While most Houstonians were watching the Rockets beat the Warriors on Wednesday, May 16, an exciting piece of food news quietly broke at the original Beaver’s, which hosted a special pop-up by executive chef Arash Kharat and chef Jonathan Jones (widely known as J.J.).
More than producing some delicious bites, the collaboration represented the first flowering of Jones’ return to the restaurant that he made one of the city’s hottest dining destinations almost 10 years ago. The biggest difference is that this time Jones is coming on board as Beaver’s operating partner with an ownership stake, which is what lured the chef to leave his role as the executive chef of Cane Rosso’s Houston and Austin locations.
That’s right. Papa Beav is back in the den.
“The happiest place I ever worked in my life was here,” Jones tells CultureMap. “A partnership never materialized back then; years later, an olive branch was thrown out. They offered me the chance to be the operating partner. They feel I kind of embody the brand.”
Kharat remains the executive chef of Beaver’s West and will continue to oversee its menu centered around his take on Central Texas-style barbecue and Texas comfort food. Jones says his role at West will primarily be to assist Kharat with managerial tasks like managing food costs. For his part, Kharat is looking forward to working with Jones to build on what he’s created in the year-and-a-half since the location opened.
“J.J. can be the muscle and the voice to the owners and investors that don’t want to change things,” Kharat says. “I think West is at the point where now’s the time to have fun. We’ve proved ourselves. Now it’s time to get funky fresh.”
As for the original location on Decatur, it’s still very much a work in progress. Currently, it’s open in the evenings for cocktails — created by 13 Celsius/Mongoose versus Cobra owner Mike Sammons — and a limited food menu while Kharat and Jones build a new crew and receives feedback from diners about their likes and dislikes. While some Beaver’s classics are an essential part of the menu (smokey queso), don’t expect all of Papa Beav’s old dishes to suddenly reappear.
As Jones notes, the area around the restaurant is full of gyms, cycling centers, and yoga studios. People are more conscientious about what they eat. In addition, a recent health scare has Jones thinking about his own eating habits. Therefore, he wants Beaver’s to have options for health conscious diners, too. Don’t want that burger on a bun? Get in a bowl with sauteed kale and toasted flax seeds. Produce from the Blackwood Educational Land Institute will be prominently featured, too.
“I don’t want to do chicken fried steak every day anymore, because the world has changed. I want to change with it,” Jones says. “We want to offer a more diverse neighborhood more diversity on the menu. I’m all about the old school jams, but I want to embrace the new school future.”
Similarly, Jones says he doesn’t expect to serve the same Central Texas-style barbecue that Kharat does at the other location. Inspired by his own experiences as well as the interest diners have shown in restaurants like Loro, the Austin restaurant that blends the culinary perspectives of Uchi chef Tyson Cole and Franklin Barbecue pitmaster Aaron Franklin, he wants Beaver’s to serve more dishes like those featured at Wednesday night’s pop-up: a Portuguese-inspired chicken pipil, Lebanese-inspired lamb ribs, and a Vietnamese-inspired pulled pork sandwich.
The pulled pork in particular is emblematic of the flavors Jones wants to tinker with. He started with the mop recipe he learned from acclaimed South Carolina pitmaster Rodney Scott at Southern Smoke then substituted fish sauce and tamarind for lemon juice and sugar.
“There are plenty of places that do Texas barbecue,” Jones says. “I want to put in the flavors I’m inspired by from the cultures that make up Houston, and that’s everything from Asian cultures, South Asian cultures, Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Mexican, Latino, Spanish. There’s no rules. I want to do all kinds of cool stuff like that. Why would I limit myself...when Houston likes everything?”
Look for more pop-ups soon. And keep an eye on social media for limited time offerings. Jones will have the flexibility to jump on an exciting delivery from a fish vendor to run a nightly special.
With the Old Sixth Ward already buzzing from recent additions like Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and Poitín, it will be up to Jones to help Beaver’s stand out. A little Texas swagger and some global flavors seems like the right recipe to make that happen.