Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Peli Peli Woodlands Opens, Toasted Coconut Debuts, Night Heron Evolves

Beer braised short ribs  are hearty fare at Peli Peli.
Beer braised short ribs are hearty fare at Peli Peli. Photo by Sabrina Miskelly
Peli Peli, 1201 Lake Woodlands, opened September 3. The South African-inspired restaurant takes its name from the bird's eye chili pepper discovered by Portuguese settlers in the South African plains nearly 600 years ago. This makes the fourth location for Peli Peli restaurant, which was co-founded in 2010 by Thomas Nguyen, who also is a contributing food writer for the Houston Press. Nguyen left behind his career as a litigation lawyer to follow a path that would offer him the opportunity to fulfill his passion for business and marketing. In 2014, Nguyen and his partners were featured on Season 3 of CNBC's Restaurant Startup, which helped to launch the brand's fast casual concept, Peli Peli Kitchen, in 2016.

click to enlarge The new Peli Peli represents Cape Dutch architecture. - PHOTO BY KIMBERLY PARK
The new Peli Peli represents Cape Dutch architecture.
Photo by Kimberly Park

In July 2018, the partners brought in Ryan Stewart as Culinary Director to make some changes to the menu such as including peri peri chicken, a wildly popular dish in South Africa and also a specialty of Stewart's as he is the co-founder of the South African chain, Mozambik, which has 15 locations throughout Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. There, the dish is referred to as piri piri. You say piri, I say peri, she says peli. It's all the same pepper.

click to enlarge The sticky toffee pudding at Peli Peli is enough to split. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The sticky toffee pudding at Peli Peli is enough to split.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Stewart has now been made executive chef at Peli Peli and has been busy streamlining the new menu and updating recipes. Some of the prices on its signature dishes such as bobotie, espetada and the indulgent sticky toffee pudding have been reduced, along with a few portion sizes. There are also larger plates for sharing, allowing diners to sample dishes they may have never had before. Healthy choices like vegetables and seafood are featured more prominently as well. Lighter fare options include the grilled cauliflower steak and seared scallops.

click to enlarge The new Peli Peli decor is a departure from the previous locations. - PHOTO BY SABRINA MISKELLY
The new Peli Peli decor is a departure from the previous locations.
Photo by Sabrina Miskelly

The new version of Peli Peli takes over the space formerly occupied by Mi Cocina. However, there have been major renovations, with the exterior reflecting the Cape Dutch architecture of the Western Cape of South Africa. The interior deviates from the vibrant colors of the other locations, with stained black beams, dark booths and a few pieces of black and white artwork lining the walls. There is a covered patio which seats 30 and a renovated private dining room which can accommodate 40 guests. There's a full bar, separated from the main dining room by enclosed shelves of wine bottles.

Along with Chef Stewart, Macey Maples, a veteran of Peli Peli, joins the Woodlands location as chef de cuisine. Patrick Wise will serve as the general manager.

click to enlarge It's low tide at The Toasted Coconut. - PHOTO BY VIVIAN LEBA
It's low tide at The Toasted Coconut.
Photo by Vivian Leba

The Toasted Coconut, 1617 Richmond, opened September 4.  This is the second concept for husband and wife duo, Chef Martin Stayer and Sara Stayer, of Nobie’s Restaurant. The full service restaurant claims to be the first tiki-ispired concept in Houston to offer a chef-curated menu.

