The Union Kitchen Is Moving into Cypress

The Union Kitchen scores a new location

This summer, neighborhood restaurant The Union Kitchen will move into the former Jaxton’s Grill House & Bar space at The Boardwalk at Towne Lake at 9955 Barker Cypress Road #104. This will be the sixth The Union Kitchen outpost in the greater Houston area, and the Cypress location will boast 200 seats indoors and 130 seats outside on a patio facing Towne Lake.

“We’ve been looking at the Cypress area for a long time,” Gr8 Plate Hospitality owner Paul Miller said in a press release. “Between the property, the community and the unbeatable location on the lake, it all added up to a great opportunity.”

Squable serves up melted French raclette cheeseburgers

Houstonia visited Justin Yu, Bobby Heugel, and chef Drew Gimma’s new restaurant Squableand counted down the most popular dishes so far. Best-sellers include a Dutch baby pancake with preserved citrus, salt-baked sweet potato and the pork neck schnitzel, and a giant burger topped with butter, melted French raclette, and cornichon pickles.

Elizabeth Warren dines at Ninfa’s on Navigation

While in Houston for the She The People event, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren sang the praises of Ninfa’s on Navigation. “The first time Bruce came to Houston to meet my family, I picked him up at the airport and drove him directly to my favorite Tex-Mex place, Ninfa’s on Navigation. He’d grown up in Massachusetts and everything in this part of the world was new,” she tweeted, adding: “I ordered him a huge lunch, and he wolfed down every bite. At the end, he said he loved it. Right then, I knew this was a guy I could live with forever. This week we were back in Houston for She the People, and we went back to Ninfa’s.”

Source: Houston Eater

Hugo Ortega arrived in Houston in the trunk of an Impala. How a smuggled immigrant became a top chef

Editor’s note: Hugo Ortega ranks among the nation’s top chefs. He won the 2017 Best Chef: Southwest Award from the James Beard Foundation and has received accolades for his culinary brilliance from a variety of publications, including Bon Appétit, Forbes Travel Guide and Smithsonian Magazine. He and his wife Tracy Vaught own and operate several restaurants including: Backstreet Café, a neighborhood bistro she opened in 1983; Hugo’s, which features the traditional cuisine of Mexico’s various regions; Caracol, a showcase for Mexican coastal dishes; and Xochi, celebrating the flavors of Oaxaca. But before all the kudos, Hugo arrived in Texas a hungry immigrant teenager. Here, he tells the story of his American journey. This was originally published by the Center for Houston’s Future in “Houston’s Economic Future: Immigration.”

I was born in Mexico City. At the age of nine, I went to live with my grandmother, at the border of Oaxaca and Puebla in the mountains, a town called Progreso. I can say now, more than 40 years later, that was where I received my culinary education.

When I got there, by my surprise, there was not electricity, running water or all the necessities we have in today’s life. I found that intriguing, very primitive. But full of love on my grandmother’s side, and knowledge of my ancestors, and her ancestors. Our ancestors researched every day just to figure out what to cook. So, literally, they just lived to eat. That was pretty much the daily living for my grandmother and me. You had your little house, surrounded by animals ... like pigs, and chickens for eggs, and goats, cattle for milk and so on, and bulls to work the land.

She and I were a tremendous team. I was young, full of energy and the ability to do many things, and with her knowledge I always accommodated myself to be her prep cook. And her dishwasher, her get-to-go boy. We used to come to a little town once a week, on a Sunday, to the market. From time to time the local butcher would butcher a pig or a cow, and with a little bit of fresh meat, we’d go back to living again.

I went through eighth grade, didn’t finish ninth grade. That’s all I could afford at that moment. I stayed in Progreso until I was 14 or 15. Then my dad decided to move the family back to Mexico City. I worked for an American company called Procter & Gamble. I was part of the maintenance team, changing light bulbs and cleaning. It was a factory where they made Crest toothpaste, soap, and many cleaning products and chemicals. I learned a little bit about the company and realized there was some opportunity over here in the United States.

At the time, some friends had come already. Some were in California. I had a cousin in Houston. From time to time he would send some letters, and I would read those letters he sent to his mom. One of the things that opened my eyes was that from time to time he would send $20 or $50 ... I don’t remember what was the exchange rate, but it was like thousands of pesos to the dollar. That was eye opening for a 16-year-old man, teenager, or whatever.

At the age of 19, I finally made it to the States. One day, my dad just basically told me, “This is all I can do for you, so from this point on, if you want to be homeless, or you want to be a punk, whatever you want to be is up to you.” That may sound heartless, coming from someone who means so much in your life, but I also respected him. I respect what he told me.

One beautiful spring day, we organized ourselves — a friend and a couple of other people — and bought bus tickets north from Mexico City. We found a coyote who could pass us across the border.

We tried five times. The first, we were over 120 people trying to cross at once. Adults, senior citizens, young kids. The immigration police caught us five times, and they took me back. But there was no going back.

The fourth or fifth time they figured out crossing so many was not going to be possible. So, they divided us. They put the young people in one group. In my group, we were 14 young women and young men. On the sixth try is when we crossed. We came across the river. It was deep. I struggled, because I don’t know how to swim. I managed, and made it, and that was wonderful.

We were young and agile and jumped many fences. At some point, they put us in a train car. They told us, “People will be inspecting the cars. You make any noise and they capture us, whoever makes that noise is going to be dead.” They were not fooling around. I can laugh now, but it was terrifying.

Eventually around two in the morning or so we started moving, faster and faster. Then they told us, “Hey we made it!” We started celebrating in the car, which was pitch black. As we were about to reach San Antonio, someone made a hole in the side of the car. We started jumping one by one, like that. Out the hole. They told us, “As soon as you are on the ground, hide where people can’t see you.” It was around six or seven in the morning. That’s what we did.

Around seven that night, they picked us up and kept 14 of us in a house for about a day and a half. On the second day, they put us in a Chevrolet Impala. They put some pieces of wood on the shocks so the car wouldn’t sink under all the weight. They said stay low and put 14 people in that car. Many in the backseat. I was in the trunk with another two people. The first pothole we passed, the trunk opened. I was closest to it so I reached up and closed it, so I was a hero for a moment!

We arrived in Houston in the Wayside area, between 10 and midnight. That’s when the transaction happened. My cousin, he paid for us, $500 apiece.

This was in the early ’80s. My cousin did not recognize us at first. I had lost a lot of weight after 20 days on the streets of Laredo. From the time that we got there to the time that we crossed it was something like that. The coyotes were feeding us potatoes and eggs, and we didn’t have much clothing, we were very dirty and skinny. We really broke down crying. It was a beautiful time.

My cousin lived down there on Wayside, so he took me over there. Then we moved right near West Gray and Taft. That’s where we lived for probably a year or so.

Then we would find a job and went on our own and rented an apartment. I was a janitor at a restaurant in Montrose called Motherlode, then I became a busboy. My cousin gave me the opportunity to cook there. Things were going great until that restaurant closed. It was a gay restaurant, so I saw for the first time in my life two men kiss each other. That was eye opening, too. All those wonderful memories, they’re there. It was my new culture, my new city. It was all new to me.

After Motherlode closed, I worked in the Esperson Building. I was a janitor during the evenings and in the mornings, I was a busboy in a restaurant called Bull & Bear. When the restaurant closed, I worked part-time jobs. Those were very depressing times. My cousin, the one who lived with me, moved to California, and I had to be by myself in the city. I was very depressed. I was in trouble.

I ended up living on the streets, over by Richmond and Dunlavy. There was a grocery store nearby. Sometimes people gave me food and helped me out. One day I saw a man approaching the store, and he had equipment to cut grass. I explained what happened, and he said, “For heaven’s sake!” His name was Luis, and he asked me if I wanted to work with him. And I said, “Sure!” He taught me how to work in landscaping.

Luis was the manager of a soccer team. That’s something I was really good at when I was a young person. Luis introduced me to the players, and said, “This is Hugo. He’s by himself and he’s looking for a house.” One was from El Salvador, and said, “He can live with us.” Three brothers. I went to live with them.

