The wait for the newest restaurant from Chris Shepherd's Underbelly Hospitality has come to an end. Georgia James Tavern officially opens tonight (Tuesday, July 27) in downtown's luxurious Market Square Tower high-rise.
First announced in January, Georgia James Tavern offers a more casual, less expensive alternative to the full-scale experience at Georgia James, but it still uses the same approach to sourcing, technique, and service that earned the James Beard Award winner's Montrose steakhouse recognition from Texas Monthly as 2019's best new restaurant in Texas.
“I love Georgia James,” Shepherd said in a statement. “But I understand that it’s not a restaurant most people can visit on a daily or even weekly basis. Georgia James Tavern is designed to be a place where our guests want to — and can — eat every day.”
Yes, two cast iron-seared steaks are on the menu for those who want to splurge, including an $85 wagyu ribeye with potatoes and onions, but the Tavern offers lots of less expensive options. That starts with four different sandwiches ($18-25), as well as chicken and fish that are both roasted in the restaurant's wood-burning oven. Javi's Club Sandwich, named for Shepherd's long-time butcher Javier Salvador, features turkey and ham that are both made in-house. Other dishes include an updated version of Georgia James's Farmers Cut salad called the Seven Vegetable Salad that features locally sourced produce that's roasted, charred, pickled, or preserved.
“A tavern is a place for people to gather, drink, and eat,” chef de cuisine Matt "Tally" Coburn said. “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.”
The Underbelly Hospitality team has made their own contributions to the restaurant's offerings. Pastry director Victoria Dearmond has a new line of desserts, including a wood-roasted apple crumble that's a scaled down version of Georgia James' signature apple pie. Wine director Matthew Pridgen's list includes a mix of smaller and more well known producers at a range of price points, while spirits director Westin Galleymore promises at least a few allocated whiskeys along with classic cocktails.
Nest Design Group transformed the former Coterie cafe into Georgia James Tavern. The interior features nods to Market Square Tower's Art Deco-inspired exterior such as marquee-style lights around the bar and vintage-inspired glass wall sconces. Other design elements include leather banquettes, brass accents, and Zellige tiles from Morocco on the back bar.
“When it came to pairing a restaurant concept with Market Square Tower, we had only one criterion — find a chef-owner who matched the caliber of bespoke service that we offer our residents,” Jonathan Manocherian, principal of Market Square Tower developer Woodbranch, said. “We found exactly that in chef Shepherd . . . his projects and his talented team have elevated Houston’s culinary scene, and we are thrilled to see his vision brought to life here at the Georgia James Tavern.”
Opening Georgia James Tavern kicks off a busy period for Underbelly Hospitality. Next up, the restaurant group will open two new concepts at the Houston Farmers Market: Underbelly Burger, a fast casual concept that will feature an updated version of Hay Merchant's popular Cease and Desist burger, and Wild Oats, chef Nick Fine's concept devoted to the “history and traditions of Texas cuisine."
Next year, the company will open a still unnamed restaurant built around live fire cooking in the Regent Square mixed-use development currently under construction near Buffalo Bayou.
Georgia James Tavern, 777 Preston, open Tuesday-Sunday beginning at 5 pm with lunch hours to follow soon.