Even in what felt like a down year for high-profile restaurant openings, Houston's vibrant scene produced a solid mix of new restaurants that have improved diners' choices. That trend shows no signs of slowing down in 2014. Even going by what's already been announced, a mix of well-established operators and intriguing newcomers are poised to make significant contributions.
What's coming? A second-act from a chef who's previous restaurant earned national acclaim, an attempt to open the best bakery in America and a barbecue joint that aims to knock off Austin's Franklin BBQ as Texas' best.
Two caveats before the list: First, these are the most intriguing restaurants that have already been announced for 2014. Other, still unannounced restaurants may emerge that are also exciting. Know of one? Fire off an email. Second, lots of things can delay projected opening dates. What follows is currently correct but should be considered subject to change.
Still intrigued? Read on.
Since they're opening in the same location, let's group the new two restaurants from the Treadsack folks (Down House, D&T Drive-Inn) together. At Hunky Dory, former Feast chef Richard Knight will team up with Down House's Benjy Mason to open a tavern built around what Knight calls a "very big, sexy, wood-burning grill." The menu will feature a mix of Feast's rustic, European cuisine with a few steakhouse style dishes in a casual, neighborhood atmosphere.
At Foreign Correspondents, fishmonger P.J. Stoops will move into the kitchen to create Northern Thai cuisine. How committed is Stoops to authenticity? He recently tweeted a picture of Thai chickens he's raising to use at the restaurant. Stoops will host the third pop-up to preview Foreign Correspondents on Jan. 11 from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m at D&T. Knight and Mason showed a few Hunky Dory-style dishes at a dinner at D&T during Houston Beer Week. Expect more pop-ups as the projected fall openings draw near.
Together, they're a big, ambitious plan to open two high-profile restaurants in a neighborhood that's increasingly becoming a dining destination; just don't call it an empire.
Former Pesce chef Mark Holley has decidedly fine dining aspirations for his new Midtown seafood restaurant. When he announced his plans to take over the former Sushi Raku space, Holley told CultureMap he wants to "reintroduce caviar to Houston" as part of an extensive raw bar. The food from the open kitchen will feature Holley's Creole training, and service will match the high standards Holley has for his food. Construction should begin in February, and Holley hopes to be open in April or May.
Pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel has a simple goal for Common Bond, the bakery he's set to open in February at the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy. He wants it to be "the best bakery in America" and has recruited an all-star roster of talent from his stints at various Michelin-starred eateries across the country to help him achieve that goal. Every aspect of the facility has been carefully planned, including a climate-controlled pastry room; no more blaming Houston's humidity for inferior baked goods. While the opening has been pushed back from Shvartzapel's initial goal of being open by Thanksgiving, the images from recipe testing on Common Bond's Facebook page are absolutely mouth watering. Just look at that croissant!
A year ago, Ronnie Killen was known for serving great steaks and feeding the Houston Texans top-ranked defense. How quickly things change! Although Killen still serves great steaks, he's also earned a reputation as one of Houston's top pitmasters thanks to a weekly pop-up that started in March. Located in a renovated building that once housed the Pearland ISD school cafeteria, the permanent home of Killen's BBQ will open in January. Whether being able to get Killen's top-notch brisket and beef ribs during the week will do anything to tame the hour-plus weekend waits remains to be seen, but regular hours should help him achieve his goal of dethroningFranklin BBQ as the best in Texas. Now, how about fixing that defense?
Just as real estate developer Christopher Balat partnered with pastry chef Chris Leung on Cloud 10 Creamery because he wanted a banana split, Balat explains that he's opening Museum Park Cafe and Bosta Coffee & Wine in his Parc Binz building because he wanted a neighborhood restaurant and coffee shop he could walk to. Set to open in May, Museum Park Cafe will be a reasonably priced restaurant that Balat says will serve "really well-done dishes that the neighborhood can be proud of." Bosta will have a lighter menu and feature Greenway Coffee. Leung is consulting on the menu, so, of course, the desserts will be outstanding.
Having successfully launched Coppa Osteria in Rice Village, Charles Clark, Grant Cooper and chef Brandi Key can turn their attention to next door neighbor Punk's Simple Southern Food. Set to open in February, Punk's features Key's re-imagined takes on classic Southern dishes from her childhood. Sweet corn hushpuppies, meatloaf and okra all have places on the menu. Wood-fired and raw oysters will emerge from a 50-foot long bar that will run the length of the dining room. Naturally, fried chicken is coming, too: served family style on butcher paper with all the fixin's.
Add Bernie's Burger Bus to the list of food trucks opening brick and mortar locations. Set to open this spring, Bernie's Burger Bus Stop will feature the signature burgers and fries that have made the bus Houston's most popular food truck along with rarely seen specials like lobster rolls and new additions that will include milkshakes (with and without alcohol). Unlike food trucks like Good Dog or the Eatsie Boys which have relegated their trucks to catering duty once the storefront opens, Bernie's buses will still be rolling after the Bus Stop arrives; it will serve as a central kitchen so that owner Justin Turner can maintain quality. One other twist: Turner tells Eater that he's working with design firm Collaborative Projects to include a bus inside the restaurant to maintain the food truck experience.
Bradley's Fine Diner/Ogden's Pour Society
With Funky Chicken open and his last restaurant in Las Vegas closed, Bradley Ogden can turn his attention to the two other restaurants he plans to debut in Houston.
In March, Bradley's Fine Diner will open in the same Heights-area strip center as Funky Chicken; it will feature a fine-dining spin on comfort food classics with a full bar. In May, gastropub Ogden's Pour Society will open in the Gateway Memorial City development that's already home to the fourth Churrascos and steakhouse Vallone's.
While Ogden resides in the Bay Area, his son Bryan has moved to Houston to manage the projects and forge the necessary relationships with local purveyors. Fine Diner may be a new concept, but a version of Pour Society saw life as Hops & Harvest in Las Vegas, where it received generally strong reviews; hopefully, these two new restaurants open to similar acclaim.
Sushi chef Jason Liao fled Austin for Sugar Land to open his vision of a sushi-inspired seafood restaurant where the menu changes to reflect seasonal ingredients. While opening in a suburban strip center near a grocery store and a Chinese buffet doesn't sound like a recipe for success, Preview will only have 38 seats. Surely there are that many people per night in the fast-growing suburb who want something different than California rolls and spicy tuna. Liao will put that theory to the test when Preview opens in February; in the meantime, his Instagram feed occasionally features some intriguing looking dishes.