Then I was getting on the streets every day looking for work. I used to walk back and forth along Westheimer. The funny thing is that I remember crossing the street many times by the building where Hugo’s is today. At some point I pointed and thought, I wonder what it would take, how much it would cost to own a building.

I would say to myself, “One day I want to own a building like this!”

Finally, my break came through in 1987. We used to play soccer at Wilson Elementary School (just a few blocks from where Hugo’s is now). One time a couple people appeared. They were dressed like cooks, with white jackets. One had the name “Backstreet” on the shirt. A friend went to them, Julio and Francisco, and said, “Hey listen, this Mexican guy is looking for work and he says he can wash dishes. Do you have anything over there where you work?

They gave me the address, and I wrote it down. They said, “Tomorrow you come around 9 o’clock.” The next morning I was there sharp, at 8:30 or 8 o’clock in the morning. I was sitting outside in the parking lot. I had anxiety, saying, “I hope I can work here, I hope I can get a job.”

Inside, the owner of the restaurant asked Julio, “Dónde está tu amigo?” Where is your friend who wants to wash dishes? And Julio responded, “He’s outside!” And she told him, “Well, tell him to come in!” And Julio said, “He’s kind of shy.”

Then she came to the step. She saw me. She said, “Hello, my name is Tracy,” and she shook my hand, kind of a hard shake. And I said, “I’m Hugo.” She said, “Well, come in!”

To be honest, when I saw my future wife for the first time, I thought she looked like a Spanish lady, from Spain. Her beauty intrigued me. I fell in love with her that moment! I absolutely loved her. I was very happy. You don’t have to speak the language to fall in love with somebody. I didn’t speak any English at first.

That day, they found me an apron and I started washing dishes.

One of the things I tell young people who come here and don’t speak English is, “Say, ‘Yes,’” to everything.” I didn’t know what Tracy was telling me, but I always said, “Yes, yes, yes!”

One day she said, “Would you like to cook?” I said, “Yes!” I remember my first duty as a cook was to slice a 10-pound tube of provolone on the slicer.

Eventually, I believe around 1989, she asked me if I would be interested in enrolling in cooking school. Of course I said, “Yes!” My English had improved a little. I was sure I could understand, so I enrolled myself in the culinary program at Houston Community College. The problem came when I had my first test. I told the teacher “I cannot write English. I can write Spanish.” The director of the department allowed me to take the test orally. From time to time, I still talk to him, and sometimes ask him, “Chef, do you have somebody who can help us?”

Around the time I went to school, Tracy bought Prego, an Italian restaurant in the Rice Village. I did a year of apprenticeship while going to school. After I graduated and spent a year at Prego, Tracy invited me back to Backstreet to be the chef.

Sometime in the summer of 1990, Tracy had a party for employees in Galveston, and my responsibility was to cook chicken and hamburgers. It was that day I declared my intentions. We married on May 19, 1994. In 1997, our daughter Sophia Elizabeth was born.

A few years later, we had the opportunity to open Hugo’s. Tracy’s uncle called to tell her a friend had a piece of property on Westheimer she might be interested in. We were very busy at Backstreet, but eventually we went to have a look.

Standing in the parking lot behind the building that years earlier had been the object of my fantasies, Tracy asked me: “What do you think about opening a restaurant cooking the food of your grandmother, your homeland?

I thought about getting up at 5 every morning, loading jars on the donkey and going to the bottom of the hill to get water for the kitchen; cutting wood to make a fire every day; taking care of 300 goats; everything made a mano ...

My answer may be hard to believe, but I said from the heart, “Tracy, my god, that’s a lot of work!”

Of course, I had learned to say “yes” to everything.

Source: Houston Chronicle

Tacos Over Texas returns to Houston April 7

The spirit of Mama Ninfa Laurenzo looms large over this city. Which is why the Laurenzo family decided to honor their mother with a celebration focusing on a food she knew well: tacos.

Last year's inaugural Tacos Over Texas, a fundraiser for the Ninfa Laurenzo Scholarship Fund, raised more than $100,000 to financially assist students in economic need to reach their educational goals.

This year's event, to be held April 7, hopes to top that amount with an event featuring a chef competition and unlimited taco samples from some of the city's top chefs.

The second annual Tacos Over Texas taco-palooza will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Original Ninfa's on Navigation, 2704 Navigation.

Guests can sample tacos from participating chefs who will include Chris Shepherd from One Fifth Mediterranean, Ronnie Killen from Killen's TMX, Greg Gatlin of Gatlin's BBQ, Ryan Lachaine from Riel, chef Jamie Zelko of Zelko Concepts, and chefs David and Michael Cordua. Other participating restaurants: Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, La Calle Tacos, Poitin, Laurenzo's Restaurant, Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen, Café Annie, Tout Suite, Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Grace's on Kirby, Mia's Table, Christian's Tailgate, and Elliot's Table. The chefs are challenged to create a taco inspired by Mama Ninfa.

Tickets are $40 for general admission including two drink tickets; VIP tickets at $200 include early admission at noon. See

Where to Celebrate National Margarita Day

THE CREATION STORY OF THE MARGARITA is tough to pin down. In 1974, Texas Monthly profiled a former El Paso bartender who claimed to invent the drink around 1942, though it’s curious his wife (whom he married in the 1950s) had the very same name. Cocktail historian David Wondrich goes back to the 1930s, saying the drink was a Prohibition-era tequila variation of the brandy daisy. There are a bunch of other tales that can easily be disputed, many of them set in the 1930s and ’40s. 

However it was created, just know that the margarita is our chosen cocktail—the perfect beverage for the discerning Houstonian.

That brings us to Friday, which is National Margarita Day. It’s a bit of a holiday here, with plenty of restaurants and bars doing special things to mark the occasion. Here’s what’s happening:

  • Chef Hugo Ortega is offering The Greatest Margarita Ever Sold (25-year-aged Grand Marnier, anejo tequila) for a special $15 price (usually $29) at XochiHugo’s, and Caracol. Also, order a margarita-paired tasting menu for $60 per person at either of the three restaurants on Friday.

  • The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation will celebrate with $10 jalapeño piñaritas (jalapeño-infused tequila, mezcal, pineapple, Navigation mix, combier, and a salted mole rim).

  • At Arnaldo Richards’ Picos, get classic margaritas with Don Julio Silver for $10, Altos Resposado frozen tamarind margaritas for $10, El Jimador Silver and Reposado shots for $5 during happy hour, and picorita frozens made with Cazadores Silver for $6 during lunch and happy hour.

  • The Union Kitchen’s special is half-off (or $6) the Love Bug margarita, which includes Volcan Blanco tequila, cranberry liquor, sweet and sour mix, ginger ale, and a chocolate rim.

  • Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen will sell house margaritas for $6.50, skinny margaritas for $9, Ambhar mango habanero margaritas for $10, and illegal mezcal margaritas for $10. Come between 4 and 7 p.m. and pay $4 for the house ’rita.

  • Alicia’s Mexican Grille is bringing back its Millonario Margarita, its 12-year anniversary cocktail, from Friday to Sunday. It’s available for $12 (previously $40) at all locations.

  • BCK is offering $5 classic, blood orange, and watermelon margaritas from 11 a.m. to close.

  • State Fare is selling the Texans Rita (tequila, orange juice, lime, agave, curacao, sweet-and-sour mix, egg whites, and a Tajín rim) for $10.

  • The Classic and Benjy’s are both selling margaritas for happy hour prices.

  • BuffBurger’s Margarita in the Buff is available for $4 all day.

  • Get $4 margaritas (with $12 Gulf oysters by the dozen) at Field & Tides.

  • The Rustic will have the Don Julio DJ truck while pouring drinks from a five-foot-tall margarita glass. Party from 5 to 11 p.m., and live music starts at 9:30 p.m.

  • Eight Row Flint is hosting a Margarita Day/Go Texan Day celebration. It’s launching its Real Ale Single Barrel Whiskey, plus pouring Real Ale specials. Also, there’ll be four featured margaritas available at $7 during happy hour (2-6 p.m.) and $11 afterward.

