Courtesy of Bluestone Lane

On this week’s interview episode of “What’s Eric Eating,” Bluestone Lane founder and CEO Nicholas Stone joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss his career. The conversation begins with Stone explaining how he left investment banking to open his first location in 2013.

Since then Bluestone Lane has grown to locations through the East and West Coasts. It entered the Houston market in 2022 with a location in the Heights. Since then, it has expanded to four location restaurants, including its newest outpost in The Woodlands.

Given the speedy growth, Sandler asks Stone how many locations he thinks Houston can support.

“There’s capacity for at least eight to 10. If I look at the success of Snooze and I look at the success of First Watch, I think we have some elements that are common there,” Stone says. “We have a much stronger focus on coffee. We’re a world class coffee roaster. For us, that’s our DNA.”

“I think First Watch probably has 20 locations in the Greater Houston area. Snooze must have about 10. I think we could comfortably double from where we’re at over the next couple years.”

In addition to Bluestone Lane’s future in Houston, Stone and Sandler touch on a number of other topics, including how Melbourne’s coffee culture shaped Bluestone Lane and how the business shifted its approach as a result of the pandemic. On a lighter note, Stone shares his favorite dishes on the menu and discusses his recent appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars.

On this week’s other episode, Sandler and co-host Mary Clarkson discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Batanga changing into The Big Casino Kitchen + Bar; ChòpnBlọk owner Ope Amosu’s Chopd & Stewd Festival; and the opening of Fiora’s Bottle Shop at the Montrose Collective mixed-use development.

In the restaurants of the week segment, they share thoughts about two very different Chinese restaurant. First, they discuss a recent meal at Benny Chows, the luxurious new restaurant from B&B Butchers owner Berg Hospitality. Then, they rave about the dim sum at Tim Ho Wan in Katy.


Subscribe to "What's Eric Eating" on Apple podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. Listen to it Saturdays at 2 pm on ESPN 97.5.

Photo courtesy of Coco Crepes & Coffee

Cozy Houston crepe cafe opens new location and eyes Dallas expansion

Feelin' Peachy

The beloved Houston creperie Coco Crepes & Coffee doesn't believe in going halfway. Not only has it just opened its ninth location, in the Upper Kirby/Greenway area, but an expansion to Dallas in 2024 is also on the menu.

Known for its family-friendliness and all-are-welcome attitude, Coco Crepes & Coffee is doubling down on its cozy vibes at the new Houston location.

Diners can not only enjoy a menu that spans sweet and savory crepes, gourmet coffee drinks, salads, paninis, waffles, and smoothies, but they can also browse the lending library and plan their next visit to coincide with upcoming book clubs and other social events.

You'll definitely want to drop in before falls begins to sneak its way in, though, for the tasty end-of-summer specials.

The Feelin' Peachy crepe combines sweet peaches, lemon reduction, and vanilla custard, all topped with vanilla gelato, whipped cream, toasted almonds, and mixed peaches and strawberries.

The Coco Joy smoothie is a creamy blend of coconut gelato, chocolate, and almonds, and both specials are available now at all Houston locations.

Find your closest Coco Crepes & Coffee here.

Photo by Becca Wright

Meet the good citizen behind Montrose's Aussie-styled cafe and coffee shop, plus hottest restaurant news

What's Eric Eating Episode 287

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Andrew Geisel joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Citizens, the Australian-style cafe that recently opened its first Houston location in Montrose. The new restaurant joins Citizens' three existing locations in New York City.

The conversation begins with Geisel explaining his decision to move from Australia to New York. Ultimately, he partnered with fellow Aussie Justin Giuffrida to open the first Citizens in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Geisel explains the differences between an Australian cafe and a traditional American coffee shop, shares how Citizens survived the pandemic, and explains why the company chose Houston for its expansion.

Sandler notes that Citizens has opened near a number of breakfast and all-day concepts, including Blacksmith, Snooze, and Picnik. He asks Geisel how he sees Citizens standing out.

