The Understory food hall will have a healthy new addition in 2020. Mona Italian Kitchen chef-owner Sidney Degaine will double down on the downtown venue with a new healthy eating concept he's calling Farro.
Degaine tells CultureMap that he developed Farro in response to customer demands. They like the flexibility of Mona’s menu, but they don’t necessarily want to eat a bowl of pasta all the time. Farro offers diners flexibility in a format that could be eaten multiple times per week.
Slated to open in mid-February, Farro will be Understory’s sixth restaurant, joining Mona, Mama Ninfa’s Tacos y Tortas, Seaside Poke, Flip N Patties, and East Hampton Sandwich Co. The venue also has an outpost of Boomtown Coffee and the Silver Lining cocktail bar.
Similar to Mona’s pasta bar concept, diners will be able to make bowls, wraps, or salads from a range of ingredients. Each bowl starts with a choice of farro, heirloom rice, or quinoa. From there, diners can select from about two dozen toppings — everything from roasted vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, beets, and carrots to marinated items like tahini kale and citrus cabbage slaw as well as fresh items that include avocado, tomato, and corn.
Pick a protein: chicken, salmon, plant-based nuggets, or eggs. Each bowl gets finished with one of seven seasonings such as miso-ginger, orange-tahini, or Thai chili. Diners who don’t want to build-their-own may choose from some preset combinations, each of which range from $13 to $16 (a bowl without additional protein will cost about $10).
The chef is particularly proud of the roasted vegetables. As a French chef, it’s not an approach he would traditionally take, but he’s learned to appreciate them since moving to America to open Cafe Azur in 2016.
“I love cooking veggies. I think a bunch of New American cuisine, people use a lot of roasted vegetables,” Degaine says. “You would never see that in France. Usually, we cook them in water; we blanch them and eat them with butter. I think [serving roasted vegetables] is great.”
In addition to its lunch and dinner menu, Farro will serve breakfast items that include different oatmeal and yogurt options as well as freshly squeezed juices.
The range of fresh and prepared options at an affordable price puts Farro in the same general part of the dining world as restaurants like Sweetgreen and Flower Child. It's a growing segment that appeals to diners who want low calorie meals with a few chef-approved enhancements.
Degaine notes that his main piece of kitchen equipment is an electric oven that can roast, grill, or steam ingredients. As such, it doesn’t require a vent hood. That means the concept could grow quickly with locations at other food halls or in a space that used to be a Subway. Between Farro and Mona, he's identified his niche in Houston's dining scene.
“I think we’ve found our business model,” Degaine says. “People who only have a short time to eat and want to eat fresh, good food that’s not too expensive.”