  • The General Public is unveiling its Sweet Diablo Frozen Margarita, selling it for just $1 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Jax Grill will have $4.50 margaritas during an 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. happy hour.

  • Axis Lounge at Royal Sonesta is celebrating with a margarita and taco combo for $18.

  • At Casa Ole, get a $1 margarita of tequila, triple sec, lime juice (regular price $2).

  • Abuelo’s is offering its premium margaritas for $6.95.

  • Fajita Pete’s is offering $0.99 ’ritas. Get a half-gallon to-go for $9.99, or a gallon for $19.99 (delivery available).

  • Pistolero’s will have a parking lot party with a DJ starting at 4 p.m. $5 Hornitos margaritas and $6 Kimo Sabe mezcal margaritas.

  • El Patio will have happy hour from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Margaritas are on offer from $6-13.

The James Beard Awards Head to Houston For 2019 Nominee Announcement

Next month, the James Beard Foundation will head to Houston to announce the nominees for its coveted annual Awards, often described as the “Oscars of food.”

The Foundation will host a live press conference at James Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega’s namesake Montrose restaurant on March 27 to announce Award nominees across more than 50 awards categories, according to a press release. “We’re thrilled to showcase the city of Houston and bring our 2019 James Beard Awards nominees announcement to this diverse and vibrant culinary and dining scene,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a statement.

Over the past several years, Houston has frequently dominated the list of nominees (and winners) from the Southwest region, including Ortega’s 2017 win in the Best Chef - Southwest category, Justin Yu’s in 2016, and Chris Shepherd’s in 2014. Houston’s dining scene is only getting stronger, which means that a number of those James Beard Award nominees announced next month will assuredly be locals.

“The City of Houston is honored to host the James Beard Foundation as it announces the 2019 James Beard Award nominees,” mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “The Foundation has come to the ideal place. With one in every four Houstonians being foreign born, Houston takes pride in the rich culinary scene that comes with being one of most diverse cities in the nation.”

The James Beard Foundation will announce its 2019 James Beard Award nominees from Hugo’s on March 27 starting at 9 a.m. For those who won’t have one of those coveted spots at Hugo’s, the press conference will be live-streamed via the James Beard Foundation website. Winners will be announced at the James Beard Awards ceremony in Chicago on May 6.

Source: Houston Eater

Urban Eats to host artist, Ronnie Queenan

Ronnie’s art delivers a broad spectrum of texture, style and emotion. From contrasting repetitive forms to structured figures, each offering it’s viewer an experience worth making time for,” stated owner and culinary director Levi Rollins.

“Please join us January 7th, 2019 through March 31st, 2019 and see his amazing work for yourself,” Rollins said.

Everyone is invited to attend the reception for Ronnie Queenan on Saturday, February 16th 2019, from 3-5 p.m. Come and enjoy an afternoon of art, complimentary beer, wine, champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

Urban Eats is located at 3414 Washington Avenue.

For more information about Urban Eats, visit

The Union Kitchen introduces new chef, menu at original Bellaire location

Gr8 Plate Hospitality’s Paul Miller is bringing the original The Union Kitchen back to its roots, with a new menu and wine list at his popular neighborhood restaurant at 4057 Bellaire Blvd.

New Executive Chef Jesse Esquivel (Perry’s Steakhouse, Grand Lux Cafe), who grew up in Meyerland and graduated from Bellaire High School, has revamped approximately 50 percent of the restaurant’s menu. It marks the most significant overhaul since Miller opened the Bellaire location in 2010.

“We have loved being a part of the community for the last eight years,” Miller said. “Our menu had changed quite a bit during that time. In the spirit of a true neighborhood restaurant, we wanted to get back to the community and focus on items old and new that our regulars wanted to see on the menu. The Union Kitchen has always been about ‘the perfect union of good friends and great food’, and we truly appreciate the input from our guests in helping to make that a reality.”

Back on the menu are several neighborhood favorites from when the restaurant first opened including Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus; Prosciutto Arugula Pizza; Sweet Heat Chicken; Paul’s BBQ Sandwich; Pete’s Steak Sandwich, named after Miller’s father; and Mama P’s Baked Brie, named after Doris’ mother.

New items include the Chilled Seafood and Avocado Salad, Reuben Egg Rolls, Cedar Plank BBQ Salmon, Shrimp & Grits and pastas such as Doris’ Chicken Primavera, Shrimp & Scallop Linguini Fra Diavolo, Bayou Pasta Linguini, Maine Lobster Stuffed Ravioli and Roasted Garlic Gulf Scampi.

At lunch, new highlights include the Crispy Chicken Club, Bellaire Reuben, Short Rib Grilled Cheese, Crispy Chicken Club Salad, Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Salmon & Basil Pesto Risotto and rotation of seasonal sorbets.

The Union Kitchen’s popular brunch, available on Saturdays and Sundays, features new items including House Made Sticky Buns, Katie’s Nutella Crepes, Fruit Crepes, Canadian Omelette, Corn Beef Benedict, Prosciutto & Asparagus Benedict, Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs, Corn Beef Hash & Eggs, Hash Hangover Burger and California Wrap.

Sommelier Craig Lindstrom also introduced a fresh new wine list with The Union Kitchen’s hallmark aggressive pricing. The Union Kitchen features 38 wines by the glass, ranging in price from $7 to $15. Select wines go for $5/glass and $15/bottle during lunch (“Lunch Grapes”) and Happy Hour Monday-Friday.

The restaurant offers Karbach, SpindleTap and Saint Arnold on tap and will feature special allocations, monthly beer dinners and pint nights and beer brunches with local breweries, including a Saint Arnold Beer Dinner scheduled for March 5.

The Union Kitchen has five locations in Houston (Bellaire, Memorial, Kingwood, Ella, Washington), with a sixth location to open in Katy in 2019.


Where’s Maggie? Getting Super Bowl ready at Jax Grill in Bellaire

Hope you're hungry for more than football because we've got some ultimate fan fare for you! Maggie brings her appetite to Jax Grill in Bellaire for a Super Bowl party preview with a line up wings, nachos, quesadillas, hot dogs and juicy burgers and more. Watch the above video to learn about the deal the restaurant will be offering this Super Bowl Sunday.

Houston Chronicle

Luby’s fends off board challenge from activist investor

Luby’s shareholders rejected an activist investor's attempt to wrest control of the restaurant company from the Pappas brothers on Friday, ending a 43-day proxy fight over the Houston chain.

Shareholders elected all the company's candidates for its nine-member board at its annual meeting, rejecting four nominees pushed by New York hedge fund Bandera Partners, according to preliminary results issued by the company.

Luby's did not release the voting count but said it was a close contest. Bandera said the election had a voter turnout of more than 85 percent.

Chief Executive Chris Pappas said in a statement that the company will look to improve its operating results.

"With this annual election now completed, our full focus returns to executing our turnaround plan for the business and ensuring that we have our right board composition to oversee our strategy," he said.

Jeff Gramm, a Bandera co-founder, said he accepted the preliminary results, which were reviewed by Luby’s proxy solicitor and will later be certified by an independent inspector of elections and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Although it is early and we have not seen official results, we believe we won the vast majority of votes from non-affiliated shareholders," he said. "It is clear to me that Luby's shareholders are very frustrated with the company and desperate for change in the boardroom."

Friday’s election caps a bitter boardroom dispute between two prominent Texas families fighting for control of the iconic but struggling Houston restaurant chain known for its comfort foods, such as the LuAnn Platter. The company operates 82 Luby's Cafeterias and 59 Fuddruckers restaurants. It franchises another 104 Fuddruckers locations nationally.

Gramm, the son of former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, was seeking to oust Chris Pappas and his brother Harris Pappas from Luby’s board, which they have helmed for nearly two decades. The brothers also own and operate popular Houston restaurants Pappasito’s Cantina, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and Pappas Bar-B-Q.

Bandera, which has been a Luby's shareholder for more than a decade, was lobbying fellow investors to replace the Pappas brothers, Chairman Gasper Mir III and board member Frank Markantonis with its own slate of candidates, which included Gramm and his father.

Bandera faced an uphill battle to pry control of Luby's from the Pappas brothers, who own 36.8 percent of the company's stock. Bandera has a 9.8 percent stake.