Bar Director Sarah Troxell has created a cocktail menu inspired by her enthusiasm for the tiki culture, which will include 17 libations using various liquors and other spirits bases including some low ABV options. Cocktails like Jamaica Me Crazy with Absolut Lime, hibiscus, cherry, lime, and Topo Chico or the Low Tide, with Oloroso sherry, Stolen Overproof Jamaican rum, pecan orgeat, orange curacao, lime and bitters will transport Houstonians from the streets of Montrose to the beaches of Maui. The waterfall feature will help as well. Troxell will focus on using fresh juices, shrubs and homemade liqueurs in the cocktails. Drinks will be presented in vintage tiki mugs, coconuts or fun glassware with unique garnishes. Tiki-inspired cocktails will be a highlight of the bar program, but there are plenty of classic mixed drinks and spirits available as well.

click to enlarge Have a couple of drinks and a couple of smiles at The Toasted Coconut. - PHOTO BY VIVIAN LEBA
Have a couple of drinks and a couple of smiles at The Toasted Coconut.
Photo by Vivian Leba

Sara Stayer has developed the beer and wine list for The Toasted Coconut, choosing lighter beers to accompany the menu including Pacifico, Tecate, Tiki Wheat from Galveston  and Yuzu Lager, a rice lager from Japan. Sara has also included Hawaii Five Ale, a blonde ale with pineapple and mango from her home state of Illinois. The wine list will offer a small list of sustainable wines served by the glass, including From the Tank wines by Jenny and Francois Selections.

The menu at The Toasted Coconut is inspired by the 20th parallel, combining small “tiki bites” and “mainland eats” for mixing and matching with plenty of protein and veggie options. The mapo frito, Thai crispy rice, and a variety of skewer and dumplings that were featured at the "Get Toasty" pop ups are on the menu and come in at less than $10. Other “tiki bites” include nuts sprinkled with Sichuan spices, cheekily coined "Numb Nuts". There are four “mainland eats” on the menu large enough to share with friends like Grandma’s Hot Chicken which can be ordered by the half ($19) or whole($35). The Whole Fish Masala ($35) is another shareable.

Martin has brought in Ben Ruiz as chef de cuisine. Ruiz has spent the past eight years working with Hogsalt Hospitality in Chicago. While in Chicago earlier this year, the Stayers ran into Ruiz while having a drink at Lone Wolf and recruited him. Ruiz said in a press release, “Running into Martin and Sara in Chicago was unexpected. I was ready for another opportunity and when Martin started telling me about The Toasted Coconut, it sounded like the right move".

click to enlarge The palapa stays. - PHOTO BY VIVIAN LEBA
The palapa stays.
Photo by Vivian Leba
The grand palapa remains from the previous occupant, Maria Selma,  perfect for the tiki concept. Stephen Hale of Houston Landscaping and Design outfitted the patio with tropical landscaping and a waterfall feature. Planters of bamboo will provide privacy and an island feel. Vintage movie posters and Polynesian masks help to carry the theme indoors. There's also an adult sandbox and a “cool kids” lounge.

click to enlarge Jonathan Pittman is leading Night Heron's transition. - PHOTO BY JULIA WEBER
Jonathan Pittman is leading Night Heron's transition.
Photo by Julia Weber

Night Heron
, 1601 W. Main, has promoted Jonathan Pittman to chef de cuisine to lead the transition of the bar/restaurant into a neighborhood bistro, taking its cue from another Agricole Hospitality restaurant, Coltivare. Owners Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber and Vincent Huynh realized that the hybrid concept with its late night hours and large cocktail selection was getting more play as a neighborhood restaurant. In keeping with the evolving theme, the restaurant will be adding items like freshly baked focaccia and from-scratch pasta, made daily by Sonia Martinez, who worked with Pittman previously at Pass & Provisions, which closed in May.  Dishes like pepper-roasted 44 Farms sirloin with braised radicchio and Coltivare's signature cacio e pepe will be in line with the bistro theme, while Night Heron's chicken frites and smoked Gouda burger will remain on the menu.

click to enlarge The smoked Gouda burger is sticking around at Night Heron. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER PHOTOGRAPHY
The smoked Gouda burger is sticking around at Night Heron.
Photo by Julie Soefer Photography
General Manager, Danny Kirgan, is expanding the wine list, with a focus on Italian wines and other Old World varietals.

