The wait for Houston’s newest steakhouse has come to an end. Starting tonight, Chris Shepherd will throw open the doors to Georgia James, his new restaurant that replaces Underbelly at 1100 Westheimer Rd.
As one of this fall’s most eagerly anticipated new restaurants, Shepherd tells CultureMap that he’s a little worried about being overwhelmed on opening weekend. “I don’t want to do 300, 400 hundred covers when we open up.
“You’re starting with people who have been with you for awhile and some new people,” he says. “We just want to make sure we’re all in the right direction so our guests have a good time.”
Of course, that’s exactly what might happen. By any standard, diners really enjoyed One Fifth Steak, the restaurant that inspired Georgia James. It became a tough reservation to book, and images of its signature baller boards — a giant wooden plank loaded up with a selection of different steaks and sides — filled social media. Even in a city that loves steakhouses, it’s clear that Georgia James has something a little different to offer.
The James Beard Award winner’s take on a steakhouse starts with the idea that the meat should be cooked the way he does at home: grilled over wood or seared on cast iron rather than blasted in a broiler. Instead of serving generic USDA Prime, Georgia James follows Underbelly’s commitment to local sourcing by serving Texas beef from 44 Farms or domestic wagyu from Marble Ranch.
Georgia James’ menu includes all the usual cuts: ribeye, porterhouse, strip, and even a hanger. Instead of filet, the restaurant is serving a zabuton, which translates as “pillow” in Japanese.
“Its cut from the chuck. It’s going to be a six to eight ounce piece,” Shepherd says. “It’s very filet like. We’re using some from Marble Ranch and Snake River Farms. It’s just exciting to do new things.”
Similarly, the starters and sides present a fresh take on steakhouse conventions. Instead of a wedge salad, Georiga James serves a “slab” of iceberg lettuce topped with black pepper buttermilk, tomato, red onion, bleu cheese, and Benton’s bacon. Creamed collard greens, crispy Brussels sprouts with pig ears, and lamburger helper have all returned. The menu even offers a few classics.
“Actual delicious French onion soup, because it’s one of my favorite things on the planet. It’s techniques that we like to do there,” he says.
In terms of design, Shepherd and business partner Kevin Floyd worked with local design firm Collaborative Projects to replace Underbelly’s farmhouse look with a more modern design that features Art Deco touches. The space now holds a dry-aging room for beef, and a 6,000-bottle wine room replaces the old bar. Instead, the new bar is now incorporated into the dining room, giving the space a more cohesive feel.
“It’s got so much bourbon and whiskey on it. I’m gonna be in heaven,” Shepherd says.” I’m looking at some of the stuff. I’m like Westin [Galleymore, Underbelly Hospitality’s spirits director], ‘where did you get this from?’ From moderately priced to really expensive, there’s some cool shit.
“The wine list, I was looking at some of the things Pridgen’s got on there. The first two things are drinking vinegars. It’s really fantastic. I was chuckling and giggling with excitement. His wine lists are always fantastic.”
In addition to Shepherd and wine director Matthew Pridgen, the restaurant will be lead by executive sous chef Greg Peters and general manager Jeff Taylor. They all have a lot to live up to; Shepherd named the restaurant for his parents. The chef explains that his parents supported his decision to enter the world of professional cooking long before the Food Network and Top Chef made it cool.
“They mean a lot to me. Plus, the name’s pretty cool,” he says. “I want my mom to come in the dining room and hang out. My dad just retired a couple years ago. I’ll put him at the host stand. My mom will talk you to death. It will be awesome.”
Georgia James; 1100 Westheimer Rd.; 832-241-5088; Sunday-Thursday, 5 pm to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to 11 pm.