Houston's status as an emerging power in the barbecue world looks poised to take another step forward as a legendary Houston pitmaster returns to the smoker. The Landmark Houston Hospitality Group, the owners of Mr. Peeples, two locations of Hearsay Gastro Lounge and 51fifteen in the Galleria, are opening a new restaurant called The Republic Smokehouse and Saloon in the former Blackfinn space in Midtown.
Set to open in four to six weeks, general manager Angel Rios tells CultureMap that The Republic is "Twin Peaks meets Pappas Barbecue meets Wild West." The Twin Peaks aspect coming from an all female service staff in plaid shirts and denim shorts. The Wild West influence will be seen on a newly constructed stage that will host bands every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
While those are both important elements of the concept, Republic's focus is squarely on its food. "The backbone of that restaurant is going to be that smoker. We’re going to have great barbecue and great dishes that have that smokiness," Rios vows.
GM Angel Rios tells CultureMap that The Republic is "Twin Peaks meets Pappas Barbecue meets Wild West."
Overseeing the smoker will be the responsibility of pitmaster Cedric Williams, who served the same role at the highly regarded Williams Smokehouse until a fire destroyed it in 2007. For more than 20 years, Williams Smokehouse was a Houston barbecue gem. The Acres Homes restaurant even earned a spot in Texas Monthly's Top 50 barbecue ranks in 2003.
Although Williams has been out of the restaurant business since the fire, he has continued to make barbecue, which is why Landmark reached out to him through "a friend of a friend" for The Republic.
"He's bringing his rubs and his sauce. He'll be in charge of all the smoking," Rios tells CultureMap. Two brand new, gas-assisted Southern Pride rotisserie smokers have been installed in The Republic's kitchen. "Cedric likes to use post oak. He says it's the best wood for smokng," Rios adds.
Republic's goal is to serve barbecue for both lunch and dinner every day. "I like to sell meat. I want to make my money. I’m not content with, ‘Hey, we sold this. We’re done,' " Rios says with a laugh.
Joining Williams in the kitchen will be Matt Knotts, who is currently a sous chef at Hearsay on the Green. "Matt’s done a lot of different styles of food: sushi, American cuisine, French. But his family is from the South and his uncle used to own a barbecue place."
Knotts will be responsible for developing barbecue-inspired menu items with a "foodie twist" like smoked ravioli, osso bucco and a range of sandwiches. The Republic will bake its own breads from scratch and feature a daily pie special using seasonal fruits. On the beverage side, draft beer options will consist of 20 taps that blend craft and traditional beers, and a cocktail menu will be built around classics with a "saloon twist."
Overall the concept is designed to appeal to the young professionals who are driving Midtown's booming nightlife scene.
Inside, the Blackfinn space has been totally gutted. In addition to adding a stage, the bathrooms have been moved to open up the dining room. A new patio bar means diners won't have to go inside for another drink. Sports fans will appreciate 30 TVs to watch games.
Overall the concept is designed to appeal to the young professionals who are driving Midtown's booming nightlife scene. After two years in both the kitchen and management at Mr. Peeples, Rios says he's learned a few things about Midtown diners.
"These guys are out there working in oil and gas. They wear suits all week. When they go out, they don’t want to be suited up," Rios says. "They want to be comfortable. They want to go somewhere local with great food and great beer, but also be affordable to go more than once a week."
Rios says he has a simple goal for how The Republic will fit into its neighborhood.
"(It) is going to be like Cheers, a great local bar where everybody knows your name."