Signs of constructions are everywhere at Armadillo Palace these days. The Goode Co bar and restaurant is in the middle of renovations that will bring a massive expansion of its capacity from 250 people to 1,400 and add a full outdoor stage.
Even as Armadillo Palace has remained open throughout the construction, patrons may have noticed changes to the cocktail program thanks to the company’s beverage director, Rob Crabtree.
After working at Austin’s acclaimed cocktail bar Half Step, Crabtree came to Houston to help Goode Co owner Levi Goode realize his vision of making his restaurants' beverage programs as acclaimed as their food. Both Goode Co Seafood and Taqueria already have new menus, but Crabtree expertise will play its biggest role when Armadillo Palace’s transformation is complete this summer.
“His background was very intriguing,” Goode tells CultureMap. “It was pretty obvious that his meticulous nature and his passion for mixing cocktails was very harmonious with our passion for food. I thought it was a great fit. So far, it’s proven to be a great relationship.”
Crabtree is developing two menus for Armadillo Palace: one for the main dining room, which will be based on the space’s honky tonk vibe, and a second for the Orange Blossom Bar, which will focus on whiskey. He acknowledges that the spirit has become trendy lately but still sees ways for the Orange Blossom to set itself apart.
“Everyone is starting with the same base whiskey, but our fresh juices, our fresh syrups, the way we produce those things, and the flavor profiles we’re going after are more in line with what we’re doing with our food,” Crabtree says. “What we’re doing here with the live music venue, the backyard component, all of that works and says more Texas-style than you see at some true whiskey bars.”
Furthermore, Armadillo Palace will substantially upgrade its food offerings by adding both a wood-burning grill and a wood-burning rotisserie. Classics like chili will remain, but the menu will also include new seafood options and even a 40-ounce steak. Groups will be able to gather around a fire pit to dine on chuck wagon recipes originally developed by Levi’s father, legendary Houston restaurateur Jim Goode.
“Really, the inspiration for the menu is very much our Goode family culinary history in the New World from Virginia and throughout the South, Texas, and Mexico. We want our drinks program to reflect that and be very classic in nature but pair well with the food,” Goode says.
“We’re not really playing on Southern in general or New Orleans,” Crabtree adds. “We’re playing with the region. There’s some influences that are coming from a julep or a Sazerac. There are definitely influences coming from Mexico, given Levi’s heritage. We’re really trying to do some updated honky tonk classics, as well as some more craft-forward cocktails that are built for speed.”
Towards that end, the restaurant is giving patrons a taste of the future via a series of “Hard Hat Specials” that will run until the construction is complete. The offer includes both a selection of $5 cocktails and $10 pairings of a beer, wine, or cocktail with select food items. Considering the family's legendary campechana paired with a glass of sparkling one is one of the options, it's a solid deal.
After 40 years on Kirby, Goode recognizes that some changes are necessary to stay current, but he still wants to preserve the spirit that’s made the company so successful. After working with Crabtree and new bar manager Michael Riojas, he’s optimistic that diners will like what they find.
“I like to think of it as a perfect marriage between old and new,” Goode says of the new direction. Later adding, “I think we’re able to offer somebody who’s looking for a well-executed cocktail, we can fit that bill just as well as an ice cold longneck. These drinks, although they’re going to be well-executed and put together with the freshest ingredients, they’re not going to be mixed in some scientific beaker with a glass stirrer. It will be as unstuffy as our food will be.”