Introducing Restaurant Indigo

Innovative Houston chef's new restaurant serves up the history of soul food one plate at a time

Innovative Houston chef's new restaurant explores history of soul food

Restaurant Indigo
A look inside Restaurant Indigo. Photo by Eric Sandler
Restaurant Indigo
Snapper with ramp "ranch." Photo by Eric Sandler
Restaurant Indigo
Johnny Rhodes, second from left, leads the team. Photo by Eric Sandler
Restaurant Indigo
Smoked pickled carrots. Photo by Eric Sandler
Restaurant Indigo
Biscuit with fig-bourbon jam. Photo by Eric Sandler
Restaurant Indigo
Restaurant Indigo
Restaurant Indigo
Restaurant Indigo
Restaurant Indigo

Within the Houston city limits, only one restaurant serves a tasting menu: The Pass, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan’s companion to Provisions. Even in the metro area, only two other restaurants, the avant-garde Eculent in Kemah and luxurious Cureight in The Woodlands, offer diners a guided menu.

Add one more to the list now that chef Jonny Rhodes and his wife Chandra have opened the doors to Restaurant Indigo. Almost two years in the making, Indigo offers diners the opportunity to experience Rhodes’ elevated perspective on soul food in all its forms.

“The restaurant operates as the history of soul food. It also includes neo-soul food,” Rhodes said during a recent soft opening dinner for a dozen people. “You’ll see things that aren’t traditional soul food. You’ll see things that may throw you for a loop. You’ll see different conjunctions of different Africanisms and different indigenous people’s concepts.”

Located next to a convenience store in north Houston’s Lindale Park neighborhood, the couple built almost the entire restaurant themselves with help from a few friends. The dining room is dominated by a 13-seat, U-shaped table where Rhodes serves his five-course, $79 menu. Diners have a choice of an omnivore or a vegetarian menu. Wine pairings will be available once the restaurant receives its liquor license, which should be by September.

At the soft opening dinner, those dishes included the “Affirmation of a Stereotype,” a chilled watermelon soup with pickled blueberries; the “If Marcus Garvey,” field peas in a Jamaican-style curry; and “Copper Sun,” pickled and smoked carrots. He also served a biscuit made with “aged dairy.” Preservation plays a big role in Rhodes’ cooking. Jars of carrots, turnips, and other vegetables occupy a cabinet in the dining room. 

The Marcus Garvey dish in particular demonstrates Rhodes’ expansive definition of soul food. Garvey, a black nationalist who was prominent during the Harlem Renaissance, hailed from Jamaica. Since Garvey played a role in African American history, Rhodes considers the food from Garvey’s homeland to be eligible for inclusion in his restaurant.

Whether Rhodes can lure diners to his restaurant remains to be seen. The neighborhood is better known for taquerias than tasting menus. Even though it’s only a couple of exists past 610 off I-45, Houstonians can be fussy about how far they’re willing to drive for a meal. Indigo’s five-course menu is also $14 more expensive than the one served at The Pass, but it lacks the luxurious environment that contributes to making The Pass a memorable experience.

Even with those caveats, ambitious diners should add Indigo to their agenda. Rhodes cooking may need some tweaking — the watermelon soup needed to taste more like watermelon — but the smoked carrots and biscuit are the sort of dishes that should win fans. Rhodes, who served in the Marines before becoming a chef, is used to overcoming obstacles.

---
Restaurant Indigo, 517 Berry Rd.; Open Wednesday through Saturday for two seatings: 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm and 8:45 pm to 11:15 pm.