Openings and Closings: Underbelly is Closing Soon, Feges BBQ is Coming

Chris Shepherd is the Renaissance man of Houston.
Chris Shepherd is the Renaissance man of Houston. Photo by Julie Soefer
Underbelly, 1100 Westheimer, Chris Shepherd's acclaimed restaurant is closing March 31. Underbelly was a critic's darling when it first debuted six years ago, thrilling patrons and gourmands alike with its intense focus on locally sourced ingredients and inventive cuisine inspired by Houston's cultural diversity. Shepherd, who won the James Beard Best Chef: Southwest in 2014, is looking to further expand his restaurant empire with Georgia James, a steakhouse that will take over the space after Underbelly closes, inspired by his previous One-Fifth Steak and named for his parents. Shepherd's newest project, UB Preserv, is expected to open a couple of weeks later at 1609 Westheimer. His restaurant concept, One Fifth Romance Languages, will transform into One Fifth Mediterranean, September 1, 2018. He is a busy, busy man.

click to enlarge Will the vinegar pie still be available? - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Will the vinegar pie still be available?
Photo by Julie Soefer
There will be a dual closing party for Underbelly and sixth-anniversary party for Hay Merchant, the adjoining bar, on April 1 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $40 and includes all you can eat food and two drink tickets. There will be additional drink tickets available. Information for the event can be found on both businesses' websites. There will also be a Hay Merchant Anniversary Bar with $5 pours of beers such as Saint Arnold's Divine Reserve 13 and Firestone Walker-Sucaba.

Hay Merchant will close on April 2 for renovations to the beer cooler. It will reopen April 22 with expanded hours, Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight and Thursday through Friday 11.a.m. to 2 a.m. Also look for Hay Merchant to have an expanded food menu, with a few crossover dishes from Underbelly.

click to enlarge Patrick Feges and Erin Smith. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER PHOTOGRAPHY
Patrick Feges and Erin Smith.
Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

Feges BBQ is set to open at The Shops at Greenway in March with an exact date still to be determined. Owners Patrick Feges and his wife, Erin Smith, say they will be taking food court cuisine to a whole new level, much to the delight of the office workers and lunch crowd who will be pleased to find delicious barbecue at reasonable prices.

Feges is known by many as " The Whole Hog Guy" and he has been doing pop-ups at breweries including Holler Brewing and Saint Arnold in the past few months, giving Houstonians a sample of what's to come. The new venue will offer items that Feges is known for, such as pig wings (pork shank, basically) and beef belly burnt ends. On occasion, the restaurant may feature a whole hog barbecue.

Feges is a Purple Heart recipient who sustained injuries on a tour in Iraq. While recovering from his injuries, he was bitten by the barbecue bug and worked at Killen's and Southern Goods to perfect his craft. He met Erin Smith, while both worked at Underbelly in 2012. Smith has worked at restaurants in New York, such as Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca and Per Se and was executive chef at the downtown Marriott's Main Kitchen and was a sommelier at Camerata. She will handle the business operations while also creating a menu of favorite barbecue sides with tweaks such as global flavors and spices. She also plans to have sides featuring seasonal vegetables to add a lighter touch to the barbecue on offer.

Feges BBQ will also serve breakfast with items such as biscuits and gravy with brisket and tacos with barbecue meats.

Feges and Smith hope that people outside the Greenway Plaza complex will make their way to the food court because of the much-lauded barbecue. Parking will be validated.

The Harp is keeping the light on. - PHOTO BY HOUSTON PRESS
The Harp is keeping the light on.
Photo by Houston Press

The Harp, 1625 Richmond, was all set to have its final farewell on February 28. Owner Declan Plunkett, who immigrated to Houston from Ireland in the 1980's, opened the Irish-themed bar in 1986. There has been an ongoing goodbye party as Plunkett prepares to bid adieu to the Houston bar scene and retire to the sands of Playa Del Carmen.

click to enlarge Ted Baker is keeping Houston's Irish eyes smiling. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BOBCAT TEDDY'S ICE HOUSE.
Ted Baker is keeping Houston's Irish eyes smiling.
Photo courtesy of Bobcat Teddy's Ice House.
However, Ted Baker, owner of neighboring Revelry on Richmond, has purchased the bar, according to the Houston Chronicle. " They bought me lock, stock, and barrel," Plunkett told the Chronicle. This was after a number of patrons and loyal customers had bought a few of the pictures and memorabilia that decorated their favorite cozy watering hole.

