Bar Beat

Openings and Closings: Leibman's Reopens, Pepper Twins Expands

Leibman's has a fresh new look.
Leibman's has a fresh new look. Photo by Debora Smail

Leibman's Eatery, Market and Gifts, 10100 Katy Freeway, opened April 16, as the new location of what was once Leibman's Wine and Fine Foods. Ettienne and Ralph Leibman emigrated from South Africa to Houston and opened the original shop in 1979, selling hard to find South African foods and deli fare. The new place is keeping some of the traditional items such as the homemade corned beef and the popular appetizer dips, but daughter Sharon Leibman has added her own spin on the new restaurant/store, its menu and decor. It sells South African goods, gifts and housewares, while also offering a menu of deli favorites and dishes like chicken salad Afrique.

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Morning persons can enjoy hearty offerings like the '79 Classic, which consists of two eggs, bacon or corned beef, potato latkes, and a choice of sourdough or multi-grain toast. Or you can keep it simple with a bagel and schmear.

click to enlarge You might want to split the Rueben with a friend unless you want to be Rubenesque. - PHOTO BY DEBORA SMAIL
You might want to split the Rueben with a friend unless you want to be Rubenesque.
Photo by Debora Smail

There are plenty of deli options with some mix and match choices, as well as homemade soups and sandwiches. There are a variety of wines available for dinner diners, or lunch lingerers.

The much-loved Gone in a Minute Dip will be carried over from the former location, as well as the staff who have transitioned to the new spot because the Leibmans consider them family.

click to enlarge The new restaurant is mini, but the flavors are maximum. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PEPPER TWINS
The new restaurant is mini, but the flavors are maximum.
Photo courtesy of Pepper Twins

Pepper Twins Mini, 9721 Broadway, opened March 31 in Pearland. The fifth outpost of Yunan Yang's popular Chinese restaurant is a smaller version with only eight tables for dining in.  Yang is expected to open a sixth Pepper Twins at City Centre, according to CultureMap Houston. Yang told the Houston Press that she will " try to make it come true before Thanksgiving" of 2018.

Yang left her original career in cancer research to focus on creating a restaurant that serves organic and additive free meals inspired by her hometown of Chonquing, China. Three years ago, she left Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and two children for Texas to open Cooking Girl with her sister Lily Luo in 2015, then branched out on her own with the first Pepper Twins at 1915 West Gray in September 2016. When a cancer researcher chooses to open a restaurant dedicated to serving organic and additive free food, there is probably some scientific knowledge behind it.

Yang tries to use locally sourced ingredients, when possible. However, the Sichuan peppercorns, which are really the berries of a spiky tree in China, come from Chonquing. Kinda hard to source them locally.

click to enlarge Brangelina may be no more, but this Mr. and Mrs. Smith is sticking around. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PEPPER TWINS
Brangelina may be no more, but this Mr. and Mrs. Smith is sticking around.
Photo courtesy of Pepper Twins

GQ magazine named Pepper Twins' specialty dish, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the best appetizer of 2017. The spicy dish consists of beef tendon and brisket in sesame paste, chiles, Sichuan peppercorns and scallions. Other popular favorites are the dried fried green beans and Berkshire pork belly. However, it's the eggplant dishes that please the folks looking for authentic Chinese food.

There are also locations on Fairview, West Gray, Kirby and another in Katy.

The restaurants are BYOB with a $5 corkage fee, so you can plan ahead of time for a wine that goes well with Sichuan (or Szechuan) cuisine. Or BYO beer, with a $1 (pop-a-top?) fee. All locations are closed on Mondays and also close between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, so plan accordingly for your spicy Sichuan cravings.

Hay Merchant, 1100 Westheimer, is reopening April 22, after a temporary closure for renovations on the beer cooler. The bar is adjacent to owner/chef Chris Shepherd's acclaimed restaurant Underbelly, which closed recently to make way for Shepherd's newest concept, Georgia James.