It's a really important question to answer. In essence, we're comfortable for a few reasons. Going back to Australia, there's really great cafes on every corner. The idea of saturation is something we're used to. We've operated in New York. There's tremendous offerings near our New York stores.

Good competition makes you be a better business. Strong competition raises the bar. Rather than call it competition, it's inspiring. I think when you have a high concentration of really wonderful bars and restaurants in an area, it really shines a spotlight on the area. It's something you want to be part of. The important thing becomes, how can we very clearly define who we are and what our voice is? How is it different from the other players in the area?

The idea is, why would you want to come to Citizens right now? What can we do for that's unique to us that you're not going to get at those other businesses? The breakfast with really high quality table service, genuine Aussie hospitality, and a menu offering that is diverse in both coffee and food. A menu that gives you everything from fresher, lighter, healthier bites to more hearty pieces. I find that to be something I'm very proud to represent.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Mary Clarkson discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Street to Kitchen chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Texas; Bun B and his business partners opening a brick and mortar location of Trill Burgers; and Cocody, a new restaurant from Le Mistral veterans David Denis and Sylvain Denis that's coming to River Oaks this summer.

In the restaurants of the week segment, Sandler and Clarkson discuss their recent meals at two newly opened restaurants. First, they rave about Albi, a fine dining Mediterranean restaurant in River Oaks. Then, they consider The Chelsea, the stylish bistro in the Montrose Collective mixed-use development.


Subscribe to "What's Eric Eating" on Apple podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. Listen to it Saturdays at 2 pm on ESPN 97.5.

Citizens of Montrose Andrew Geisel Justin Guiffrida

Photo by Becca Wright

Andrew Geisel, left, is this week's guest.

Courtesy of Citizens

Aussie-inspired coffee shop brings brekkie, burgers, and good vibes to Montrose

oi oi oi

An Australian-inspired cafe from New York City is coming to Houston. Citizens will open its first Houston location in the former FM Kitchen space at 907 Westheimer Rd.

Scheduled to open in June, Citizens of Montrose builds on the practices that founders Justin Giuffrida and Andrew Geisel established when they opened their first cafe in 2016. Since then, Citizens has grown to three New York City locations.

The Australian-inspired cafe and coffee shop will sell a breakfast-oriented mix of food alongside beverage offerings that include coffee, tea, juices, and cocktails. Citizens is also known for its friendly service.

“Australian café culture is all about bringing people together,” Giuffrida said in a statement. “Legendary breakfast, creative spaces, and a social atmosphere that provides a sense of community and locality.”

Towards that end, the 3,500-square-foot space will look the part courtesy of a design by Geisel, who trained as an architect before becoming a restaurateur. Details include an outdoor waiting area with self-serve beer and coffee taps, vintage photographs of Australia, and wallpaper that depicts a young Queen Elizabeth II.

Turning to the food, Citizens of Montrose will serve mostly breakfast fare. That includes staples such as Banana Bread French Toast with Miso Butterscotch, BBQ Pulled Pork Benny on a cheddar biscuit, baked eggs with chorizo, and smashed avocado toast. More lunch-oriented options include a miso chicken bowl, fried chicken sandwich, and a double cheeseburger made with a brisket patty.

Beverage offerings start with the flat white, an Australian favorite. Customers will also find brewed coffee, lattes, teas, juices, and wellness lattes made with different herbs. Beer, wine, and cocktails made with fresh juices round out the menu.

Citizens of Montrose will join a neighborhood with a number of established breakfast options and coffee shops, including Blacksmith, Baby Barnaby’s, and Snooze. Its location directly across Westheimer from the Montrose Collective mixed-use development will invite comparisons with La La Land Kind Cafe and Picnik, the recently-opened Austin-based restaurant.

Citizens cafe food spread

Courtesy of Citizens

Citizens of Montrose will open next month.

“We choose Montrose because the neighborhood has such a rich history for its diverse community, thriving arts scene, and fantastic restaurants,” Geisel said. “We're thrilled to be part of this dynamic community and to contribute to its legacy by bringing a little bit of ‘Aus’ to the neighborhood.”

