BBQ Comes to Montrose

Montrose makeover continues: Acclaimed BBQ pitmaster plans new restaurant in former porn shop

Acclaimed pitmaster plans BBQ restaurant in former Montrose porn shop

John Avila Burro and Bull
John and Veronica Avila will bring barbecue to a former adult bookstore in Montrose. Photo by Eric Sandler
John Avila Burrow and Bull
Avila has already earned a following thanks to pop-ups at The Flat. Photo by Eric Sandler
Veronica Avila Burro and Bull Houston Barbecue Festival
At the Houston Barbecue Festival, Avila served smoked pork tacos on homemade corn tortillas. Photo by Eric Sandler
John Avila Burro and Bull
The Avilas will add a kitchen, pit room and private dining room to the rear of the space. Photo by Eric Sandler
John Avila Burro and Bull
John Avila Burrow and Bull
Veronica Avila Burro and Bull Houston Barbecue Festival
John Avila Burro and Bull

Montrose may be the heart of Houston's dining scene. People travel from across the Houston area to find everything from fine-dining restaurants like Mark's and Da Marco to casual neighborhood joints like Paulie's and Aladdin, with plenty of high-profile eateries, too. Big names like Common Bond, Underbelly, Uchi and Indika have all cemented the neighborhood's reputation.

Yet, for all the accolades, the neighborhood lacks a dedicated barbecue restaurant. Rising star pitmaster Wesley Jurena operates the Pappa Charlies Barbeque trailer at Jackson's Watering Hole, but it's only open three afternoons a week. That just isn't good enough.

 Avila's restaurant won't just be a traditional barbecue joint. He says he's been inspired by travels to west Texas and his childhood in the Second Ward to offer a broader array of cuisine. 

Thankfully, that situation will change soon. John Avila, the native Houstonian pitmaster whose resume includes stints at Franklin Barbecue and Morgan's Barbecue in Brooklyn, has signed a lease for the building at 1201 Richmond that previously housed the Talk of the Town adult bookstore. Together with his wife Veronica, Avila plans to remodel the space to expose its original brick and to build a new kitchen and pit room onto the back of the structure. He's already begun the process of pulling permits for the project and hopes to be open as soon as September.

It will not be the first time in Houston that an adult bookstore has been transformed into a popular restaurant. The original Carrabba's on Kirby Drive, Divino Italian Restaurant on West Alabama and L'Olivier Restaurant and Bar on lower Westheimer each opened in a space that formerly housed a porn shop.

Avila says he's still deciding whether to continue with the El Burro & the Bull moniker he adopted for a series of well-regarded pop-ups and two appearances at the Houston Barbecue Festival or to dub the restaurant The Firebox. Either way, Avila's restaurant won't just be a traditional barbecue joint. The chef says he's been inspired by travels to west Texas and his childhood in the Second Ward to offer a broader array of cuisine.

"I feel like there’s a lot of guys making fires in boxes these days," Avila tells CultureMap. "We want to make sure that we’re doing it with our heart in it and our story behind it."

Flavors of Texas

The restaurant will serve traditional, slow-smoked meat, but Avila envisions a restaurant that celebrates all of the flavors of Texas by blending Gulf Coast seafood, Tex-Mex and European influences that include German smokehouses and Czech kolaches.

"We have to represent Texas regionally. There will be Cajun-influence. There will even be steaks that represent the ranches in Texas. We hope to do vegetables, because there’s vegetables in certain parts. Fredericksburg peaches, when those are in season, we’ll have peach cobbler coming out of our ass, Avila explains. "Texas is such a big state it’s like a country. When you go to Italy, you go to difference regions and get different food. It’s the same thing here, whether other people realize it or not."

Even the proteins will evolve seasonally. For example, Avila expects to serve venison during deer season. Wild boar, duck and cabrito (roasted goat) will also make appearances. 

"You’ll see fajitas when we get beautiful pieces of meat and do it over mesquite," Avila explains. "We won’t have stuff that’s just a simple part of the menu that’s always going to be there. We hope to do those things really well and move on to something else." 

Houston opportunity

Avila has worked all over the country and had been considering a consulting opportunity in London before deciding to open in Houston. Between his recent marriage and with his daughter at Lamar High School, he decided the time was right to stay home.

"Out of all the opportunities, even in London, it doesn’t mean as much as doing it in Houston," Avila says. "Even when I was in New York and we were doing interviews with all those newspapers, all I could think was ‘it’s not the Chronicle.’ It’s great that it’s the New York Times, but it’s not the Chronicle . . . I appreciate it all for sure, but my heart is here."

As for Jurena, he doesn't seem to be worried about the prospect of a little competition. He channeled the spirit of one of his professional mentors, Austin pitmaster John Mueller, in a Tweet posted Sunday night.

 

Nothing like a little friendly rivalry, right?