There will be gradual decor changes such as the removal of some of the sofas to make way for more dining tables and a window facing Mandell Street is planned for the future. Also planned for the future is a new lunch service, which should be rolled out in the next six months.

click to enlarge Erich Hoff has joined Brisket U. - PHOTO BY RACHAEL HOFF
Erich Hoff has joined Brisket U.
Photo by Rachael Hoff
Brisket U, has added Erich Hoff (pronounced Air-ish Hoff) to its pitmaster line up. The company teaches wannabe grill masters all the basics and tips on grilling and barbecuing. Its partnerships with Academy Sports and Outdoors and Duke's Premium Meats created a need for an additional pitmaster to keep up with its private events and backyard pitmaster classes, many of which are held at local breweries.

Hoff is a marketing manager at Williamsburg Enterprises, but the heritage of his German ancestors, who immigrated through Galveston in the 1880s, gave him a love of food, celebration and community. He is a Chief Cook of the Cowboy Scientists BBQ Team and also served on the Pickin' N Grillin' BBQ team at the barbecue competition, Memphis in May. He and Big Moe Cason were named two of five finalists in the 2019 Reynolds Wrap Chief Grilling Officer search out of 10,000 applicants. Hoff, his wife Rachael and his parents, have served Texas brisket to such rock 'n roll celebrities as Sammy Hagar, Vince Neil and ZZ Top at Shellabration, an annual music festival in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

click to enlarge Gooey's has milkshakes for a summer treat. - PHOTO BY GINGER JONES.
Gooey's has milkshakes for a summer treat.
Photo by Ginger Jones.

Gooey's, 25626 Northwest Freeway, celebrated its grand opening August 24. The shop is owned by Ginger and Terrell Jones and serves a variety of Blue Bell ice cream along with freshly baked cookies, brownies, waffles and donuts. They are sort of like ice cream cookie sandwiches meet cookies a la mode. You can make a gooey concoction of your own. There are also fried Oreos, rice crispy treats and milkshakes. For a truly over-the-top treat, try the Wholly Molly. It's a doughnut hole sundae.  Doughnut holes are better than doughnuts because you get more of the crispy outside. At least, that's this writer's opinion.

click to enlarge To quote the great Cookie Monster, "Me like cookies!" - PHOTO BY TERRELL JONES.
To quote the great Cookie Monster, "Me like cookies!"
Photo by Terrell Jones.
The couple opened the shop because Ginger wanted out of the corporate world. The name Gooey's comes from their daughters who they nicknamed Gracie Goo and Gabby Goo. The girls will probably never forgive me for letting the whole city of Houston know that.

Ike's Love and Sandwiches, 1051 Heights Boulevard, began its soft opening August 19. Based in San Francisco, the sandwich chain was founded by Ike Shehadeh on Halloween 2007 and has grown to include over 55 locations, primarily in California with a couple in Nevada and Austin. The Heights locale is the first for the Houston area.

The sandwich shop is known for its Dutch bread rolls which offer a little crunch on the outside, from the rice flour and sugar that are brushed on top, resulting in a crunchy, spackled crust. In the Netherlands, the bread is called tijgoorbrood, or tiger bread, due to the striped appearance, according to Food and Wine magazine.

The chain is also known for its wide variety of vegetarian, vegan and halal choices. This being Houston, however, you can also order the Grant Pinkerton, a sandwich filled with Pinkerton BBQ brisket, pastrami, bbq aioli and provolone ($13).

One Dim Sum, 510 Gray, opened August 28, taking over the Midtown spot vacated by Maba Pan-Asian Diner, which closed in September 2018. The new restaurant serves Cantonese-style dim sum dishes, rice and noodle plates, and stir fries like tenderloin beef in Mongolian sauce.  Some of the dim sum options include crispy prawn Cheung Fun ($7), pan fried dumplings ($5) and salted egg yolk custard sesame balls ($6). We think the BBQ venison puff ($7) sounds interesting.
click to enlarge Napoli's on Jones has closed after many years in business. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Napoli's on Jones has closed after many years in business.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Napoli's, 13323 Jones, closed late August. The pizza and Italian restaurant has served the Norchester neighborhood and surrounding community for more than 30 years and in that time, not a dime was put into cleaning up the joint, updating the drab decor or fixing the wobbly ice machine and soft drink area. Don't get me started on the restrooms. However, they had damn good New Jersey style-pizza and it was a ten minute walk from my house, so I am a little bummed.