Gramm, who flew in from New York to attend the annual meeting, said he did not regret the proxy fight, which tested his close friendship with fellow activist investor and business associate James Pappas, Chris Pappas’ son. In a prepared statement to Luby’s board, Gramm encouraged it to listen to shareholders and wished it success in the coming year.

“I don’t regret my decision to take this vote to Luby’s shareholders,” Gramm said in an interview. “I really do believe that if I hadn’t done this, the company wouldn’t have committed to bringing some change to the boardroom in the coming year.”

Luby's last week announced plans to make some changes to its board in a bid to appease Bandera and other shareholders concerned with the company's stock performance.

Among the moves, Mir announced he would relinquish his leadership position to another independent board member later this year. The board said it is also looking to replace two incumbent members, several of whom are approaching retirement age, with independent directors. Luby's did not say who would step down but said the changes will take place later this year.

David Littwitz, the owner of Houston restaurant brokerage Littwitz Investments, said little has changed as a result of the proxy fight, however. Luby’s restaurants are unprofitable, the company’s stock is down and the company is still forced to sell off real estate to pay down its debt, he said.

“It’s still a tough situation for the current management to operate,” he said. “All this has done is give Chris Pappas some breathing room for the moment, but not by much.”

Ed Wulfe, the chairman of Houston retail brokerage Wulfe & Co. and a Luby’s shareholder, said he voted in favor of Luby’s slate of candidates.

“I’m very pleased Luby’s is staying in the hands of the Pappas, who are proven restaurateurs with years and years of experience,” he said. “I think in the long term, this is in the best interest of Luby’s and shareholders.”

After rising briefly midday, shares of Luby's fell 13.8 percent Friday to $1.56. The company is set to report fiscal 2019 first quarter earnings Monday.

Houston Chronicle

Radio TropRock Blog: T-Bone Tom’s Party Under The Palapa

A Musical History At This Legendary Texas Restaurant & Bar

As owners of a trop rock radio station, Gina and I are very fortunate to travel to tropical locations to visit the best bars and live music venues.

For years we kept hearing that all the best artists on the trop rock circuit were playing at a place just outside Houston called T-Bone Tom’s. We thought to ourselves “Why are all these folks playing in Houston? Shouldn’t they be in Key West or something?”

We never really gave a thought to a venue in Houston being a good host for trop rock style music. After a little research we found out this place called T-Bone Tom’s at the Kemah Boardwalk, just southeast of Houston, had been on the Trop Rock Music Association’s nomination list as Live Music Venue of the Year for many years! We decided this venue must be added to our list of locations for a live broadcast on Radio Trop Rock.

A couple of short months later we found out exactly what all the fuss was about. Upon arrival, you can’t help but notice “Tom’s Backyard.” It’s a stage, bar, and seating area under a huge palapa. Some say it’s the largest palapa west of the Mississippi, others claim it to be the largest built in Texas. I don’t know the actual answer, but I can tell you it’s a big one!

Before I go any further, I should tell you a little more about T-Bone Tom’s history, because when you get right down to it, it’s actually a freakin’ fantastic restaurant first, and a kick-ass place to listen to music and party second. T-Bone Tom’s actually started as a meat market in the mid-1960’s and began smoking meats in the late ’60’s. Around 1974 it became a restaurant. The location became well-known by locals as “the place” to go for great bar-b-que and steaks.

In 1998 Barry Terrell, with many years of restaurant experience under his belt, had the opportunity to purchase T-Bone Tom’s. Barry was not at all new to the restaurant business. Decades earlier he waited tables while attending college and progressed one step at a time until the mid-1990’s when he was on the corporate side with Landry’s Restaurant Group.

Barry made little to no changes to the already successful menu of T-Bone’s but did decide to expand the rear of the establishment to add “Tom’s Backyard,” which consisted of a bar and a small area that could host live music. Kelly McGuire, a trop rock musician, was one of the first to approach Barry about playing there and apparently it went well because shortly, thereafter, T-Bone Tom’s began hosting live music every Friday and Saturday night.

T-Bone Tom’s continued to gain momentum through the early 2000’s. When Hurricane Ike hit in 2008 T-Bone’s suffered quite a bit of damage. Barry took that opportunity to expand Tom’s Backyard to include a larger bar, stage, and the huge palapa that people now  love to party under on those hot Texas days and warm nights.

In 2009 the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” shot an episode at T-Bone Tom’s. One of the menu items Barry had Guy Fieri try was my personal favorite; Armadillo Eggs. Strangely enough, these contain no armadillo, nor egg! What they do contain is shredded bar-b-que brisket. Think of a jalapeno popper the size of a huge egg filled with very tasty smoked brisket. My mouth is watering writing this now.

Other great items on the menu include their famous ribeye and Chicken Fried Steak. While everything on the menu is fantastic, these items have received local and national recognition as some of the best in the country. When eating at T-Bone Tom’s be ready to carry home some left-overs for tomorrow. Portions are large.  (Personal note: The Armadillo Eggs are fantastic for breakfast… Simply pull them out of your fridge and microwave for about 1 minute.  Yum)

Enough about the food, now more about the music!

T-Bone Tom’s hosts live music six nights per week. It has gotten so good at it that the Houston Chronicle has named T-Bone Tom’s the second best place to hear live music in greater Houston area. Think about how large Houston is, thousands of venues play live music. Coming in second is pretty damned good!

T-Bone Tom’s began it’s live music twenty years ago, and has since established itself as the BEST place to hear trop rock music. Proof of this is that last November in Key West, the Trop Rock Music Association named T-Bone Tom’s Best Live Music Venue in the country. They have consistently been nominated by the TRMA year after year, but in 2018 they beat out the previous winner, a venue in Key West, for the honor.  Yes, a venue in the Houston area beat out a place in Key West for best place to watch live trop rock music!

How did it get there, you ask? Well, to start with, T-Bone Tom’s is the home of one of the most successful trop rock songwriter showcases. John Burns, aka “Jon Boy” put together a songwriter showcase using talent from all over the country. The show is now frequently hosted by Jerry Diaz or Donny Brewer, two of the biggest names in TropRock. While Pirates and Poets Songwriter Showcase also has shows in Key West, New Orleans, Port Aransas, and even into Mexico, they call T-Bone Tom’s “home.”Pirates and Poets Podcast was recognized in 2016 as the Trop Rock Music Association Radio Show of the Year.

Here’s what John Boy of Pirates and Poets says about T-Bone Tom’s:

“T-Bone Tom’s is the perfect place to spend a fun evening with your friends or family. It has great food and cold drinks, plus its are located near many of the Kemah-area’s top tourist attractions. And its easily the best music venue in the area and they don’t charge a cover. They have live music six nights a week. Tuesday-Thursday features acoustic acts, many of which perform original material. The weekend are usually geared towards high energy cover bands.

“We’re lucky to have T-Bone Toms host our Pirates & Poets Songwriter Shows 11 months out of the year.”

T-Bone Tom’s hosts around sixty trop rock live music shows per year. Since Gina and I with Radio Trop Rock first visited T-Bone Tom’s October 19, 2016, we have broadcast live shows from there no less than twelve times, making it the most frequent broadcast venue for our TRMA award winning show Trop Rockin’ the USA on Radio Trop Rock. T-Bone Tom’s is also the “go to” place for many of the Galveston Bay Parrothead Club events. It is not unusual to find a large group of these brightly dressed revelers forming a conga line around the entire area under the palapa. They are especially active when folks like Jerry Diaz and Hanna’s Reef are performing. Jerry has been very instrumental in the growth of “trop rock” for a couple of decades, and it’s easy to see why when he performs for his hometown fans there in Tom’s Backyard.

While many restaurants that play live music may have great food OR great music OR great service OR a great atmosphere T-Bone Tom’s set’s itself apart from the others by having ALL of these qualities. Some people come for the food, and stay for the music. Others may come for the music, but stay for the food. What I mean by that is normally a person’s first visit to T-Bone Tom’s is for a reason, whether they’ve heard bout the great food, or maybe the great music, they go there for one, maybe not knowing about the other. Once they’ve experienced T-Bone Tom’s they are now very aware that T-Bone Tom’s is the whole package of great food, music, service and atmosphere.

