from tapas to steak night
Downtown tapas restaurant rolls the dice on new concept playing on its historic saloon days
A downtown restaurant has swapped Latin American-inspired tapas for a more contemporary small plates menu. Batanga’s owners recently converted the Market Square restaurant to The Big Casino Kitchen + Bar.
Named for the historic Big Casino Saloon that occupied the space at 908 Congress St. from the Civil War until Prohibition, the restaurant keeps the things people liked about Batanga — specifically, its massive, 3,600-square-foot, fully landscaped patio — but updates the interior and menu for 2023.
First opened in the spring of 2013, Batanga arrived around the same time as a wave of new bars such as Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar and the Original OKRA Charity Saloon, which reinvigorated the area around Market Square as an eating and drinking destination.
“We loved having Batanga available to Houstonians for a decade but looked forward to revamping the space to appeal to a wide range of guests,” owner Brian Fasthoff said in a statement. “The Big Casino has something for everyone, great food, killer drinks, and a fun atmosphere.”
To create that “great food,” Fasthoff turned to consulting chef Ben McPherson, the culinary mind behind Batanga’s original menu and the current owner of wholesale pasta manufacturer BOH Pasta. Choices include a selection of shareable items such as crawfish beignets, sausage corn dogs, and crab and corn ravioli (made with BOH pasta, of course). The menu also includes an on-trend smash burger, a shrimp roll, and a grilled cheese made with smoked gouda and cheddar.
The Big Casino features steak night every Sunday and Wednesday. The $25 offering comes with a choice of a 6-ounce filet or 16-ounce ribeye paired with mac and cheese and a wedge salad. A crab cake, shrimp scampi, or bacon and blue cheese can be added for an additional fee.
Bartender Megan Hill (1751 Sea & Bar) leads the restaurant’s cocktail program with sips such as the Casino Royale (vodka, gin, Lillet Blanc), High Roller (gin, herbal liqueur, raspberry shrub, lemon, and egg white), and the Hot Streak (tequila, Curacao, lime, ancho-chipotle syrup, and grapefruit soda). Beer and wine are also available.
Interior changes include the installation of a 30-foot onyx bar and an upgraded sound system. Outside, diners will find a dedicated bar as well as a 16x10-foot video wall for watching sports.
The Big Casino is open Wednesday-Sunday beginning at 5 pm. Weekend brunch service will begin in the fall.