Photo by Gerardo Velasquez

Bobby Heugel's cocktail bar brews up new coffee service and adds wine to downstairs lounge

Take Refuge

Bobby Heugel is bringing coffee back to 1424 Westheimer Rd. Refuge, the cocktail bar Heugel opened last year next to Anvil, will add coffee and wine service via its downstairs lounge beginning in early June.

If these plans sound a little familiar, they should. In 2019, Heugel and business partner Justin Yu operated the space as Penny Quarter, an all-day cafe with coffee, cocktails, wine, and a food truck that served a diverse menu of nutritious fare.

Unfortunately, the concept closed due to the pandemic — eventually serving as a short-term home for Japanese-inspired cocktail bar Tongue-cut Sparrow before turning into Refuge. With Refuge a hit (more on that in a bit), the time seemed right to revive the idea of operating the downstairs as a daytime space where people could get coffee, work, or meet with friends — all while preserving its ability to host events at night.

“We have always really liked this space. We like the patio, especially now that we’ve redone it,” Heugel says. “We think it can be somewhere that has really modest sales goals and be a comfortable, Montrose neighborhood spot. We think we can mix the space up and get some of those things we really liked about Penny Quarter back.”

Refuge Coffeehouse & Bar will be different from Penny Quarter in some key ways. Most importantly, the only food available will be from Love Croissants, chef Omar Pereney’s pastry concept that’s available at select coffee shops around town as well as the Urban Harvest farmers market. Coffee will come from local roaster Tenfold. The cocktail menu will feature coffee-based drinks such as the Irish coffee, espresso martini, and carajillo.

Refuge Coffeehouse and Wine interior

Photo by Gerardo Velasquez

Refuge Coffeehouse will open in June.

Wine will be available via a retail shelf that customers can drink on-site or take to-go. Anvil’s bottled cocktails will also be available for purchase to-go.

Physical changes to the space include new furniture, new paint, and a reworked bar layout. An all-new patio includes more greenery and new furniture.

“I think the space should be used however people want,” general manager Tommy Ho adds. “We have retail, the coffee aspect. People want to work here that’s fine, too. The patio’s nice on nice weather days.”

As with any of Heugel’s projects, opening the coffee shop will be a team effort by personnel from across Thorough Fare, the hospitality group he operates with in partnership with James Beard Award winner Justin Yu. Squable partner Terry Williams will curate Refuge’s wine list, and Refuge head bartender Kristen “K.K.” Nepomuceno will spend the first couple months working downstairs to teach proper wine and cocktail service to the coffee shop’s baristas.

Being open during the day — expected hours of operation are 10 am - 5 pm — allows Refuge to use the downstairs space for private events at night. Heugel says hosting events four nights a week will allow Refuge Coffeehouse to meet its revenue goals while still offering affordable coffee and wine to daytime patrons. So far, Refuge has hosted wedding showers, liquor brand tastings, corporate events, and other parties. For the right price, the whole complex can house up to 145 people.

“I think there are lots of pretty event spaces in this city, but please tell me another space where you can get the quality of wine and cocktails we offer,” Heugel says. “There’s not a lot of private event spaces where the cocktails are that good and come with that pedigree.”

As for the upstairs portion of Refuge, the bar recently celebrated its first anniversary by introducing a small food menu developed by Refuge bartender Peter Jahnke, who has also worked as a chef at restaurants such as Underbelly and Theodore Rex. Heugel and bartender Máté Hartai recently launched a special Martini Tuesday offering that’s proven to be a hit.

“It’s really become this space that I think was what we hoped it would be where people who we really like working with [and] with a great bartender pedigree get to come work in a space where they can focus more on the finer touches and refine their bartending career [for a business] that takes care of them but doesn’t require them to do crazy volume” Heugel says. “I think it rounds out the bar scene in Houston that I think was getting a little stagnant and repetitive.”

