Openings & Closings: The Chock Full o'Nuts Edition

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Remember last week, when we blithely reported that it had been such a wonderful week of good news? Prepare yourself for a mixed bag this week -- and it's a big bag -- starting with the ugly stuff.

After Caffe Bello's abrupt closure, there were rumors that a Tex-Mex place would be moving into the old La Strada building at Taft and Westheimer. The rumors are true: Don Julio's Mexican Restaurant is shacking up in the snakebit spot, taking a stab at a hip, Inner Loop location for God only knows what reason. The restaurant has decent margaritas but very average-to-below-average food.

And with lots of Tex-Mex restaurants already dominating the area (and a Mexico's Deli moving in soon next to the future Uchi location), I have very little hope that Don Julio's will succeed where Tony Vallone did not. At least there's a silver lining for Lower Westheimer in the recent news that Bobby Heugel acquired Mary's and plans to preserve the old girl.

Over in Rice Village, Patu Thai has also closed, according to B4-U-Eat. This was the first Thai restaurant I ever tried and I became a loyal fan thereafter, enjoying a calm meal in its charmingly narrow interior and introducing one friend after another to its delicious cuisine.

There is good news this week, however, including news of two new restaurants to look for in the next few months: Lucille and Celtic Gardens.

Lucille is the project of Chris Williams, a chef who worked with Robert Gadsby and, more recently, at Max's Wine Dive. Williams has decided to open a place of his own in the Museum District, an area that's sorely lacking in great restaurant options. In a phone conversation with him yesterday, Williams told me that his plan for Lucille is to "redefine Southern cuisine using all the flavors picked up in Europe," a reference to his four years of culinary studies abroad. He has the pedigree for it, too: Williams says that his great-grandmother pioneered a culinary education program at Prairie View A&M University back in the day. He expects Lucille to be open in two to three months.

Meanwhile, a new build-out at Louisiana and Hadley had Midtowners wondering what was going up, and here's the answer: Celtic Gardens. The sign hung from the construction site says that the Gardens will be a "patio, bar and oasis." It's owned by the same folks who run the neighboring Pub Fiction and a representative of the bar said that the Gardens are shooting for an end-of-June opening date.

Elouise Adams Jones -- she of Ouisie's fame -- is about to open a new restaurant, only her third in the 38 years since Ouisie's Table was first opened. The yet-to-be-named restaurant will not be another Ouisie's Table, per se, but it will feature plenty of Southern flair. Jones is referring to it at present as an "American bistro" that will "give her much-appreciated eclectic tendencies even more freedom." I'm assuming that at least part of the freedom will stem from the restaurant's promised casual vibe. It will open in the space at 2810 Westheimer, which is currently occupied by Tony Mandola's until it moves into its new build-out on West Gray, this fall.

Literally right across the street, Chef Olivier Ciesielski is primed to revive the now-dormant Brownstone, once a bastion of the River Oaks old guard, as The Brownstone Cafe. Even as far back as 1998, though, the restaurant was in decline: A Zagat review from that year knocked the food as "inconsistent" and "mediocre," and the atmosphere as "overstuffed." Ciesielski is accustomed to the clientele that are needed to revive the old girl, however, having spent ten years as the executive chef at Tony's. The reboot of the Brownstone is scheduled for June, and the restaurant expects to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But we aren't done yet. There's simply too much restaurant news to fit on one page this week. Click ahead.

Downtown, the still-in-progress Phoenicia announced plans to open "an eclectic wine and beer bar" called MKT BAR, attached to its grocery store on the ground floor of the One Park Place building. You can read the entire press release here, courtesy of B4-U-Eat, which promises boutique wines and beers alongside gourmet pizza and daily gelatos.

And in other wine bar news, a tipster let CultureMap know that Corkscrew has popped back up again -- as promised -- in the Heights. And that one sentence is about as much interest as I have in the entire cockamamie situation.

And coming soon to The Woodland's Market Street development are two build-your-own places sure to be popular with the suburban demographic: The Counter, with its breezy, modern malt shop vibe, and Salata, which will open next door. Burgers for the kids and salads for the moms; it's a win-win situation.

Last but not least, it's true: Chef Michael Gaspard has left Brasserie 19 only a few short weeks into the restaurant's life. In my recent first look, I praised the kitchen for turning out such high quality food in such a frenzied atmosphere; that atmosphere is precisely the reason Gaspard left, as the pressure mounted to turn more and more tables each night with a decreasing emphasis on quality. Owner Charles Clark admitted as much to CultureMap, saying that Gaspard "won't give in to cutting corners to handle the tremendous volume." It was an odd admission, to say the least.

However, Clark and co-owner Grant Cooper have brought in a familiar face to take Gaspard's place: the talented Antoine Ware, who was Chris Shepherd's right-hand man for many years at Catalan. I wish him all the luck -- and speed -- in the world in this new position, his very first as executive chef.

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