a casual tavern for downtown

Chris Shepherd cooks up casual steakhouse for downtown high-rise and Texas fare for farmers market

Chris Shepherd cooks up casual steakhouse for downtown high-rise

Georgia James steakhouse bone-in strip loin
Georgia James Tavern will serve steaks, salads, sandwiches, and more. Photo by Julie Soefer
Nick Fine Underbelly Hospitality Wild Oats
Chef Nick Fine will open Wild Oats at The Houston Farmers Market. Photo by Julie Soefer
Georgia James Tavern bar elevation
A drawing shows plans for the bar at Georgia James Tavern. Courtesy of NEST Design Group
Georgia James steakhouse bone-in strip loin
Nick Fine Underbelly Hospitality Wild Oats
Georgia James Tavern bar elevation

Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly Hospitality will open at least two new restaurants in 2021. The company has announced more details on the restaurant chef Nick Fine will open at The Houston Farmers Market and revealed a new casual concept for one of downtown’s most luxurious high-rises.

Georgia James Tavern will open in Market Square Tower later this year in the former Coterie space. Pitched as a more casual, less expensive offshoot of Shepherd’s luxurious Georgia James steakhouse, the Tavern will serve salads, sandwiches, and burgers along with Georgia James’ signature cast iron-seared steaks and dishes cooked in a wood-burning oven. 

Shepherd tells CultureMap he’s had the Tavern concept in mind for a while and sees Market Square Tower as the ideal place to test and refine the restaurant before potentially expanding it to multiple locations. Being in a residential building will provide the restaurant with a built-in clientele who could utilize its dining room, order room service to their units, or get food packages for the building’s amenities such as the pool or the poker room.

“We can offer things to the residents that I look at and say this could work really well,” he says. “Especially with the way the laws are, we’re working with TABC to where I can sell the entire building cocktails. If you’re going to the pool, here’s a couple of bottled cocktails to-go.”

Georgia James sous chef Matthew Coburn will serve as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, and the Underbelly Hospitality management team will all have contributions. Pastry director Victoria Dearmond is developing a tavern-specific dessert menu, and wine director Matthew Pridgen will offer a scaled-down version of he steakhouse’s selections.

“A tavern is a place for people to gather, drink and eat,” Coburn said in a statement. “We want to build a sense of community with this restaurant strengthened by our relationships with local farmers and ranchers, and the simple, technique-driven menu will reflect those relationships. My goal is for our guests to feel the culture we create from the moment they walk in the door.”

Local firm NEST Interior Design Group will take its inspiration from the building’s Art Deco décor to create an interior that will feature vintage wall sconces, tufted leather banquettes, and a back bar that features handmade Zellige tiles made in Morocco.

Turning to The Houston Farmers Market, the company has revealed more details about the restaurant chef Nick Fine will open on the property, which is being redeveloped by Shepherd’s business partner Todd Mason and his firm MLB Capital Partners. Called Wild Oats, the restaurant will explore the “history and traditions of Texas cuisine” while utilizing the techniques Fine learned while working for chefs in Germany, New York City, Aspen, and more.

As with other UBH establishments, Fine will source most of his ingredients from local farmers and ranchers with a focus on those that operate at the market. The menu is still under development, but Fine will put his twist on familiar dishes such as a take on shrimp and grits that swaps in masa dumplings.

“We were talking about the market,” Shepherd recalls. “[Fine] said, ‘I want it.’ [I said] ‘Let’s go.’ It’s going to be fun.”