Meat lovers rejoice! The downtown location of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is now open. It's the second Houston spot for a Pappas Bros steakhouse and only the third overall (they have a Dallas location).
Located in the former home of The Strip House in the Houston Center complex, Pappas Bros initially planned a quick turnaround for the space when the company assumed control of it three years ago but then decided that more extensive renovations were required.
"They had put quite a bit of money into it, but fundamentally we felt the space needed to look like us and feel like us. It also needed to be in the brand of what Pappas Bros Steakhouse is," director of marketing Christina Pappas tells CultureMap. "That’s when we decided we needed to put the brakes on our process and see what we’ve got going on. We came in and we started to make a lot more renovations."
Private dining room
That meant more than repainting The Strip House's red walls and removing the burlesque artwork. The restaurant features a 200-plus person private dining room with a separate banquet kitchen that has been created from elements of the adjacent mall and parking garage. Additionally, plenty of storage has been created to accommodate the restaurant's massive wine cellar that's currently at 2,000 and will grow over time.
Of course, the restaurant still looks and feels like a lot like its Galleria-area sibling. With its yellow ceiling, leather-covered walls and thick, white tablecloths, the new Pappas Bros projects luxury and opulence that befits its status as Food Network's third best steakhouse in America.
Pappas says the company is looking forward to joining the downtown market that includes staples like Vic & Anthony's, national chains like Shula's and Morton's and more recent arrivals like Mr. Peeples in Midtown and Washington Ave hotspot B&B Butchers.
"I feel like downtown has so many growth opportunity in it. We’ve got new hotels coming . . . We feel like this is going to be a great piece for downtown Houston."
Meat comes first
While excellent sides and a killer crab cake are certainly important parts of dining at a steakhouse, the meat has to come first. Pappas Bros dry ages its beef in a massive walk-in cooler. Corporate executive chef Michael Velardi oversees the temperature and humidity parameters that allow the meat to develop the right depth of flavor while remaining juicy.
Exact specifications vary by cut, but the restaurant guarantees at least 28 days in the cooler prior to cooking, and, while it works through its initial supply of steaks, as many as 45 or 50.
At a time when restaurants like celebrity chef John Tesar's Knife in Dallas are redefining steakhouse cuisine with more salads, cheaper cuts of beef and seasonal sides, Pappas Bros keeps things classic. Those who dine there will follow a basic formula along the lines of: Start with shrimp cocktail or raw oysters. Move on to turtle soup or crab cakes. Order a filet, strip or ribeye. Pair it with red wine. Finish with cheesecake or pecan pie. As its recent status as Trip Advisor's tenth best restaurant in the country makes clear, people like the Pappas Bros. experience.
"Don't fix what's not broken," Pappas says. "What we know is we know how to be consistent . . . and do what we know how to do and do what we know works. When you start to tweak it a little bit too, change it a little too much, you might lose your identity in the process. We know this identity works, and we're proud of it."
If the dishes a friend and I sampled during last week's soft opening are any indication, Pappas Bros is already operating at a level that's consistent with the Westheimer restaurant. Both steak and lamb chops arrived medium rare with sides like potatoes au gratin and roasted mushrooms that are excellent examples of their kind. In particular, we decided the fried oysters, which feature a light, crispy crust, must be some of the best in Houston.
Servers, some of whom moved from the Westheimer location and others who are stepping up from the company's other restaurants like Pappadeaux and Pappasito's, began training for their new assignment as far back as six months ago. Those efforts mean that service at the new location should be just as polished and knowledgeable as it is at the original.
Extensive wine cellar
In addition to food, the restaurant's extensive wine cellar also defines what sets it apart.
Wine director Bill Elsey holds an Advanced Sommelier certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers and so do two other members of his team. Considering Houston is only home to about a dozen people who have earned that status, having three working the floor in one restaurant demonstrates Pappas Bros' commitment to maintaining the standards of excellent wine service set by the other two locations multiple Wine Spectator Grand Awards.
Bar director Matt Tanner has supplemented those offerings with a new cocktail menu and an extensive selection of spirits, which gives those who prefer to drink their dessert lots of treats to look forward to.
Between this location and Pappasito's and Yia Yia Mary's restaurants in the newly opened Hobby Airport international terminal, it's been a busy fall for Pappas Restaurants, but they're not done yet. Next on the horizon are Pappasito's in The Woodlands followed by Pappadeaux locations in Austin and San Antonio.
"Those are the next few months," Pappas says. "Then we have to see what permits come back next."
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is open from 5 pm to 10 pm Monday through Thursday and 5 pm to 11 pm Friday and Saturday.