The Second Ward may not be a culinary destination on the level of Montrose or the Heights, but the neighborhood is rapidly becoming known for more than fajitas (Ninfa's on Navigation, El Tiempo) and breakfast tacos (the peerless Villa Arcos). Moon Tower Inn is a solid craft beer destination that serves excellent burgers and sausages, and Andes Cafe offers a diverse menu of South American dishes.
Now, two chefs are looking to introduce Southern fusion at their restaurant Kitchen 713.
Chefs Ross Coleman and James Haywood met when they worked together at Minute Maid Park. As their friendship developed and they cooked together at each other's homes, they realized they wanted to open a restaurant together.
"We tried to find a little spot we could get into for not as much money as a prime time location and just let the food speak for itself," Coleman tells CultureMap.
The union led to the Southern-inspired, Asian-influenced food of Kitchen 713. While the space is nondescript, it isn't short on charm thanks to the hospitality in the dining room and the magic of Coleman and Haywood's cooking.
"We tried to find a little spot we could get into for not as much money as a prime time location and just let the food speak for itself," Coleman tells CultureMap. "We always wanted to do Southern food and (showcase) the world using Southern ingredients."
Haywood cites the country ham dish on the brunch menu as one example of their approach. "We take pork belly and treat it exactly how you would treat a ham, the whole process. Normally, when you serve ham in the south, you get collard greens and corn bread. We took that spin and we also did a cornbread pudding and fermented greens. We use a little kimchi that we do in house from fermented mustard greens."
As demonstrated during a tasting provided by the restaurant, the results are very promising. A trio of boudain (pork, chicken and seafood) each show a good mix of meat and rice, with just enough spice to make lips tingle without being overwhelming; instead of crackers, the homemade links are served with large pork cracklings. Turkey necks, another staple of Southern cooking, arrives in a Vietnamese-inspired lettuce wrap with nuoc cham sauce. An off the menu special takes a turkey leg and covers it in a spot-on Indian-style vindaloo sauce; if it isn't quite as spicy as might be found on Hillcroft, it's a lot more interesting than the usually tough roasted examples found at festivals.
Coleman says the diners who have found the restaurant have given it good feedback. "We're getting pretty good reviews on Yelp," he notes. Members of the Houston Chowhounds Facebook group have also been raving.
The only downside is that the restaurant's lease agreement doesn't permit it to serve alcohol or allow customers to BYOB, "but we definitely plan to revisit that," Haywood says.
For now, the duo's biggest challenge is to draw people far enough down Canal Street for that first visit. "We’re moving in the right direction," Coleman says. "Just about getting people in here and letting them see what we can do."
The restaurant that started at Minute Maid Park isn't a home run (yet). Call it a solid double off the wall. For a rapidly growing neighborhood, that's a good start.