Choong Man Chicken, 1927 Gessner, opened August  19. The Korean fried chicken chain has a number of locations in Virginia, Georgia and Chicago. The Spring Branch store offers much of the same menu, including the fried chicken with a choice of sauces like gochujang or garlic soy.  For those who prefer their chicken oven baked (yes, those people exist), there's the Tikkudak option. The Snow Onion chicken is for those who like onions and like them raw. There's the original, hot or curry versions topped with a mound of white onions. Whichever you choose, you will be, as Barbara Mandrell sings, "sleeping single in a double bed ".

Choong Man has a happy hour Monday through Friday, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. with half-priced beers and wing specials. There is a $7.99 lunch special Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a choice of five wings or tenders, coleslaw, french fries or rice and a soda.

click to enlarge Jason Gould has parted ways with The Original Ninfa's Uptown. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Jason Gould has parted ways with The Original Ninfa's Uptown.
Photo by Julie Soefer

The Original Ninfa's Uptown, 1700 Post Oak Boulevard, has lost its executive chef, Jason Gould, as reported by CultureMap Houston. Gould, formerly of Gravitas and Cyclone Anaya's Mexican Kitchen, was recruited by Legacy Restaurants to head the Uptown location in January. The much anticipated restaurant was opened this past June. There is no word as to why Gould has left his position, but CEO Jonathan Horowitz told CultureMap:

"Jason is an excellent chef, and he was instrumental in getting Ninfa’s Uptown Houston open and operating. We are working hard to recreate the food, service and experience of the Original Ninfa's at the new location. To that end, we are bringing more employees from Navigation to Uptown, including executive chef Alex Padilla, sous chef Adan Vasquez, and several other Original Ninfa's veterans. We certainly appreciate all of Chef Jason’s contributions and wish him the best in the future."

click to enlarge It's fresh corn tamale season at Hugo's. - PHOTO BY PAULA MURPHY
It's fresh corn tamale season at Hugo's.
Photo by Paula Murphy
Hugo's, 1600 Westheimer, is rolling out fresh corn tamale specials for September. Tamale fiends can enjoy two tamales for $9. The hard part is deciding which of the three flavors to order. There's the Tradicionale, with salsa macha, crema fresca and queso fresco. There's also the Pasilla Mole, with queso cotija, roasted mushrooms and mole sauce. Finally, there's the Calabaza Miel,  tamala squash with fresh corn masa, local Urban Honey, fire roasted squash, crema fresca and queso fresco. For $9, you get to indulge in tamales created by one of Houston's best chefs, Hugo Ortega.

click to enlarge Verdine's Naya Curry is like butter chicken, but with cauliflower. - PHOTO BY STEPHANIE HOBAN
Verdine's Naya Curry is like butter chicken, but with cauliflower.
Photo by Stephanie Hoban

Verdine, 449 W. 19th, launched its separate lunch and dinner menus, September 3, along with new happy hour specials. New items include Naya Curry ($18), a dish of garam masala cauliflower curry served with organic turmeric jasmine rice, green beans and vegan naan. At dinner, there will be rotating gluten-free cauliflower crust pizzas. Currently on offer is the Veggie Supreme, which, beside lots of veggies and kalamata olives, has Beyond Meat Italian sausage.

Happy hour specials run from Tuesday to Friday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and include a changing menu of small dishes like arancini, kimchi Brussels sprouts and eggplant dumplings. There are $4 beers, $10 sangria and a selection of several wines by the glass ($7).

Through the month of September, the restaurant is offering "Friends for Life Curry Fries" to raise money for the Friends for Life animal rescue.
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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.