Underbelly Ditches Whole Cows and Hay Merchant Adds Cocktails

Underbelly is loading up with a seafood tower
Underbelly is loading up with a seafood tower Photo by Julie Soefer
Your favorite head-to-tail whole animal butchery restaurant Underbelly has just decided to stop purchasing and breaking down whole steers. It's not a hoax. It's not a sign of the coming apocalypse— that would be Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods, mmkay?  It's just that chef Chris Shepherd and crew have decided that devoting that much time and effort for a whole cow to seemingly hijack the eatery's 20-item menu every week has been putting a major damper on the kitchen's ability to do new things.

The restaurant will now source beef from 44 Farms, and starting tomorrow, will turn its attention to a new menu built mostly around seafood and vegetables.  

What's more, the seafood will not just be sourced locally, Shepherd says via press release:  “Gone are the days when PJ [Stoops] would wait at the docks and bring me bycatch. Thanks to his efforts and changes in sustainable fishing policy, bycatch is not as prevalent as it used to be. So I want to explore seafood from Southern waters—from Galveston to Virginia. I want more variety.”
click to enlarge Gochujang fish collar? Yes, please. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Gochujang fish collar? Yes, please.
Photo by Julie Soefer

While a few menu items have been hinted at, the menu will actually be determined on a daily basis, by what local farmers and seafood distributors Airline and Blue Horizon are able to bring in. There are plans to add a seafood tower a la Shepherd's steakhouse One Fifth. Underbelly's famed Korean braised goat and dumplings will stay as will the killer charcuterie.

The kitchen will still break down whole pigs and goat, and Shepherd has also just created a "rotating schedule where each cook is assigned a culture to study for a month, creating only dishes inspired from that culture." 

Do expect the restaurant's emphasis on all things Houston diversity to still shine through with menu items including Szechuan peppercorn cured cobia crudo, Vietnamese-inspired crawfish boil toast, crispy Royal Reds with zucchini som tum and peanuts, gochujang roasted fish collar ssam and more.

The restaurant, along with its adjacent beer mecca Hay Merchant, is also expanding its cocktail game.

Starting on Tuesday, June 27, Hay Merchant will operate as a full bar. You won't be able to get growlers anymore, but you will be able to order cocktails including a Manhattan, a frozen mezcal Last Word, and the H-Town Slammer, with housemade SoCo, sloe gin, orgeat, lime and orange soda, which is served on tap with six other drinks alongside the bar's killer beer selection.

Hay Merchant's H-Town Slammer. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Hay Merchant's H-Town Slammer.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Underbelly will also add new cocktails on July 10, at which time you won't be able to BYOB or get a bottle of wine to go either. The new cocktail programs have been created by Westin Galleymore, the group's new "spirits director,"  a job title that hasn't found proper usage since Whoopi Goldberg played Oda Mae Brown in Ghost, i.e., you in danger, girl.  Galleymore is an Anvil alum who completed the bar's rigorous 14-month training program and also created the cocktails at One Fifth.

Shepherd most recently switched things up at Underbelly and Hay Merchant with the launch of ultra-sustainable and fairly tasty Impossible Burger, a plant-based burger that "bleeds." His new restaurant One Fifth Steak will close in late July to metamorphosize into One Fifth Romance Languages.
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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.