The Harp has been a fixture on Richmond for 30 years and Baker doesn't plan to make any huge changes. He is keeping in mind its origins and regular customers, the same perspective he took when he bought the old Jimmy's Ice House on White Oak and reopened it as Bobcat Teddy's Ice House.

However, there are plans for new bathrooms (always a good thing), a new cocktail menu, plus an Irish Whiskey program. With a little luck o' the Irish,  The Harp will reopen by St. Patrick's Day.

click to enlarge Savory toast  will make you feel Vibrant. - PHOTO BY APRIL VALENCIA
Savory toast will make you feel Vibrant.
Photo by April Valencia

Vibrant, 1931 Fairview, is coming to the former McGowen Cleaners building in Montrose this spring. Owner and creator Kelly Barnhart has collaborated with lifestyle blogger extraordinaire Allison Wu, to create a menu of healthy food designed to be nutritious and delicious. Wu, who is based in Portland, has a food and wellness blog and some of those recipes have made their way to Vibrant's menu, like the smoothie bowl made with coconut, avocado, hemp seed, Medjool date, matcha, Blue Majik and rose dukkah (whew!).

Barnhart wants to serve food that makes people feel great so there will be a variety of foods to meet diners' needs. There will be lean proteins, vegan offerings and some gluten-free options.

click to enlarge Kelly Barnhart is opening Vibrant in Montrose. - PHOTO BY APRIL VALENCIA
Kelly Barnhart is opening Vibrant in Montrose.
Photo by April Valencia
In its early days, the restaurant will be serving breakfast and lunch, with an eventual dinner service.

Besides healthy food, there will be adaptogenic potions, which are drinks made with special, cleansing herbs and Panther coffee from the Miami-based coffee roaster. The restaurant will also serve craft cocktails and natural wines.

Cedars Tapas Bar, 403 West Gray, is planned for late April-early May, depending on the permits and liquor license, according to CultureMap Houston The building formerly housed Byzantio and more recently the Viking themed bar, The Ship and Shield, which closed in December 2017.

The owners of Cedars Bakery, 8619 Richmond are behind the concept, inspired by co-owner Sam Assi's annual trips to Lebanon. The tapas-style menu will include dishes influenced by Lebanese, Greek, Turkish, and Spanish cuisines.

If you want to get a preview of what to expect, try some of Cedars Bakery's dishes, many of which use its freshly baked pita. Everything tastes good on pita bread.

Photo courtesy of Kura Revolving Sushi

Kura Revolving Sushi, 3510 Main, is opening this month with a possible grand opening mid-March. The restaurant features a revolving conveyor belt of different sushi dishes in containers called Mr. Fresh. There are a lot of gimmicks to add to the dining experience such as game machines that dish out small prizes after patrons feed 15 empty green plates into the machine. The sushi may not be extraordinary, but it's relatively inexpensive and the two other Houston area locations get very busy. Diners can check in on the electronic tablet and wait for text alerts on their phones for available seating at the bar or tables, where you can order from a touchscreen.

The teriyaki salmon cheeks are a popular item at Kura. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KURA REVOLVING SUSHI
The teriyaki salmon cheeks are a popular item at Kura.
Photo courtesy of Kura Revolving Sushi
The usual sushi standards such a nigiri, hand rolls and sushi rolls are available plus udon, ramen and miso soup. Kura says that it uses real crab and organic ingredients. MSG, however, is not used in any of its dishes.

The chain started in Japan and has more than 400 locations.

click to enlarge The murals are flipping fun. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLIP 'N PATTIES
The murals are flipping fun.
Photo courtesy of Flip 'n Patties

Flip 'n Patties, 1809 Eldridge, will celebrate its grand opening with unicorns and karaoke on March 10. The restaurant has been in its soft opening stage since December 22. The hip and popular Filipino food truck has a devoted following for its burgers on steamed bao buns and Filipino favorites like chicken pupu. Now, it is bringing its creative menu to a home with four walls. Unicorn-decorated walls.

