Nationally, few styles of cuisine are as trendy these days as red sauce Italian. From Carbone in New York City to La Motta's Italian Specialties in Boston, diners can't get enough of the nostalgic fare that feels as though it's straight out of the cooking scenes in movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas. Inevitably, the trend has come to Houston, but the folks who are set to open Arthur Ave Italian American in a Heights mid-rise aren't some outside restaurant group with no knowledge of Houston — rather, they're the team behind one of 2015's best new restaurants, Helen Greek Food & Wine.
"The red sauce trend has been going in the East Coast, but really not in Texas," partner Sharif Al-Amin tells CultureMap. "I feel like Texas is missing that. We’re lucky to have someone like (Helen executive chef) William Wright who knows it and loves it. This is his dream."
Renovations are already under way to convert the former Piatto space on Studewood into Arthur Ave under the direction of Helen designer Erin Hicks. If all goes according to plan, Al-Amin hopes to be open this summer, approximately a year after Helen made its debut.
While that might seem awfully soon to be expanding, Al-Amin says they have enough people in place to make it happen. "We were always planning to grow the company," he notes. "When you look at the restaurant, we have three chefs and three front of house managers for a 56 seat restaurant . . . I wanted to bring in this team, and I wanted everybody to be involved right from the beginning."
The menu is still under development, but Al-Amin notes that, just as Wright's cuisine at Helen features classic Greek fare in an accessible package, all of the dishes at Arthur Ave will be original recipes that are both an homage to classic Italian dishes and adjusted for Houstonians' palates. Exact dishes are still to be determined, but it's a safe bet the spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, and veal marsala all make the cut.
Helen co-owner Evan Turner will handle the wine list, which will be split between California and Italian bottles. Al-Amin turned to his former Prohibition colleage Lainey Collum to create the cocktail menu.
"I was doing some research on the Heights," Al-Amin says. "It’s a different crowd. I like it. People go out to eat. It’s families. It reminds me of Rice Village."
Given the success Helen has found in that neighborhood, hopefully Al-Amin's first impressions are on track. After all, who doesn't love a little Sunday gravy?