Indeed, after a pandemic slowdown, new bar openings have picked up. Heugel cites establishments such as the Lounge at March, EZ’s Liquor Lounge (opened by Anvil veteran Matt Tanner), and Clarkwood as other establishments that are giving Houstonians something new.

“I really like Clarkwood,” he adds. “It’s lively and energetic and doesn’t feel like the same thing that’s been around Houston for awhile. I think it’s really healthy.”

Refuge bar remains open Tuesday - Saturday from 5 pm - 1 am. Refuge Coffeeshop will open in early June once its staff has been trained. Follow the bar on Instagram to stay up-to-date on its latest developments.

Courtesy of Bluestone Lane

Australian-inspired, NYC-based coffee shop brews up third Houston locale in Rice Village


Australian-inspired, New York City-based coffee shop and cafe Bluestone Lane has opened its third Houston-area location in Rice Village. Located just around the corner from Navy Blue at 2412 University Blvd., the new cafe joins outposts in the Heights and the Galleria area.

Among the largest of Bluestone Lane’s nearly 60 locations, Rice Village features both indoor and outdoor seating. The exterior features a mural by local artist Houston artist Shelbi Nicole, and the interior has a coastal vibe.

Bluestone Lane Rice Village muralArtist Shelbi Nicole painted the location's mural.Courtesy of Bluestone Lane

Bluestone Lane takes its inspiration from coffee shops and cafes in founder and CEO Nicholas Stone’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Among other innovations, it takes credit for being one of the first coffee shops in America to introduce two Australian staples: smashed avocado toast and the flat white. It also roasts coffee and offers an array of lifestyle products.

“The booming city of Houston is a natural fit for Bluestone Lane given the community is so passionate about delicious coffee, food and hospitality,” Stone said in a statement. “Our cafes have quickly become a beloved part of our locals’ daily rituals, thanks to the airy, inviting aesthetic, smooth, well-balanced coffee, and nourishing menu items.”

More than a coffee shop, Bluestone Lane operates as a full service restaurant with a substantial coffee program. In addition to several toast options, diners will find a range of dishes including bowls, salads, and sandwiches. While coffee takes the lead, the cafe also serves tea, juices, and smoothies.

“Rice Village is excited to welcome Bluestone Lane as our newest tenant,” Rice Management Company executive Morgan Lera added. “Our mission at Rice Village is to continue to attract high-quality tenants that better serve the needs of the Houston community. We are thrilled that Bluestone Lane has decided to call Rice Village home.”

Bluestone Lane opens daily at 7:30 am.

Bluestone Lane Rice Village avocado toast

Courtesy of Bluestone Lane

Smashed avocado toast is one of Bluestone Lane's signature dishes.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Where to eat in Houston right now: 9 best new restaurants proving our pizza town cred

where to eat right now

By any standard, pizza is having a moment in Houston. Not that pizza ever goes out of style, but when a wave of new pizzerias open — some led by the city’s top chefs — the time has come for a closer look.

Notably, we found options in a range of styles ranging from classic New York, to on-trend Detroit, a grilled pizza that may be unique to its restaurant. Anyone who thinks Houston isn’t a pizza town simply hasn’t eaten enough slices here.

While this list focuses exclusively on restaurants and bars that have opened in the last year or so, it is not meant to disrespect those tried-and-true places Houstonians have been patronizing for years. Fans of places like Star, Brothers, and Romano’s can save their emails. We like them, too, but they aren’t a fit for this roundup.

As always, Where to Eat columns are based on actual visits to the included restaurants (sometimes more than once) and are ordered by what we’d go to first. They all have something to offer, even if a visit requires a jaunt down the Westpark Tollway.

ElRo Pizza & Crudo
Chef Terrence Gallivan has made his return to the dining scene with this intimate restaurant on the border of Montrose and Midtown. With their high crown and creative toppings, ElRo’s personal-sized, Italian-style pizzas recall the pies Gallivan served at The Pass & Provisions. Highlights include the mushroom pie with smoked maitakes and mortadella with pistachio pesto. Round out the meal with a crudo or two — the spicy tuna on toast is a particular favorite. An affordable wine list and creative cocktails (all named after Bruce Springsteen songs) complete the experience.