The crew at Hay Merchant has been busy in the past few weeks doing popups at Blacksmith with steak nights and burger nights. There have also been parking lot gatherings for Viet-Cajun crawfish and take away opportunities for dishes such as Korean Fried Chicken (which sold out in less than 20 minutes).

A few Underbelly favorites will make their way onto the Hay Merchant menu, including seasonal fried pies and braised goat and dumplings.

Hay Merchant will be adding a lunch service when it reopens.

Photo courtesy of Tea + Victory

Tea + Victory, 2030 E. TC Jester, opened April 10, according to the Houston Chronicle. The board game cafe comes from owners Jason Bush, Vanessa Briceno and Meghan Rega, who admittedly have no restaurant experience, but have backgrounds in computer programming, game design and graphic design.

However, they've wisely brought in consulting chef, Ben McPherson (of Batanga and the soon to open BOH at Bravery Chef Hall)) and the menu will feature items like chicken tikka masala and cottage pie. Other British-inspired dishes include pasties and tea sandwiches. If you just want a light snack, try the Hungry Hippo party mix.

click to enlarge Hungry Hippo party mix adds to the game playing fun. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TEA + VICTORY
Hungry Hippo party mix adds to the game playing fun.
Photo courtesy of Tea + Victory

The restaurant was designed by Houston designer, Erin Hicks, and features a wall of shelving stacked with board games for kids, adults, and those still stuck between.

The clever website gives a hint into the quirky and fun concept. There are 500 board games to choose from, plus trained Game Guides to aid players in the ins and outs of play. The cost is $5 per person to play all day, with local craft beers, wine, loose-leaf teas and locally roasted coffee on offer to keep players fortified.

There are plans to have learning events, board game developer nights and food/drink/game pairing specials. An outdoor area may be in the cafe's future if the owners can figure how to keep the game cards from flying away.

This new place to eat, play, drink follows on the heels of Coral Sword Game Cafe, 1318 Telephone, which opened February 2 of this year.

Let the games begin!

Coterie will open in the summer of 2018 in Market Square Tower, 777 Preston, according to the Chronicle. Not much information is available about the restaurant other than it will have a "European ambiance" and furniture and fixtures from Italy. The residential tower, famed for its " skypool" and its plexiglass overhang 40 stories up, is filling up rapidly with its first retail tenant being CVS pharmacy.

click to enlarge Houston is being served with pastel prettiness. - PHOTO COURTESY OF AQUA S
Houston is being served with pastel prettiness.
Photo courtesy of Aqua S
Aqua S, 9889 Bellaire, opened in March. The funky ice cream chain out of Sydney, Australia has brought its first U.S. location to Houston and the new shop is owned by Martina Yang. The spot formerly housed the T7 Game Room Double Jackpot, according to Fox 26 news. Now, it's a frozen treat paradise that one Yelper described as the inside of a Care Bear's house. Ice cream is a sweeter vice than gambling.

click to enlarge It's like ice cream on a cloud. - PHOTO COURTESY OF AQUA S
It's like ice cream on a cloud.
Photo courtesy of Aqua S
Some patrons go for the colorful cones wrapped in cotton candy and the obligatory Instagram photos to make their friends jelly. The daredevils might try the Durian flavored ice cream with a smell so rank that consumption is required outside. Most of us will just enjoy the creamy soft-serve flavors that rotate on the first and sixteenth of every month.

For new parents wanting a show-off photo of their little angel, the pink painted wings on the wall make a perfect backdrop.

Photo Courtesy of Catalina Coffee
Finn Hall,712 Main, is slated to open in mid-2018 inside The Jones on Main and has confirmed another business to its line-up. Amaya Coffee will join other operators such as Good Co. Taqueria, Mala Sichuan, Dish Society, Low Tide, and Mr. Nice Pie.

Amaya Coffee comes from Max Gonzalez, who also owns Catalina Coffee and Amaya Roasting Company, where the coffee for the Finn Hall location will be roasted.