Jerry Diaz has even paid homage to T-Bone Tom’s by writing and recording the song “Eat at T-Bone Tom’s” which is included on his latest CD Rum Drinks & Sandy Beaches. Jerry says in the song “They’ve got Mexican pickles and buckets of beer. Man it’s a party when Barry is here. Live music playing six nights of the week, cute little waitresses and fresh cut meat.”.  I’ve got news for you, it’s not just a party when Barry is there, it’s always a party!

Next time you are in the Houston area do yourself a favor and make the trip down to the Kemah Boardwalk and see why T-Bone Tom’s consistently receives accolades from local newspapers, national TV shows, and the Trop Rock Music Association.

Source: PubClub

Peeling Back The Onion: The Challenges Of Redevelop Redeveloping Older Product Into Mixed-Use

Limestone vaulted arcades, Tuscan columns and deep window ledges highlight the historic frame of The Star, a century-old landmark building recently converted into a residential tower in Downtown Houston. Yet, beneath the beauty lies an incredibly difficult redevelopment process. Redevelopment of historic property presents a complicated combination of what needs to be done, what can be done while meeting tax credit guidelines, what developers want to get done and what it will cost. The Star, Texaco’s headquarters in the late 1980s, serves as a case study of the challenges of converting a historic building into a mixed-use development
Reactivating Historic Spaces — To Change Or Not To Change?

Executing the redevelopment dream requires patience and tough decisions, Provident Realty Advisors’ Kip Platt said. Platt is the project development partner over The Star. A key part of this redevelopment was selecting which spaces to renovate and which spaces to leave alone. Provident is already on year seven of work at The Star, a 286-unit luxury high-rise community, and it isn’t done yet. The company bought the property in 2012, after it had stood vacant since Texaco moved out in 1989, and completed converting it to multifamily in 2013. That redevelopment focused on the build-out of the residential units. In 2016, the site underwent another round of renovations, which modernized all of the units and common spaces and added new on-site amenities, such as an outdoor pool and an attached garage. Last year, it turned to the basement, which had never been finished out. Provident Realty Advisors made a sizable investment to build out that space. The company created a game and lounge room in the basement, inspired by speak-easies with gentle lighting. The space is all new but brought back in a historic feature — an authentic 12-foot-long TEXACO illuminated sign is a focal point of the space. Designer Lauren Parson purchased the sign from a former Texaco employee, Jim Conrad. The sign was designed for a gas station that never opened in the ’80s, he told Parson. “He was happy to send it back home,” she said. The game room walls are splashed with other memorabilia from the oil company. The bottom level also features a virtual golf simulator, a dog spa, a theater and a poker room. Parson also redesigned the top floor lounge area, which includes an open meeting and kitchen space, a sitting area with a television, an Equinox-inspired fitness center and an outdoor rooftop lounge. The final piece of the redevelopment will include an 18K SF full-service restaurant on the ground level by popular restaurateur Benjamin Berg, who also runs B&B Butchers. Stepping into historical mixed-use is new for him. His first location for B&B Butchers was a free-standing industrial building on Washington Avenue and Sabine Street. On that project, he had more build-out options (like putting things on the roof) and didn't have to consider how space engages with another space. But when you’re working with historic space, not all sought-after design elements will make it to the final draft. For example, Platt wanted to add a balcony to the units that featured deep window ledges. But as Provident began to research the option, it discovered that it could cost upward of $2M to repair the Renaissance Revival-style exterior finishings if they were damaged, and the finishings can only be rehabbed by Italian designers. The add-on was not worth the financial risk so the developer skipped it, Platt said.

Also A Pain Many developers dive into historical redevelopment projects in order to maximize state and federal tax credits. However, the guidelines can be strict, the process often spans years and developers must be willing to partner with regulators to get the final stamp of approval. "If a building still has a lot of intact historic fabric it is important to understand what must be retained and preserved before any work begins," Texas Historical Commission Director Chris Florance said. The Star was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 and is an active tax credit project, Florance said. The National Park Service’s guidelines for the rehabilitation of high-rise buildings, one of the most common historic redevelopment types, say the building must be 50 years old to be listed on the National Register or awarded the state's Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation. The first phase of work on The Star, which includes everything except for the first-floor tenant space and the rooftop amenity space, has already been certified for the State of Texas Historic Preservation tax credits. The project cannot be certified for federal credits until all of the work is completed. The developer has been working with the THC since the asset was purchased in 2012, Florance said. He said it is critical that anyone interested in the historic tax credits or other related programs should contact the organization before finalizing any plans. Since much of the building had been gutted before it was purchased by the current developer, there was not a great deal of historic interior fabric left to preserve, Florance said. The most historically significant features included the first-floor entry, the original elevator lobby and the overall exterior facade. The exterior work involved cleaning, repair and restoration of masonry and the replacement of the non-historic windows to be considered for tax credits. As the design process began for the restaurant, Benjamin, Berg discovered that he was in for a big challenge. Situated on the corner of San Jacinto and Rusk streets, Benjamin will occupy the former lobby of the pre-war building. The original wing of the building was designed by the New York firm of Warren & Wetmore, which is also responsible for Manhattan's 1913 Grand Central Terminal. The build-out includes constructing two kitchens, relocating the elevator and adding a balcony to overlook The Star’s heated outdoor pool. Berg found that some of the tax-related requirements were more difficult to overcome, and he had to find creative workarounds. In order to retain and expand the original flooring, he will implement a sealing system to level it with the new flooring. Other regulations disallowed structures or objects from being placed within 15 feet of the floor-to-ceiling windows, Berg said. Developers are also not allowed to closely mimic the previous use without pictures and other documents as a reference. The restaurant's design takes inspiration from the original black-and-white flooring but will not re-create the former lobby. Benjamin, which requested construction permits in late December, has faced delays as it worked through the redevelopment constraints. It was originally scheduled to open in 2018 but is now slated to open later this year. Making Everyone Play Nice Even when there is no historical component adding hurdles, mixed-use developers have to figure out how to accommodate the space to welcome customers without disturbing the other tenants. Common residents’ concerns include parking, increased building traffic and additional odors, Platt said. The newly added parking garage in The Star will offer free valet for the residents' guests and designated spots for customers. Benjamin will feature a cold room that will be used to store trash and contain the smells. You Can't Buy Special With all the pain, why does anyone bother? It is the built-in character of historic buildings that makes it worth the trouble, Berg said. Many features of older buildings would be too expensive to build today. The cost for The Star's grand windows would probably range from $50K to $100K per window, Berg said. The all-in renovation budget for Benjamin is about $6M. Plus, buildings like the former Texaco HQ are unique. "There is nothing like it in Houston," Berg said. "If you tried to build it yourself it would lose the specialness of it."
Source: BISNOW

Conversation: Nicole Bean, Pizaro’s Pizza, Houston

Owner Nicole Bean has recently moved Pizaro’s Pizza out of its original location and into a larger and updated location nearby that could handle its three pizza styles.

We operate a fast-casual concept with two locations serving Napoletana, New York and Detroit-style pizzas. We offer a simple counter service and table delivery without the hassle of servers or wait staff. We also serve both beer and wine in addition to B.Y.O.B (small corkage fee applied).

We opened in 2011 with Napoletana style pizzas.
There was a lot of education with customers during the first year and tons of feedback about wanting more toppings and a more substantial crust to hold those toppings from those who didn’t quite understand the concept of Napoletana pizza. We knew our Napoletana was great and didn’t take long to catch on here in Houston, but we wanted to give customers something more. After opening our second and larger location (closer to downtown) in 2015, I went out to San Francisco to Tony’s International School of Pizza to learn to make Detroit-style while also learning Chicago, New York and Sicilian. Matt and I launched Detroit six months after I got back from school. I used only social media and local press to spread the word on our newest baby. Response to our Detroit went better than expected and continues to grow. It was only a year ago (2017) that we launched New York-style, which took us 10 months of development with dough, tomatoes, cheese and market testing.

