Restaurant News

Openings & Closings: What the Hell Happened This Week, Houston?

Seriously, guys. What the living hell. This has been one of the craziest weeks for openings and closings that I can recall in a long time. So when I say prepare for a ton of news ahead, I mean it.

The biggest news of an already huge news week was word that Bobby Heugel and company are the new operating partners for the original Ninfa's on Navigation as well as the original Antone's Famous Po'Boys. I think that most of us can agree that both parties responsible for the stewardship of these Houston institutions did a bang-up job of running them into the ground over the last decade (the original Ninfa's being the sole exception in the otherwise crumbling Ninfa's empire, thanks to Niel and Chase Morgan), so it's heartening to see a younger generation of restaurateurs stepping up to be stewards of two restaurants which should be well-preserved for future generations of Houstonians to enjoy.

Legacy Restaurants, which bought Ninfa's on Navigation and Antone's in 2006, will still own and operate the restaurants, and the talented Alex Padilla will still serve as executive chef for both. Bobby Heugel, Michael Burnett and Kevin Floyd will be responsible for the future operations of both the Original Ninfa's and Antone's, while Niel Morgan and his son Chase will continue as owners and custodians of two of Houston's oldest and most iconic brands -- both of which are celebrating anniversaries soon. Ninfa's will turn 40 next year, will Antone's will turn 50.

"We have worked hard to preserve both the Original Ninfa's and Antone's traditions for a new generation to enjoy. There is no other group of restaurateurs we would trust more to help us continue this effort," said Niel Morgan in a press release. "Their dedication and success in preserving and enhancing the culinary scene of Houston makes them perfect."

Meanwhile, Ninfa's on Navigation is getting a new neighbor -- and some serious competition -- in the form of a brand-new El Tiempo Cantina. The restaurant chain has Houston roots that go even deeper than Ninfa's, too: It's been around for 55 years and is run by none other than Dominic Laurenzo, grandson of Mama Ninfa Laurenzo herself. Dominic's father, Roland, purchased the property next door to his mother's original restaurant and has already laid the slab for what will be a $1.75 million restaurant when it opens early next year.

Meanwhile, another culinary team has announced big plans: The Revival Market crew will be opening Coltivare this coming spring in the Heights at 3320 White Oak, not far from Revival's current location. Coltivare, which means "to cultivate" in Italian, will serve Italian food created with local, seasonal ingredients -- many of which executive chef Ryan Pera hopes will come from Coltivare's adjoining 3,000-square-foot garden.

"The Italian cooking philosophy is all about using the seasonal ingredients on hand and keeping the preparation pure and simple," said Pera in a press release. "At Revival Market, we've cultivated an environment in which our diners come to experience the purest essence or presentation of a given dish, whether it be the perfect cup of coffee, the best B.L.T. sandwich, the kolache that gets you up in the morning. I cannot wait to get at the challenge of making a pizza worthy of the Revival name."

Coltivare plans to open in this spring for dinner and weekend brunch. And in keeping with the Heights "dry" tradition, the restaurant will offer "private club" membership with a unique wine list and full bar.

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Katharine Shilcutt