Jason Howard may not be a familiar name to Inner Loop diners, but the ambitious restaurateur has big plans for the former Brownstone/Corner Table space in River Oaks. Over the next couple of months, he’ll open Five Central, a comprehensive eating and drinking destination with five distinct concepts:
- Jaxton’s World Flavors: a casual neighborhood restaurant.
- Presidential Cigars: a cigar bar with a members-only smoking lounge.
- Elie: a wine bar and cafe that will feature live music, mostly jazz.
- XX3 (read as 23): a craft cocktail bar
- The Red Peacock: an ambitious restaurant with a theatrical element
“I was really inspired by my time at the Boardwalk,” Howard tells CultureMap. “I wanted to combine that experience with my time at Tony’s and create a destination that combines several different concepts to create one big playground.
“This space is large enough to accommodate that and at the same time still intimate enough that it wasn’t a Boardwalk or CityCentre where you have to move your car to get to the next spot or walk across a football field. It combines the best of both worlds.”
Five Central builds on the legacy of Jaxton’s Bistro (eventually renamed Jaxton's Grill House and Bar), the restaurant Howard opened in 2016 at The Boardwalk at Towne Lake, a mixed-use development in Cypress. He closed that restaurant last month in order to focus on Five Central. The new project allows him to apply the lessons he learned both at Jaxton’s and during his eight years as the maître d’ at Tony's.
“The lessons I got at Tony’s was invaluable, just learning the business,” Howard says. “What I really learned at the Cypress location is letting the guests drive the product. We do this for our guests. That was one of the biggest lessons was to take ego out of it and build it for what my guests want.”
What he thinks guests want is a comprehensive destination that can combine a variety of experiences without the hassles of parking or navigating a massive mixed-use development like The Boardwalk or CityCentre. The vision is that people will come to XX3 for a drink before having dinner at Jaxton’s, which will replace the original’s European-inspired wood-fired cuisine with a more global approach that Howard says is inspired by his travels. Maybe they stick around for a glass of wine while listening to the jazz band at Elie or head upstairs for a cigar. Howard’s being a little more mysterious about the fifth concept.
“The Red Peacock, that’s the one I may be most excited about. It will be the most attractive dining venue in the city,” he says. I don’t want to go into too much detail . . . Basically, it’s going to be high-level food paired with outside the box, engaging entertainment.”
No, he isn’t nervous about the space’s history. As he notes, the Brownstone operated for almost 30 years, and Corner Table had an almost four year run. With a new series of residential high rise projects coming to Upper Kirby, plus a new H-E-B, Howard thinks he’s couldn’t be in a better position.
“I think this is a historic [place that’s] so built into the fabric of this community, ‘build it and they will come.’ Then it’s on us to deliver,” he says. Later, he adds, “Especially in the restaurant world, this is the best place in Houston to be right now. You’ve got my friend Bobby Matos across the street [at State of Grace]. You’ve got Chris Shepherd down the street, Hugo [Ortega] down the street. This is where it’s all happening. I’m excited to jump on the ship.”