All three styles are thriving, they are almost to an even split among the orders.

There is also a possibility of a new style coming…

We got tired of telling people “no;” Napoletana is challenging to keep authentic in the United States. Educating customers helped, but we still had to cut people back from piling on the toppings, which made both the customer and us unhappy.

Detroit was a great solution. We had a thick enough dough to hold more toppings and the sauce went on top; it was a no-brainer, plus the cheddar crust … People love that cheddar crust!

After getting our handle on making two styles and seeing that our customers loved having an additional option, we knew the time was right to get going on New York. It had to be more rigid (than Napoletana) with a bit of a crunch. We were listening to what our customers were seeking out. New York style was the answer and so we began the process. As soon as we started posting on Instagram about testing it, people started calling and coming in asking about the New York style even before we launched it. The response was overwhelming!

Now, we have all three styles at the re-location of our original store.

Source: Pizza Today

Activist investor calls for “fresh faces” to turn around struggling Luby’s

A New York hedge fund is preparing to launch a proxy fight to take control of Luby's board of directors, which if successful would change the course of the struggling chain led for nearly two decades by a member of Houston's Pappas restaurant family.

Bandera Partners, which owns 8.9 percent of Luby’s outstanding shares, on Tuesday sent a public letter to the locally based chain, outlining concerns about the company’s direction and nominating five candidates to “improve the board with fresh, independent faces.” Members of the nine-member board are elected to a one-year term every year at Luby’s annual shareholders meeting, which is expected to take place in early 2019.

“I’m writing today to tell you that what’s happening at Luby’s is simply not working,” Jeff Gramm, Bandera’s co-founder and portfolio manager, said in the letter. “I believe this is the outside shareholders’ last chance to salvage their investment in the company, and I feel a responsibility to take on this difficult battle on their behalf, rather than subject myself and other Luby’s shareholders to another year of value destruction.”

Bandera’s proposed new board members are Gramm; his father and former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas; Stacy Hock, chairwoman of Texans for Education Opportunity; Savneet Singh, a partner at New York asset management firm CoVenture; and Brian Wright, the CEO of Massachusetts-based Bertucci’s Italian Restaurants.

Gramm, in his letter, criticized Luby’s “bloated corporate expenses” and disagreed with the company’s strategy of closing restaurants and selling company-owned property to reinvest in the business and pay down $39.3 million of debt. Luby’s closed 21 locations this year and laid off some of its corporate staff to chip away at its debt.

Luby’s is liquidating shareholders’ most valuable asset: Luby’s real estate, Gramm said. The chain operates 146 company-owned restaurants under the Luby’s Cafeteria, Fuddruckers Restaurants and Cheeseburger in Paradise brands. The company this month reported nearly $200 million in assets, much of it in real estate.

“It is brutally painful to watch the company chisel away at its real estate portfolio to fund low-return investments into the business,” Gramm said in the letter. “Since fiscal 2008, Luby’s has sold $88 million of assets. This capital, more than double the current market capitalization, is gone and forever lost to shareholders.”

Luby’s, in a statement, said it will review Bandera’s letter and consider the hedge fund’s candidates. The board will make a formal recommendation later, the company said. Chris Pappas and his brother Harris Pappas, founders of Houston-based Pappas Restaurants, became majority shareholders of Luby's in 2001. Chris Pappas is CEO and president.

“We are always open to good ideas regardless of their source and will carefully review and consider Bandera’s candidates as we would any other potential directors to assess their ability to add value to the board for the benefit of all shareholders,” Peter Tropoli, Luby’s general counsel, said in a statement.

Luby’s, founded in San Antonio in 1947 and known for its comfort foods such as the LuAnn Platter, has struggled to retain diners in recent years amid growing competition from new fast-casual concepts, such as Shake Shack, which offer trendy foods and limited service that appeals to younger diners looking to share their dining experience on social media. Luby’s this year issued a statement of going concern, calling into question whether it can stay in business.

The company, in its latest annual financial report, said it posted $365.2 million in sales over the year, down 3.7 percent from the previous year. Same-store sales fell a half percent.

Luby’s reported a loss of $33.6 million this fiscal year, and its stock has lost two-thirds of its value since January. Shares ended the trading day Wednesday at $1.53, down from its peak of around $25 in 1993. The company has a stock market value of around $45.2 million.

“The market is no longer excited about a cafeteria concept,” said David Littwitz, a restaurant broker with Houston-based Littwitz Investments. “The younger customer hasn’t given a thought to Luby’s for a long time.”

Bandera, which has a stake in Famous Dave’s BBQ and has invested in Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Fiesta Restaurant Group, has owned Luby’s stock for more than a decade. The hedge fund has issued a number of public letters to company boards, including one sent this year to Boardwalk Pipeline Partners in Houston. Jeff Gramm is the author of “Dear Chairman,” a book on activist investors, and is on the board of Morgan’s Foods with James Pappas, an activist investor and son of Luby’s CEO Chris Pappas.

Another shareholder, Dallas-based investment firm Hodges Capital Management, has owned Luby’s stock for 35 years and said it would back Bandera’s efforts to change the board and the company’s direction.

Source: Houston Chronicle

Luby's closes 21 restaurants amid lackluster sales

Luby's, an iconic Texas restaurant chain known for its cafeteria-style comfort foods, is struggling to remain relevant in a hyper-competitive market as customers increasingly favor new, fast-casual concepts.

The Houston company, which earlier this year expressed concerns about staying in business, said Monday that it had shuttered 21 restaurants and laid off some corporate staff over the past year amid declining foot traffic and sales. The chain is in the process of closing and selling off additional restaurant to pay down $39.3 million of debt and negotiating with lenders to reach a refinancing agreement.

The company did not disclose the locations of the stores it has closed or plans to close, or the number of employees it laid off.

"Our aim and goal is to return to profitability," president and CEO Chris Pappas said in a conference call with analysts Monday.

Luby's, founded in San Antonio more than 70 years ago, operates 146 company-owned restaurants nationally under the Luby's Cafeteria, Fuddruckers Restaurants and Cheeseburger in Paradise brands.The company moved to Houston in 2004.

Luby's has struggled to retain diners in recent years amid growing competition from new fast-casual concepts such as Shake Shack and Flower Child, which offer trendy foods and limited service that appeals to younger diners armed with cell phones and social media sites to share their experiences.

"The sweet spot of the restaurant industry is the younger millennial who has some money and goes out a lot," said David Littwitz, a restaurant broker with Houston-based Littwitz Investments. "Luby's can work very hard to provide a good, hot, fresh meal at an affordable price, but they're just not what millennials are thinking about. There's nothing really Instagrammable about going down the cafeteria line and getting a meal."

Restaurant chains specializing in full-service, family dining have also struggled amid changing tastes. Applebee's and Outback Steakhouse have shuttered dozens of locations while others such as Ruby's Diner have filed for bankruptcy in recent years.

Luby's, which reported earnings Monday for its fourth quarter and fiscal year that ended Aug. 29, said its foot traffic fell 5.5 percent at Luby's Cafeterias and 8.3 percent at Fuddruckers during the fourth quarter. The company posted $365.2 million in sales over the year, down 3.7 percent from the previous year. Same-store sales fell 0.5 percent overall.

Pappas said Luby's executives are not satisfied with the company's financial performance.

"While operationally, there are several bright spots, the decline in profitability for the whole company is totally unacceptable," Pappas said. "In order to improve profitability, we must significantly improve traffic and sales."

Luby's closed four Luby's Cafeterias, 11 Fuddruckers and six Cheeseburgers in Paradise locations over the past year. The sale of 10 restaurants generated $14.8 million, about a quarter of the way toward the company's goal of raising $45 million. The company, which closed nine locations last year, is looking to shutter more underperforming stores.

Luby's provides food service management to hospitals, schools and corporate offices at 27 locations, and has several international locations in Canada, Central and South America, Poland and Puerto Rico. The food service division represented a bright spot for the embattled company. Revenue from food service contracts grew to $6.4 million this year, up from $5.8 million last year.

