The latest addition to downtown's bar and restaurant scene is The Springbok, a South African-inspired rugby-themed sports bar. The product of Los Angeles transplants chef Seth Greenburg and owner Peter Walker, Springbok made an initial splash as a World Cup-watching hotspot but only rolled out its full food menu recently.
Diners who might be expecting wings and burgers will be surprised by what they find, because Springbok's menu goes far beyond traditional pub grub — or even traditional South African food.
Greenburg brings a French pedigree to the menu thanks to stints at L'Orangerie, in Los Angeles and Cuisine Français in Chicago, both with two-star Michelin chef Gilles Epié. It's Greenburg's experience that sets Houston's Springbok apart from the Los Angeles original.
Diners who might be expecting wings and burgers will be surprised by what they find, because Springbok's menu goes far beyond pub grub.
"In LA it feels more like a pub that serves food, good food," Greenburg tells CultureMap. "Whereas here we are trying to be more of a pub that has fantastic food. . . . If I were to come in here I would expect a burger or some wings, but if I get what I’m getting I’d be pleasantly surprised."
What do diners get? South African specialties like chicken sosaties, a housemade sausage served with jalapeno-infused pineapple peppadoo, and more refined fare like an asparagus salad served with a sous vide egg and South African beef jerky.
"There’s a couple of things that have a traditional name. I’m not trying to bastardize this cuisine, just trying to update it," Greenburg says.
He cites his take on the traditional burwurst as one example. Known in South Africa as a "burry," the Springbok version is served on a Mexican bolillo roll and topped with Shiner Bock mustard. "Definitely not a traditional South African garnish," Greenburg concedes, "but it's made to appeal to today's diner."
Local lamb and Southern Star Buried Hatchet stout show up in another recipe, but Greenburg says he'll only use local ingredients "when it's better. We're not going local just for the sake of local."
Greenburg is still learning the differences between Houstonians and Angelenos. A dish of oxtail in red curry that was pretty mild during an initial visit has already been punched up with more heat, but diners are responding well to a slightly funky chicken liver mousse. PEI mussels steamed in Thai basil curry, hangar steak basted with smoked butter and crispy pork belly wrapped in thin strips of bread are other dishes that deliver Greenburg's take on flavorful, hearty fare that goes well with a beer or cocktail.
While Springbok will never compete with neighbor The Flying Saucer in terms of the diversity of its beer list, the restaurant does feature a well-chosen selection of local and national brews. Sommelier Jason Banks is working to source South African wines and beers as well as spirits like Bundaberg rum, which is made in Australia and extremely popular in South Africa.
"We want you to have a craft cocktail, but, if you order a Jack and Coke, no one’s going to look at you like you’re an asshole."
The sports selection will focus on South African favorites like rugby and cricket, but a group can always reserve a TV for whichever game interests them. Of course, once American football season starts, Springbok expects to feature both college and pro games.
Regardless of what people are watching or eating, Greenburg cites the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere Walker created in LA as one of his main goals for the restaurant.
"We want refinement in our food and service, whether there’s a soccer game on or not. It might be my 42-year-old stubbornness, but I think people deserve that. That’s our job," Greenburg says. "We want you to have a craft cocktail, but, if you order a Jack and Coke, no one’s going to look at you like you’re an asshole."
Greenburg says that so far diners are embracing the concept, and he's enjoying Houston. "California sure is pretty, but the opportunity that Texas and Houston provides especially for restaurant and small business owners is terrific," he notes.
"I'm happy to be here just a few years into this boom of contemporary restaurants and bars. It’s a scene that’s growing so quickly. It’s fun to be around for it."
The Springbok is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Call 832-767-5574 for more information.