Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Whiskey Cake Stafford Opens, La Villa and Steel City Pops Close

"The Cure" at Whiskey Cake would make Robert Smith happy.
"The Cure" at Whiskey Cake would make Robert Smith happy. Photo by Kathy Tran
Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar, 12575 Southwest Freeway, opens November 11 at The Grid in Stafford. This marks the eighth location for the small chain, which has spots in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. It is the third location for the Greater Houston area. The neighborhood tavern and restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients and vendors when possible and has an onsite herb garden. Its bar program offers 400 brands of whiskey, micro-brewed beers and carefully curated wines.

On the food menu, there are starters such as Thick-Cut Candied Bacon and Local Goat Cheese Fondue. Entrees include Whiskey-braised Short Rib and the OMG 2.0 Burger which stands for Onion. Mushrooms. Goodness.  It is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. There's the French Toast Monte Cristo on the brunch menu for you MC nuts.

click to enlarge Turkey chili  at Whiskey Cake in time for Thanksgiving. - PHOTO BY KATHY TRAN
Turkey chili at Whiskey Cake in time for Thanksgiving.
Photo by Kathy Tran
The 8,648 square foot space will offer seating for 284 guests including the bar and outdoor patio.

For its November 11 grand opening, the Stafford location will donate 50 percent of its sales that day, up to $10,000, to Team Rubicon, an non-profit that helps to mobilize U.S. veterans to use their skills and experiences in order to offer assistance during natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

click to enlarge La Villa is closed, but its star chef may be sticking around. - PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
La Villa is closed, but its star chef may be sticking around.
Photo by Becca Wright
La Villa, 4315 Montrose, closed November 2. The location has changed hands and concepts several times in the past few years. Its most recent transformation from La Villa Saint Tropez, which opened in 2018, to its newest incarnation, La Villa, happened with the introduction of Kevin d'Andrea who brought his status as the runner up on Top Chef France 2015 and experience in Michelin-starred restaurants to the new French Riviera-style restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant never caught fire with Houston diners despite great reviews. Chef d'Andrea, however, loves Houston and may be searching for other options in the Bayou City, according to CultureMap Houston

Steel City Pops, closed all three Houston locations as of November 1, making a total of 11 stores closed in its portfolio, as reported by Community Impact. According to its Facebook page, the frozen popsicle chain will continue to operate in Dallas and Fort Worth. It also plans to continue its catering services in Houston. It was founded in Birmingham, Alabama in 2012 and opened its first Houston location in the Heights in 2016, with two more locations following in Rice Village and Sugar Land.

We reached out to the company and owner, Jim Watkins, told the Houston Press:

"Unfortunately, our store wasn't operating at the level of profitability to sustain the locations in Houston. It had nothing to do with our people or our products. It's a combination of poor retail industry conditions and very high rents. We are grateful for folks in the Houston that supported us."

Dish Society will open a sixth location in Bellaire. - PHOTO BY KIMBERLY PARK
Dish Society will open a sixth location in Bellaire.
Photo by Kimberly Park
Dish Society, 4191 Bellaire Boulevard, is expected to open in Fall 2020. This will make the sixth location for the farm to table concept from first-time restaurateur Aaron Lyons.

The restaurant will be located in the Southside Commons, an adaptive re-use project in the former home of Palace Bowling Lanes. The 1955 building is being converted into a two-story mixed use development with dining, entertainment, retail and medical offices. The structure will be 80,000 square feet with Dish Society occupying over 3,600 square feet of the development. Gin Braverman of Gin Designs, who collaborated with Lyons on the Memorial Green and Heights locations, will also be in charge of designing the new restaurant space. Like the other locations, it will be open for breakfast, lunch, social hour and dinner.

Triple Crown Investments acquired the property in 2018. There will also be an entertainment and dining venue, Palace Social, which will have an eight lane bowling alley, arcade, VR games, Laser Maze and a Top Golf Swing Suite.

Whole Foods Market, 515 Elgin, opened November 7 as part of the Pearl Marketplace, a luxury apartment complex which sits atop the grocery store and offers a private express elevator to the Whole Foods for residents. It has collaborated with two Austin-based businesses, Briggo Coffee Haus and JuiceLand, to offer customers some unique options.

Briggo has installed a robotic barista in the store, according to Houston Business Journal. The overlarge coffee machine will grind and press the coffee beans, delivering an extra-fresh cup of java. Customers can order their beverages with a smartphone app or at kiosks in the store.

JuiceLand will open its fourth Houston location within the new store. It serves organic, raw and cold-pressed juices and smoothies made with plant-based milks. It also has a healthy food menu.

click to enlarge Tiago Almeida is Safina's new executive chef. - PHOTO BY STUART ROSENBERG
Tiago Almeida is Safina's new executive chef.
Photo by Stuart Rosenberg

Safina, 6750 Main, has a new executive chef. Tiago Almeida has been promoted from chef de cuisine and will oversee not only the menu for the restaurant, but also be responsible for the breakfast and pastries for Safina's coffee bar and the bites for the adjacent bar, The Naturalist.

click to enlarge Safina's menu offers international cuisine with local ingredients. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ANTHONY
Safina's menu offers international cuisine with local ingredients.
Photo by Michael Anthony
The restaurant, located on the ground floor of Intercontinental Houston-Med Center, caters to the international clientele staying at the hotel with a menu that combines Eastern Mediterranean spices with Gulf seafood and meats sourced from local producers 44 Farms and Lone Star Meats.