The interior has fun murals and there is the "Love Wall", a fundraising project in which donors were given the opportunity to decorate the wall. There was a campaign to help raise funds for the brick and mortar after the food truck was robbed at gunpoint in December and the thugs made off with the cash box.

If you have never thought of putting a cheese-stuffed fried portobello mushroom on your burger, the Flip 'n Patties burger will flip your mind. The dishes featuring Spam may make you a canned meat convert.

Photo courtesy of Slim Chickens Kingwood
Slim Chickens, 30255 Loop 494, opened March 5 in Kingwood. The fast-casual restaurant is known for its chicken tenders and wings, cooked to order, and a variety of sauces. There are also salads, sandwiches and wraps. You can scrap the diet and try the chicken and waffles, three chicken tenders on a waffle, served with butter and syrup. The folks at Slim Chickens even suggest having the tenders tossed in buffalo sauce first to add a little spice to the sweet.

The first 50 guests on opening day received free Slim Chickens for a year. Let's check back next year and see if they are still slim chickens.

We are keeping an eye on the recovery of some of the Kingwood restaurants that are still finishing repairs and renovations from Hurricane Harvey.

Photo courtesy of Biryani Bistro

Biryani Bistro, 16100 Kensington, had its soft opening March 7. The Sugar Land restaurant serves authentic Hyderabadi cuisine. Owners, Raj and Neesha Dagla are both software engineers who moved from New Jersey to the Houston area in 2015. They had always wanted to start a restaurant and saw a need for Hyderabadi cuisine in Houston.

click to enlarge The Hyderabadi  egg biryani is authentic and tasty. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BIRYANI BISTRO
The Hyderabadi egg biryani is authentic and tasty.
Photo courtesy of Biryani Bistro

There is a variety of vegetarian biryani and appetizers such as Onion Pakora and Gobi Manchurian. For meat-eaters, there are dishes like Special Mutton Fry Biryani. The meat served at Biryani Bistro is Halal.

Beverages include Madras coffee and mango lassi. For dessert, try the Gulab Jamun, a classic Indian doughnut soaked in a sweet syrup.

Piola Memorial, 1415 South Voss, opened February 8. The Italian global brand was founded in 1986 in Treviso, Italy and the pizza chain has expanded worldwide. The first Houston location opened at 1301 Louisiana in Midtown. The restaurant offers 12 inch Venetia-style pizzas, which have a thin and crispy crust. The toppings are added after the pizzas come out of the open-fire brick oven.

Besides pizza, the menu contains pasta and appetizers.

click to enlarge Wrap your head around this. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOCAL TABLE
Wrap your head around this.
Photo courtesy of Local Table
Local Table, 10535 Fry, will open in the fall of 2018. This will be the second location of the concept from the family behind the 40-year-old Hungry's Cafe and Bistro in Rice Village and Memorial.

The restaurant will offer a menu of Mediterranean and Texas favorites like gyros, Tuscan grilled chicken and tacos. Some of the dishes will be familiar favorites from Hungry's as well.

The location at Lakeland Village Center in the Bridgeland community will feature a farm to table cuisine with most of the ingredients being sourced from local purveyors.Besides dine-in, take-out and catering services, the restaurant has a brunch service on the weekends.

click to enlarge Hollandaise and crab cakes make a lovely pair. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOCAL TABLE
Hollandaise and crab cakes make a lovely pair.
Photo courtesy of Local Table
This newest venture is looking to grow into the suburbs with the second generation who are building their lives in the area. Co-owner Shervin Sharifi, who created the concept with his brother and two cousins explains, " One of our goals was to bring an inner loop feel to the suburbs where we knew growth was happening."Suburbanites in Cypress and Katy can vouch for that growth.

For those who cannot wait until fall to try the crab cakes Benedict or the Mediterranean wrap, head to the original Local Table at 22756 Westheimer Parkway in the Villagio Town Center. The wraps are served with iceberg wedges with chunky feta-jalapeno dressing; a perfect example of Houston's diversity and fusion.

click to enlarge Who needs a drink? - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOCAL TABLE
Who needs a drink?
Photo courtesy of Local Table
The restaurant will also have an indoor-outdoor 30-foot-long bar, perfect for fair-weather cocktailing and trying the local craft beers on offer.

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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.