One of the year’s most eagerly anticipated restaurants will make its debut this month. Thirteen by James Harden is set to open soon in the former Mr. Peeples space at 1911 Bagby St. in Midtown.
Harden will not be present for the opening, of course. The Rockets traded the one-time NBA MVP to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster deal last week. Still, his imprint is on all aspects of the renovated space.
A representative tells CultureMap that Harden has invested his own money into the project and selected many of the design elements, which include black walls, grey banquettes and chairs, and copper accents. A light fixture in the shape of Harden’s signature hangs above the dining room.
Perhaps most importantly, Harden has retained chef Tobias Dorzon to lead the kitchen. A former professional football player, Dorzon started his culinary career as a private chef for athletes before opening Victory Restaurant & Lounge in Miami last spring.
Dorzon is no stranger to Houston. He tells CultureMap that his clients include NFL lineman Trent Williams and Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, and that he assisted the Turkey Leg Hut with its opening. He's been in Houston for the past couple of months to prepare for the opening by building a staff and sampling restaurants.
“I took time to come out here, visit different spots, low end, high end,” Dorzon says. “I just wanted to learn the culture a little more.”
He says he learned that Houstonians like the sort of big flavors that are his speciality, and that he can incorporate pork into his menu in a way that’s not well-received on the East Coast.
Towards that end, the chef has crafted a menu that mixes steakhouse and comfort food elements. Think shrimp and lobster mac and cheese egg rolls with crawfish cream sauce; four layer, deep-fried lasagna; mac and cheese topped with a deep fried lobster tail; and a 32-ounce tomahawk ribeye with Hawaiian marinade and shallot-pineapple compound butter.
Nods to Dorzon’s East Coast roots include Maryland crab cakes, french fries topped with Old Bay and crab cream sauce, and clam chowder with candied bacon bits. Those looking to splurge may opt for a seafood tower.
“My whole snapper, it’s got a Caribbean-style, tomato-based sweet and spicy sauce,” he says. “There’s so many things with brunch, when I finally build a team to push out everything on the menu, it’s going to be really exciting.”
Dorzon recognizes that Harden’s sudden departure has upset Rockets fans. He’s seen the negative reviews posted for a restaurant that’s not open yet, but the chef isn’t concerned.
“For me, I really like when pressure’s on my back, because it gives me the opportunity to prove myself once again,” he says. “Once the people get in here and see this amazing space and get the chance to taste this food, I think they’ll change their minds about the restaurant.”