Gonzalez founded Amaya Roasting Company in 2008. Amaya is his mother's maiden name.

click to enlarge Big meats need a Big Red. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOEY VICTORIAN
Big meats need a Big Red.
Photo courtesy of Joey Victorian

Victorian's Barbecue, 1114 West 18th, announced that it plans to move to a permanent location at 19 North York, east of downtown with a target date of January 2019, according to Houston Food Finder. The barbecue truck will continue to serve patrons at the Heights location until it makes its move to the new spot. Joey Victorian said, " We may as well be in a brick and mortar if we're going to pay this much to be on a piece of land," referring to the rental rate hike on the lot where his present business is located.

Victorian is known for his tri-tip, a cut popular in California which takes some careful, expert smoking to prevent it from drying out. He sources the tri-tips from 44 Farms and serves it with a chimichurri sauce. He also does Texas-style brisket and incorporates his Louisiana heritage into his seasonings.

The barbecue trailer serves Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to sell-out, usually before 4 p.m. Its Facebook page is a good way to check on availability and the occasional Wednesday " Sammies" day. It's also a good place to find out when pop-ups may happen at the future location.

click to enlarge It's Brew:30, time for a beer. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BREW:30 TAPHOUSE
It's Brew:30, time for a beer.
Photo courtesy of Brew:30 Taphouse
Brew:30 Taphouse, 15914 Telge, opened April 7, according to Community Impact. Owner Tiffany Richie was formerly an owner at Rockwell Grill, also located on Telge. She and co-owner, Gary Marley, opened the business because of their love and appreciation for craft beer. There are thirty rotating taps for local, regional, and national beers, plus four wines on tap.There is a dog-friendly patio (not an easy find in Cypress) and there are plans for yard games in the future. There is no food menu, but the taphouse plans to bring in food trucks to provide munchies to accompany the brews.

click to enlarge Gather your friends for some brews and conviviality. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BREW:30 TAPHOUSE
Gather your friends for some brews and conviviality.
Photo courtesy of Brew:30 Taphouse
There is also a crowler machine, which was a first for us. Patrons can select a beer to take home, then a 32-ounce can is filled and sealed. Growlers can be filled as well.

click to enlarge That beer looks wicked good. - PHOTO COURTESY OF WICKED BOXER BREWING
That beer looks wicked good.
Photo courtesy of Wicked Boxer Brewing
With the constant development to meet the growing population in Cypress, breweries and beer halls are opening up at a rapid pace to provide for suburbanites who don't want to drive downtown for hip brews and delicious food trucks. Wicked Boxer Brewing, 16326 Mueschke, opened several months ago and is turning out dog-themed beers with names like Wiggle Butt and Stealth Licker. One happy beer drinker mixed them together and called it, well, we will leave you to figure it out. Hint: it wasn't Wiggle Stealth.

The brewery was founded by Brian and Jamie Cain, whose romance led to marriage and two children. They also have a love of beer and boxer dogs, with Shiloh and Rogue being their first two canine babies and inspiring a couple of namesake brews.

Brian is a U.S. Marine veteran and has collaborated with JR Smith, founder of the local non-profit, Guns to Hammers, to create a red ale in which a dollar from every pint sold will go to help the organization with projects for wounded veterans.

The brewery hosts food trucks much of the time, but Frio Grill is only a three-minute walk away if hunger pangs strike while sipping a Lucky Boxer. The adorable pint glasses are decorated with a boxer's face (the dog breed, not Rocky Balboa). As you probably guessed, it's pooch-friendly.

click to enlarge Tomball is getting a new brewpub. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Tomball is getting a new brewpub.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Fire Ant Brewpub, 308 Market Street, is still putting the finishing touches on its restaurant, but the brewing has begun. Lucky festival goers got a preview during the Tomball German Festival. The outdoor terrace with its picnic tables and the overhanging balcony are sure to be the newest hotspot in a town that still retains its old railroad stop charm despite its rapidly growing community.

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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.