now sowing in spring branch
Spring Branch sows Wild Oats with opening of Underbelly's Texas tribute restaurant
A new option for Texas comfort food has arrived in Spring Branch. Wild Oats has started a quiet soft opening ahead of its official opening day of Friday, December 8.
Previously located at the Houston Farmers Market, Wild Oats is Underbelly Hospitality’s restaurant that pays homage to Texas’ various culinary traditions. After closing its original location in September, Wild Oats has relocated to a new development at 1222 Witte Road next to its sister concept, Underbelly Burger, and The Decoy, a new bar from the owners of Wakefield Crowbar with volleyball courts and a high-energy atmosphere.
Underbelly Hospitality culinary director Scott Muns tels CultureMap that the move gave the company an opportunity to make some changes to Wild Oats’ menu, which was developed by his predecessor, chef Nick Fine. He wanted to respect the restaurant's original vision while expanding to include traditional favorites that hadn't appeared on the menu before.
“There’s room for new items and new ideas,” Muns says. “It’s a new team with a new chef. I wanted them to be able to have a voice in the menu also.”
Those new items start with a wild boar shank that’s braised in salsa verde and served with grits that are treated like masa. For Muns, having a wild game dish on the menu feels appropriate for a restaurant devoted to Texas foodways. “If people think of it as pork, they’re going to be surprised by how much more depth of flavor you can get,” he says.
Muns and chef de cuisine Omar Munoz collaborated on a new seafood boil. Currently, it comes with shrimp, blue crab, and snapper, but the flexible format allows the kitchen to utilize whatever comes in from the restaurant’s seafood purveyors. Instead of a large steak, the menu now offers a smoked short rib as its beef option, which more explicitly pays homage to Texas barbecue.
Puffy tacos, a request from Underbelly Hospitality president Nina Quincy, allow the restaurant to put its spin on a dish that’s identified with San Antonio. In this preparation, the grits gets turned into the masa that becomes the tortillas, which are fried until they’re puffy. Diners can choose from beef suadero, smoked chicken, or pastor mushrooms as a filling.
“It takes technique to get a good puff,” Muns says. “Yesterday was the first day we had it on the menu. From one day’s data, it seem to be something people are going to gravitate towards.”
Menu staples have also been reworked. The chicken fried steak now comes with one patty as a default with the option to “Texas size” it by adding a second patty. When Wild Oats opened, the dish, which is made with wagyu beef from Texas-based R-C Ranch, cost more than $40. Now it starts at $18.
“We’ve tried to be mindful of pricing and making sure things don’t get too high,” Muns says. “The idea of a 40-something dollar chicken fried steak can seem ridiculous, even if you’re using wagyu and expensive products. I don’t want to go out and spend that much money on a chicken fried steak.”
The opening of Wild Oats completes a busy 2023 for Underbelly Hospitality. In addition to opening a second location of Underbelly Burger, the company recently welcomed Comalito, a taqueria developed in partnership with acclaimed Mexican chef Luis Robledo Richards, to Wild Oats’ original location at the Houston Farmers Market. Earlier this year, the company opened Pastore, an Italian seafood restaurant, next to its Georgia James steakhouse in the Regent Square mixed-use development.
“We’re thrilled to plant roots for Wild Oats on Witte Road,” Underbelly Hospitality partner Jeff Lindenberger said in a statement. “Community has always been our core vision for the reintroduction of Wild Oats, and we have drawn inspiration from our neighbors to build a space that reflects the warmth and diversity of Texas. This is a concept and menu we all really love and are eager to share it with our newfound neighbors and loyal patrons.”