Chris Shepherd has earned national acclaim by telling the story of Houston food at Underbelly for over four years, but the James Beard Award winner has culinary interests beyond his famous dishes like cha ca snapper and Korean braised goat and dumplings. What would a Chris Shepherd steakhouse or seafood restaurant be like? And what about all those Mediterranean dishes he served at Catalan?
On Sunday, Shepherd announced a new restaurant that will let him explore those possibilities. Together with business partners Kevin Floyd (Anvil, Hay Merchant), financial expert Steve Flippo, and Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus, Shepherd will open an ambitious restaurant called One Fifth in the restaurant space that was previously home to Mark’s American Cuisine. Although Floyd is a partner in Clumsy Butcher, One Fifth will not be affiliated with the company, just as Bobby Heugel’s still unnamed "neighborhood business" with Oxheart chef-owner Justin Yu will not be.
Similar to Next in Chicago, One Fifth will change its concept once a year for five years. The restaurant will operate from September 1 to July 31, then close during August for remodeling. Details like decor and staff uniforms will change for each transition.
Beginning in January, One Fifth Steak will offer Shepherd’s take on classic steakhouse fare. On September 1, 2017, it will become One Fifth Romance Languages, featuring the cuisines of Spain, France, and Italy. On September 1, 2018, it will become One Fifth Fish, a seafood restaurant that looks beyond the Gulf Coast for inspiration by serving, say, caper blades from South Carolina or clams from New England. The remaining two concepts will be announced at a later time.
One Fifth Steak will feature proteins (meat and seafood) that are grilled, seared in cast iron, or roasted in the restaurant’s existing wood-fired deck oven. Yes, there will be filets and ribeyes, but Shepherd plans to utilize whole animals in the same way that Underbelly does.
“Growing up, my parents bought whole sides of beef,” said Shepherd in a statement. “Even as a kid, I understood the importance of utilizing a whole animal. Yes, primal cuts are delicious, but all parts of the animal, if treated properly, are delicious. It’s how I cook at home, and it’s how we’re going to cook at One Fifth.”
The typical steakhouse sides will get a twist, too. Instead of creamed spinach, Shepherd expects to serve creamed mustard greens with Benton’s bacon, embered carrots with citrus and sunflower seeds, and grit spoonbread and creamed mustard greens.
Whatever the concept, each restaurant will feature a cold bar, a tableside rolling cart (possibly beef tartare or Caesar salad for the steakhouse), and a sophisticated beverage program that blends current Underbelly general manager Matthew Pridgen’s wine knowledge with cocktails and craft beer helmed by Floyd. The wine list will change according to the concept — for now, look for sparkling wines and classic reds for the steakhouse — while the cocktails will allow Shepherd and Floyd to indulge their passion for bourbon.
“I have always found it strange to see high-end, thoughtful food served next to beer lacking the same passion and attention,” said Floyd. “I’ve learned a lot working in bars that are essentially research and development labs for quality beer and spirits, and I look forward to applying those products, methods and passion to a broader menu.”
Some questions still have yet to be answered. First, how much of Mark’s iconic design will remain once Floyd and local design firm Collaborative Projects finish what is described as “significant renovations?” Second, how will Shepherd divide his time and who will serve as the chef de cuisine at both Underbelly and One Fifth?
Regardless of the details, any restaurant that allows Shepherd to explore his ideas for food beyond the streets of Houston is a welcome one, and One Fifth will undoubtedly be one of next year’s most talked-about new arrivals.