Last month, Luby's promoted Todd Coutee to chief operating officer to grow its sales and profit margins, which have lagged amid rising costs and lower guest traffic. Coutee said the company plans to use a combination of discounts, employee training on customer service and more popular menu options to drive foot traffic back to Luby's restaurants.

"I believe these are the keys to generate brand loyalty and repeat business," Coutee said. "We have iconic brands that are relevant in today's restaurant landscape."

Source: The Houston Chronicle

Brunch restaurant inks first retail lease in Australian co.'s apartment tower in Midtown Houston

The Flying Biscuit Café is the first retail tenant signed on for Australia-based Caydon’s new apartment tower in Midtown. 

The Atlanta-based restaurant will occupy more than 3,200 square feet at 2850 Fannin St., according to a press release from Caydon. The brokers on the deal were not included in the release.

The 27-story tower, slated to open next year, will include more than 13,000 square feet of retail space in addition to 357 apartment units. Houston-based Ziegler Cooper Architects designed the tower, and Alabama-based Hoar Construction is the general contractor. Caydon’s in-house team worked on the interior design. 

This will be one of the first Flying Biscuit locations in the Houston area and in Texas overall. The company opened its first Texas location in Richardson about a year ago, per the release. According to the restaurant’s website, it also has locations coming soon to Dallas and the Memorial City area. The company has 13 Georgia locations open or coming soon, three locations open in North Carolina, one in Florida and one slated to open in South Carolina in early 2019. 

The Flying Biscuit offers southern-inspired breakfast, brunch and lunch options and is generally open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends at most locations. The Midtown location’s menu will have a “Tex-Mex twist,” per Caydon’s release. 

“As Houston continues to emerge as a world-class city with a rich culinary scene, we are strategically focused on partnering with community-driven staples that will complement our iconic landmark development in the epicenter of Midtown,” Joe Russo, principal of Caydon, said in the release. “Similar to Caydon, The Flying Biscuit strives to build strong ties to its community and deep relationships with their neighbors and friends. We are committed to satisfying the demand of those who live within and will visit the neighborhood.” 

Steakhouse owner's buzzy new Washington Avenue burger joint sets opening dat

en Berg doesn't slow down. Over the last year, the proprietor of B&B Butchers steakhouse has purchased Memorial-area Italian restaurant Carmelo's and hired his brother Daniel as its chef, opened a second B&B in Fort Worth, and is planning an upscale concept called Benjamin for The Star apartment building downtown — all under his growing Berg Hospitality banner. 

In his free time, Berg is opening a new restaurant and patio bar on November 8. His new concept B.B. Lemon describes itself as “an elevated eatery and bar serving classic, straightforward food.” Located across the street from B&B Butchers in the former Caddy Shack space, B.B. Lemon occupies a tidy, 1,900 square feet. The space features a 76-seat dining room, a 22-seat bar, and a spacious, fully landscaped patio. 

“This is a place where I’d want to go and hang out,” said Berg in a statement. “We’ve put a lot of thought into what our customers like. It’s more than just a great menu or ambiance; it’s an experience.”

Taking its name and some of its inspiration from iconic New York City spot J.G. Melon, burgers have pride of place on the menu — a hamburger, cheeseburger, “baconburger,” bacon cheeseburger, and a patty melt are all available. Other options include some of Berg's favorite comfort food dishes from both his roots in New York and his life in Houston: everything from New England clam chowder in a bread bowl and a lobster roll to blue crab beignets, chili, and fish and chips. Not surprisingly, dessert options skew nostalgic; diners may opt for a root beer float, banana pudding, cheesecake, or brownie a la mode (among others). 

Chef Eric Johnson, the husband of B&B's sommelier Lexey Johnson, leads the kitchen. Monique Cioffi-Hernandez makes the jump from Field & Tides to fill the role of beverage director. Cocktails feature riffs on classics, including "B.B." versions of the Manhattan, the mule, and the bellini. A tidy list of wines by-the-glass and some easy drinking beers round out the beverage options. 

“To us, this was about creating a fun, neighborhood spot where there’s something for everyone, but it’s also worth the drive for people who don’t live in the area,” Berg added. “Our team really enjoyed putting together the design and the menus and we hope Houston loves it just as much as we do.”


Source: CultureMap Houston

B.B. Lemon; 1809 Washington Avenue; 713-554-1809; Monday through Wednesday 11 am to 12 am; Thursday through Saturday 11 am to 2 am; Sunday 11 am to 10 pm.

Ken Hoffman has the prescription for annoying doctor's office waits

When I moved to Houston, to the Gessner and I-10 area, I discovered a tremendous, secret sale at my local supermarket. At 10 pm, they reduced the price of fried chicken, whatever they had left, to 10 cents a piece. I started setting my biological and digestive alarm clock for 9:50 pm, pedaled to the store, and bought my late dinner and next day’s lunch.

Not thinking clearly, I mentioned this absurd bargain in my little newspaper column. The next night, there was a small crowd at the deli counter, watching the clock tick down to 10 cents, like it was Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

The next night, no more dime chicken. I ruined everything for everybody — mostly myself.

This week, I’ve discovered an even better scheme. At the risk of blowing it again...

I was due for my annual checkup and showed up at the doctor’s office right on time. The waiting room was packed. Uh-oh, this might take forever. I’m not a waiter: I don’t wait at the bar in a restaurant, in the drive-through for a Frosty — or in the lobby for a sex robot.

I sat in the doctor’s waiting room for five minutes, went to the counter and lied, “I just got a call from work, they need me down there right away. Can I reschedule another appointment?” And away I went.

This week, I went back, on time, for my reschedule appointment. Oh no, the waiting room is SRO again. I checked in with the receptionist, already thinking what lie I’ll tell her this time.

The receptionist turned and announced to a nurse, “He's here!" The nurse opened to door and said, “we’re ready for you.”


I went into the back, and as the nurse took my blood pressure, I asked, “What just happened?” She said, the doctor told office workers that I was a flight risk. Like a criminal with a passport. Do not let him walk another appointment.

That’s the ticket: turn the tables. Make the doctor wait for you. (Got a feeling I’ll be waiting and waiting and waiting from now on.)

Ken's no-spin zone
Here’s my in-depth, hard-hitting political analysis for 2018:

Have you seen Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s new political ad, where his grandchildren ask where voters can find Emmett on the ballot, and grandpa surprises the kids with a big box of doughnuts?

The investigative reporter in me had to ask: Where did Emmett get those doughnuts? Answer: River Oaks Donuts on Westheimer. Seems the ad’s producer liked how the box looked on camera. 

I would have gone with Shipley Do-Nuts, home of the fantastic Hoffy Twist, an extra-long cinnamon cruller topped with dark chocolate icing. It’s one of the crown jewels in my collection of fine foods. But I’m still voting for Emmett.

Hands off the baseballs
Here’s what the Astros need to do to avoid another ugly incident of fan interference on balls that should have been homers. Just move the outfield fences in by two feet, or the seats back two feet, so it’s impossible for fans to stick their arms onto the playing field. Baseball is weird. I can’t think of another sport where fans can impact the final score by touching a player or ball in play.

While the Astros are at it, extend the screen farther down the foul lines. At some point, MLB will make it mandatory, so why not be proactive for fan safety? I used to have a jai alai problem when I lived in Florida. Jai alai frontons are totally screened in so the audience doesn’t get smacked with a stray pelota. The view never was an issue, especially when I hit an exacta.

Behind the burger scene
Last week I was dining on a burger (I know, big surprise) at Jax Grill on S. Rice Avenue and thought: “This is pretty terrific, I need to know more. I’ll just ask the owner, Paul Miller.” He also owns the Union Kitchen on Bellaire Boulevard, two blocks from my spring/summer home in West U. (Love the Kitchen’s meatloaf.)

Jax half-pound patty is 80/20 chuck, never frozen, from Ditta Meats in Pasadena. The bun is from Ashcraft bakery in Stafford, delivered fresh daily. The burger is served with sliced tomato, Bibb lettuce, red onion, and dill pickle. MSRP: $5.25.

“All of our burgers are cooked over a live-fire mesquite grill, which burns hot and puts off a great smoke that makes our burgers something special,” Miller says.

