Photo by Josh Justice

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 705 Main, is open for 25 percent dine-in capacity and also for take-out. It has shelved its bartop service for the time being. The pub also has a limited time Wooooooston! growler that can be ordered online for pick up. The growler is $12 empty or $28 filled with beer from 8th Wonder Brewery. Flying Saucer has plenty of take home beer-friendly nosh like its twelve-inch Saucer Pies, Soft Pretzels and Queso with Chips.

The Spoetzl Brewery, 603 E. Brewery, is turning out its own line of hard seltzer. The  111 year-old brewery in Shiner, Texas is known best for its  Shiner Bock, a beer whose popularity in Texas is iconic. The new hard seltzers come in four flavors, Wild Cherry, Lemonade, Mango, and Grapefruit and Lime. The Lemonade and Wild Cherry will be available in six-packs while the variety twelve-pack will feature all four flavors.

The canned drinks are gluten-free with zero carbs and sugar. They also have just 90 calories. They make their debut the last week of August.

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