Only a couple of years ago, Houston's dining scene maintained several high-profile pop-ups with names like: the Just August Project, Money Cat, Tenacity and Pilot Light. One of the first public appearance of Chris Shepherd's signature Korean braised goat and dumplings came at a Grand Prize pop-up.
People who attended those events realized something special was going on, and, indeed, the talent behind them has opened some of the city's best restaurants: Oxheart (Just August, Money Cat), The Pass & Provisions (Just August, Pilot Light) and, obviously, Underbelly.
While pop-ups continue to happen at places like The Flat and Glitter Karaoke, Treadsack co-owner Chris Cusack and executive chef Benjy Mason, two of the principles behind popular Heights concepts Down House and D&T Drive Inn, recognized the need for a dedicated facility where up and coming chefs could try ideas and build an audience for future concepts. They've established a new space known as Kipper Club Test Kitchen that they hope will give an outlet for such endeavors. The idea is to help foster the next Oxheart, as it were.
If Cusack delivers on his promise to bring in new talent, Kipper Club could emerge as one of the fall's best openings.
Despite his initial reluctance to lease another restaurant, once Cusack saw the former Tippy's Soul Food, Fried Chicken and More space he decided "this place is too good." The building was in good shape, only needing mild renovations to become the Kipper Club. Furthermore, the lease rate is reasonable enough that it doesn't have to be open every day.
Also, with plans for the company's construction permits for its new dual restaurant complex for Hunky Dory and Foreign Correspondents at Shepherd and 18th Street only receiving city approval on Aug. 13 (meaning they won't open until 2015 instead of this fall), Kipper Club gives the future chefs of those concepts a way to cook for people and test ideas.
"We have Richard (Knight) and PJ (Stoops) who are dying to cook," Cusack says. "We've had some big dinners at our houses," but Kipper Club will provide more people with the opportunity to taste the dishes they're developing.
Not surprisingly, Knight will kick off the program with a dinner on Friday, Sept. 26. Cusack is working to get others lined up quickly. "Some are people you know and like," he promises. Others are up-and-coming sous chef types looking for an opportunity or out of town guests in the model of the Indie Chefs Week dinners.
Each of the meals will run from three to five courses and include complementary beverage pairings. Prices will run from $75 to $115. The dedicated space means chefs can host two seatings or even host a run over several days that will allow dishes to evolve based on experience and feedback from diners.
Get ready for some fun — if Cusack delivers on his promise to bring in new talent, Kipper Club could emerge as one of the fall's best openings.