ElRo restaurant pizza
Photo by Julie Soefer
ElRo serves a variety of pizzas.

Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern
Nobie’s owners Sara and Martin Stayer channel Gen X nostalgia at this pizzeria that’s located next to The Toasted Coconut, their tiki-inspired restaurant and bar. Nonno’s serves the Midwest tavern-style pies that Sara grew up eating in Chicago; the thin, crispy pies are cut into squares — known as a party cut — to make them easier to share. Appetizers like chicken wings and mozzarella sticks complete the classic pizzeria experience.

Nonno’s takes the “family” part of its name seriously. A recent visit found at least half the tables occupied by families with children, many of whom entertained themselves at the restaurant’s arcade that features pinball machines and vintage video games.

Pastore Italian Kitchen
This restaurant's menu may describe its round, dough-based items as “flatbreads,” but we know a pizza when we see one. Available with traditional toppings like margherita, an East Coast-style clam pie, or seasonal ingredients like fig with lemon ricotta, Pastore's wood-fired pizzas blend Italian flavors with a slice that’s sturdy enough to be eaten by hand. The restaurant’s new brunch service offers a breakfast pizza topped with pancetta, poached eggs, hashbrowns, and more, which makes it the perfect hangover cure — especially when paired with some hair of the dog from the cocktail program overseen by former CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Bartender of the Year winner Sarah Troxell.

Gold Tooth Tony’s
Chef Anthony Calleo has been serving Detroit-style pizzas at Rudyard’s for awhile now, but his new restaurant in the Heights dives in more deeply with a greater selection of pies and a more diverse set of toppings. The square-shaped, deep dish pizzas feature a crispy edge and a pleasant chew. Calleo channels his Pi Pizza days with selections like the Only5 (venison sausage, port wine cherries) and the Grizz (chicken, bacon, ranch, charred pineapple, grizzly sauce). New to the Gold Tooth Tony’s menu are selections such as the Hunger Force (meatballs, whipped ricotta) and the Sebastian’s Big Idea — a spam musubi-inspired pie with toasted pineapple and furikake.

Betelgeuse Betelgeuse
The self-described “bar with good pizza” recently added a Montrose location to its roster. Having access to a full kitchen instead of a food truck allows Betelgeuse to serve both 10 and 14-inch versions of its signature “ironclad pizzas,” named for the round, cast iron pans that give the pies a crispy crust. Compelling vegetarian pies — think the Three Sauce (pizza sauce, pesto, and vodka sauce) or the Fresh de Frays (ricotta, strawberries, chevre, basil) — might make even the most devoted carnivore skip the pepperoni. An extensive cocktail selection and fun bar snacks round out the menu.

Cup N’ Char Buffalo Pizza Cafe
This favorite of the Katy/Fort Bend Foodies Facebook group serves a Buffalo-style deep dish that’s similar to Detroit-style. The thick, chewy crust provides a sturdy platform for robust toppings like chicken fingers, a classic Hawaiian, and the Italian Mob (pepperoni, sausage, onion, and banana peppers). Even better, the convenient “half medium” size makes for a hearty single serving. Of course, Cup N’ Char’s Buffalo roots mean their chicken wings are first-rate — crispy, meaty, and available in a range of toppings, including the must-order Italian (garlic-parmesan) that can also be tossed in spicy Buffalo sauce.

Coastline Artisan Pizzeria
Newly opened in First Ward by childhood friends Armando Dimeo and Jordan Kone, Coastline serves two styles of pizza — a grilled pizza Dimeo first developed while working for his family’s restaurant in the Hill Country and a classic Neapolitan that’s baked in a wood-burning oven. The grilled pizza has an oblong shape and a crispy crust that supports more elaborate toppings like The O.G. (mozzarella, Italian sausage, ricotta, habanero honey, basil, and tomato sauce). Since the wood-burning oven takes three hours to reach a full 900 degrees, the Neapolitan pies are only available at dinner.