Jax Grill has a second location on Shepherd Drive, which adds live music to the menu on weekends.

Source: Houston Culturemap

Houston's best pizzeria fires up new tastes with Memorial outpost opening

Memorial-area pizza fans, rejoice. Your new Pizaro’s has arrived. For too long, fans of Pizaro’s Pizza’s Memorial-area location have been denied the same experience as patrons of the Montrose location. Space limitations at the original outpost prevented the installation of a deck oven that would allow Pizaro’s owners to make the same Detroit and New York-style pies that have transformed the restaurant from Houston’s best Neapolitan-style pizzeria into the city’s best pizzeria — period.

Open quietly since last week, the new Pizaro’s (11177 Katy Fwy.) has enough space (2,500 square feet) to allow for both a deck oven and a wood-burning oven made by Italian firm Forza Forni. Nicole Bean, who owns and operates both locations with her husband, Brad; her father, Bill Hutchinson; and her brother, Matt Hutchinson, couldn’t be more thrilled about her new digs.

“It was the most perfect spot we found,” Bean tells CultureMap. “We probably looked at 15 other spaces. We’ve looked in West U. We looked in Katy, out in Pearland. When this popped up, [we knew] this was it.”

Customers who have been to the Montrose store will recognize the industrial-inspired look with simple wooden tables. Graphics on the wall illustrate the difference between the three styles: Neapolitan (stretchy dough, personal-sized); Detroit (deep dish, rectangular shape); and New York (what most Americans traditionally think of as “pizza”).

“Customers are thrilled,” Bean says. “I had a customer who said he came in for usual potato and mushroom, but [chose] the Detroit instead. [He said] ‘I saw the picture on the wall, and that’s what I had to get.’”

Even the most dedicated customers may not realize Bean is now an award-winning pizzaiolo. She earned the coveted Rising Star award at this year’s Caputo Cup during the recent Pizza & Pasta Northeast trade show. Unlike other awards given for making a specific style of pizza, the Rising Star award goes to someone that conference attendees will be a future leader in the pizza world.

“I’m honored to have it,” Bean says. “I don’t know if I feel like I deserve it. My peers think that I am deserving of it, so I’m very appreciative of that.”

Her brother Matt also earned an award for a pasta he made at one of the event’s competitions. While Pizaro’s doesn’t serve pasta, that could be changing. Bean says she and Hutchinson are contemplating pasta pop-ups to gauge interest in featuring the dish on a regular basis.

And why not? If a bar in the Heights can swing a weekly pasta night, surely Houston’s best pizzeria can figure it out.


Source: Houston Culturemap

Pizaro’s Pizza I-10; 11177 Katy Fwy.; 713-485-0530; Monday to Thursday 11 am to 9 pm; Friday and Saturday 11 am to 10 pm.

On game day, take your tailgating to the pro-level

Tailgating has been the only part of football that Owen Daniels didn’t experience.

The former Texans tight end started his career as a high school quarterback nearly 20 years ago. And when you’re winning Super Bowls — as Daniels and the Denver Broncos did in 2015 — there’s not much time for pregaming.

Now that Daniels is happily on the sidelines, he’s got some catching up to do.

Enter Jax Grill owner Paul Miller, whose gospel of tailgating follows a three-tier system.

“There’s just throwing drinks in a cooler. And then you’ve got your fold-out grills,” he says. “But a pro-level tailgate rolls out the smoker and the fryer — the works.”

He and wife Doris Miller definitely qualify as professional-grade. They’ve been Texans season suite holders from the beginning, ever since NRG Stadium opened in 2002.

And though the couple cheers on all of Houston’s sports teams, organizing the pre-party before the Texans take the field is more than just tradition, it’s part of their profession.

“Everyone meets up in the suites’ parking lot,” Paul Miller says. “Last week, I saw a trailer with a huge deck, cornhole, Mega Jenga and that new jumbo flip cup game they sell at Dick’s Sporting Goods.”

Like Daniels, Miller was a student athlete. He doubled up on both the wrestling and football teams at Purdue University. That’s where he gleaned the name for one of his restaurants, The Union Kitchen.

“In Purdue’s basement, the bottom level was the (Union) food hall and we always called that ‘the kitchen,’” he says.

When Miller moved to Houston in 2005, he earned his restaurant chops at McCormick & Schmick’s and Grand Lux Café. He and and his wife opened The Union Kitchen in 2010. In 2015, their company, Gr8 Plate Hospitality, bought the two Jax Grill locations, and they’ve been hauling their trailer between Texas A&M University and NRG Stadium to cater tailgates ever since.

“It’s the largest cocktail party in the world,” Miller says. “I’m amazed at the culture in Texas. People just leave all their stuff out in the parking lot, and when they come back after the game, it’s still there.”

Southern hospitality is the foundation of the Millers’ tailgating strategy. And if you ask them, the cardinal rule of entertaining is never running out.

Naturally, Paul Miller’s solution is a surplus of everything. “People never want to take the last of something. So if you’re going to do it, do it right.”

And because no one wants to work too hard on game day — it’s a party, after all — the Millers recommend pre-batched cocktails that can be poured directly into glasses. That, and ice-cold wine and beer — it’s fail-safe.

Where grub is concerned, heat-and-serve dishes are key. Seasoned hosts prep in advance so they’re not slaving away over a hot stove (er, coals) once guests arrive, which explains why bacon-wrapped sausage, aka voodoo balls, stuffed mushrooms, and Frito Pie macaroni and cheese (winner of Taste of the Texans coveted People’s Choice award) are some of Jax Grill’s most-requested tailgate items. No day-of slicing or dicing required.

Daniels awards the extra point to fare that can be eaten sans utensils.

“Right now, people are into steak and lobster, but you’ve got to have tables and chairs for all of that. It takes away from the actual experience,” he said. “When someone comes up to me with a beer in one hand and food without a plate in the other, that’s goals.”

For Doris Miller, it’s not a proper tailgate without a little sparkle. She purchases the bulk of her Texans décor from Amazon and the Dollar Store, then adds a personal, blinged-out touch with loose stones and a hot-glue gun.

“Everything has to match, from outfit to tabletop,” she says, pointing to her red Kendra Scott earrings, bedazzled football jersey and rhinestone sneakers.

Daniels values atmosphere over aesthetic. “If a stranger can be walking through the parking lot and is handed a cold drink, that’s the kind of tailgate I want to be around — one that’s inclusive.”

But Paul Miller thinks his wife might be right. Details are what separate good tailgates from the great.

“Shade,” he says of his No. 1 tip for a first-class game day. “Always have shade.”

Source: Houston Chronicle

Danton’s gulf coast seafood and steaks announces name change and location change

Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood and Steaks has been serving some of Houston’s freshest and most delicious Gulf seafood since 2007 at Chelsea Market, 4611 Montrose Boulevard, Houston, Texas.

Early 2019 brings numerous changes for this Houston hotspot including a new location, menu and name: introducing, Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine.

Eugene is the name of the father of Kyle Teas, proprietor of Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood and Steaks. “Eugene is my father’s name, so our core values will remain the same, but guests can expect refreshing updates,” says Teas.

Danton’s last service will be on December 31, 2018.

Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine is set to debut in early 2019.

Location: Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine will be located at: 1985 Welch Street, which previously housed Mockingbird Bistro.

Dishes: Fan favorites and classic offerings from Danton’s will be available at Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine like: Kyle’s Crab Salad, Shrimp and Grits, Seafood Gumbo and the Debris Sandwich.

Signature cocktails like the Bloody Danton and the Puerto Rican will be served at Eugene’s.

Cuisine is described as "authentic and genuine southern cuisine."

All dishes will be made from scratch. Seafood and steaks will be grilled over a wood burning fire. And there will be an oyster bar.

What originally started as an investment for Teas has morphed into a meaningful and personal endeavor. “I like getting to meet great people through our restaurant. Many of them have become friends that I hunt, fish, golf and play music with,” says Teas. “I look forward to expanding into Eugene’s and creating a concept that our customers resonate with that is even better than before. And yes, there will be an oyster bar!”