Almeida is a native of Portugal and honed his culinary craft in major hotels in Lisbon.

Politan Row, 2445 Times Boulevard, is having its grand opening November 8-10. The chef-driven food hall comes from The Politan Group which also operates St. Roch Market in New Orleans and Miami, Auction House Market, also in New Orleans, and Politan Row Chicago.

The vendors include some new faces and some familiar favorites. Chef Evelyn Garcia will be serving her Thai and Southeast Asian flavors at Kin while Victoria Elizando will feature authentic Mexican cuisine at Cochinita and Co. Phillip Kim will be serving his bao-centric menu at Breaking Bao. Nice Sprout offers gourmet plant-based cuisine and Torshi, which originally was founded at St. Roch Market in New Orleans, will serve Rafik Abohattab's Egyptian and Mediterranean fare. Sisters Niken and Ecky Prabanto, of Greenway Coffee fame, will operate a roasted coffee and boba tea shop with Indonesian influences called Susu Kopi and Boba.

click to enlarge Chicken Salad Chick changes hands. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Chicken Salad Chick changes hands.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Chicken Salad Chick
has been acquired by Brentwood Associates, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm which has a number of restaurants under its umbrella, including Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar which opened its first Houston area location this past summer.

It began as a home-based business, but soon expanded as founders Stacy and Ken Brown opened their first Chicken Salad Chick in Auburn, Alabama. Stacy Brown named the variety of chicken salads served at the fast-casual restaurant after important women in her life, such as Classic Carol, Fruity Fran and Jalapeno Holly. Her husband Ken Brown tragically passed away from cancer in 2015.

Under Eagle Merchant Partners, it grew to 139 units across the country with four in Houston. Chicken Salad Chick's CEO Scott Deveiney will remain as leader of the chain.

She's a Caniac, Caniac and she wants more. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
She's a Caniac, Caniac and she wants more.
Photo by Kate McLean

Raising Cane's, 7009 Gulf Freeway, is planned for March 2020. The company just broke ground for its newest chicken finger restaurant in Southeast Houston. This will make the 163rd store in Texas and number 514 nationwide. The company was founded by Todd Graves in 1996 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It prides itself on serving fresh, never frozen, premium white meat chicken tenderloins that are marinated, hand-battered and cooked to order. It has termed its chicken finger meals "ONE LOVE" in keeping with its commitment to local communities.

Its loyal patrons are called "Caniacs", of which contributing Houston Press writer, Kate McLean is one.  Its fans also love the Cane's sauce, so much so that a variety of copycat attempts can be found on the internet.

It also serves crinkle-cut fries, if that's your kind of fry. I don't get it, but some of y'all are weird that way. People also love its Texas Toast which I do get because, who doesn't? It's buttery, thick white bread with no nutritional value whatsoever. Sweet tea and freshly squeezed lemonade are beverage choices along with Pepsi products. We hear you Coca Cola folks groaning.

click to enlarge Ninfa's Uptown is having a grand opening celebration. - PHOTO BY BECCA WRIGHT
Ninfa's Uptown is having a grand opening celebration.
Photo by Becca Wright

The Original Ninfa's Uptown Houston, 1700 Post Oak, is hosting a grand opening celebration November 11 through November 15. Yes, they have been open since June and have already lost Jason Gould as their executive chef. While five months seems a bit late to have a grand opening, the deals are too good to pass up. For the grand opening week, there will be complimentary happy hour appetizers like Executive Chef Alex Padilla's fajita burger sliders, oyster shooters, chile-lime wings and assorted street tacos. There will also be free tequila tastings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Beverage Consultant Linda Salinas. On Tuesday, November 12, Sports Radio 610 AM will be broadcasting live with hosts Clint Stoerner and former Houston Texans Pro Bowler Wade Smith. All proceeds from dinner that evening will go to The Wade Smith Foundation. On Thursday, November 14, all dinner proceeds will go to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

Dunkin' has signed a deal with with new franchisee Manchester Enterprises LLC to develop 18 units across the Houston area, primarily Sugar Land, Missouri City, Pearland, Friendswood, Galveston and Texas City.  The first is expected to open in Summer 2020. Ten of the new stores will be multi-brand coupled with Baskin-Robbins. There are already 160 locations in Texas. The brand, which dropped the Donuts from its name in September 2018, is now beverage-focused, though it still sells donuts. It is headquartered in Canton, Massachusetts and is 100 percent franchised. There are 13,000 Dunkin' and 8,000 Baskin-Robbins locations in 60 countries.

Tonkatsu Ramen Shop, 10111 Louetta, softly opened November 2. It serves the traditional ramen one would expect or diners can "Ramen Your Way" by choosing the broth, noodles and proteins their little tummies desire. Signature items include the Tonkoku Love ($11.49), a pork bone broth served with a slice of fish cake and Black Garlic Gold ($12.19) which has black garlic oil and chicken katsu.
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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.