Formerly known as How to Survive on Land and Sea, this casual bar has rebranded itself as a low-key gathering spot for beer, wine, cocktails, and pizza. The classic New York-style pies utilize a recipe developed by Angelo Emiliani, the chef who burst into Houston’s collective restaurant consciousness with his Angie’s Pizzas pop-up. Sold either by-the-slice or as whole pies, the pizzas have a pleasantly chewy crust that’s easy to fold. Even better, slices are free with the purchase of a cocktail on Monday nights.

Home Slice Pizza
This Austin-based pizzeria debuted in Midtown last December with its classic New York-style pizzas and Sicilian, “grandma-style” pies. Sold as whole pies or slices, Home Slice pizzas have a toothsome, foldable crust that serves as the basis for everything from a classic pepperoni and mushroom to a white clam pizza with garlic and oregano that wouldn’t be out of place in New Haven, CT. Very credible meatballs subs and Italian-style hoagie (ask for light mayo) complete the East Coast experience. Once the weather cools off, the expansive patio will be a pleasant place to linger over selections from the well-chosen beverage list.

Houston Hot Girl Megan Thee Stallion seizes the awkward with mental health campaign

hot take

We all know Megan Thee Stallion is the baddest you-know-what of them all. She can share the stage with a fellow Houston queen (and still get choked up about it), make an ex-porn star quote her lyrics on social media, and even play a cartoon version of herself on a Netflix show.

But America’s favorite Hot Girl Coach also wants you and your friends to take care of each other mentally.

She recently joined the Seize the Awkward campaign to encourage young adults to reach out to their “strong” friends in a new PSA. In the video, Megan gets real about the pressures to be strong and the importance of peer-to-peer support. “No matter who you are,” she says in the video, “being vulnerable is what makes us whole.”

Seize the Awkward is a national campaign (first launched in 2018) that encourages young adults to start the conversation with friends about mental health. The campaign was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation in collaboration with the Ad Council.

With 76 percent of young adults turning to a peer for support in a time of crisis, how can more young adults join Megan and Seize the Awkward to get the conversation started?.

As Megan says in the PSA, you can visit SeizeTheAwkward.org and Megan’s website BadBitchesHaveBadDaysToo.com for more resources to check in on a friend. You can also follow @SeizeTheAwkward on Instagram.

Score free Shake Shack for one day only at juicy collab with charming Rice Village jeweler


Popular ear piercing barStuds made a name for itself by offering a customized piercing experience for those who aged out of places like Claire's but wanted an alternative to a tattoo parlor for piercings. With 19 locations nationwide, Studs offers a wide assortment of earrings that range from classic shapes, to huggies, flatbacks, and dangling charms.

Studs has once again added to their earring selection with their latest collaboration with Shake Shack. They created an adorably beefy earring to add to any burger lover's Earscape.

Studs and Shake Shack created a limited-edition Burger huggie earring and Earscape set. Photo by Studs

Retailing for $32, the limited edition Shake Shack burger huggie comes as a 14K gold-plated hoop with a loaded hamburger charm. Shoppers can opt for the $64 pair, but Studs is also currently offering a discount on the Shake Shack x Studs set. For $78, earring enthusiasts can get the two Shake Shack burger huggies, the 14K-gold Smiley Stud and the 14K-gold Micro CZ Stud.

What's even better than cute earrings? Free Shake Shack! On Thursday, September 28th customers can enjoy free bites from Shake Shack while they shop the new Shake Shack Charm Huggie collection at Stud's Rice Village location.

For $78, earring enthusiasts can get the two Shake Shack burger huggies, the 14K-gold Smiley Stud and the 14K-gold Micro CZ Stud.Photo by Studs

Shake Shack is known for their always made-to-order fare including ShackBurger, crinkle-cut fries, hand-spun shakes and their new Veggie Burger and non-dairy offerings.

Interested shoppers can RSVP here.

Studs Rice Village, 2567 Amherst St.; (832) 981-2869. RSVP here.