Courtesy of Andiron

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Sambrooks Management Group founder Michael Sambrooks and executive chef Louis Maldonado join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to preview Andiron, the company's new live fire steakhouse that will open in December in the historic Star Engraving building on Allen Parkway.

The conversation begins with Maldonado, who competed on the New Orleans season of Top Chef and was named People magazine's sexiest chef in 2018, discussing the roots of his culinary career and his decision to move to Houston to work at Andiron. Sambrooks talks about the decision to open a steakhouse and how he thinks Andiron will distinguish itself from other restaurants, particularly in terms of ingredients and its use of a range of life fire techniques.

Sandler notes that steakhouses aren't typically chef-driven restaurants. He asks Maldonado what he adds to the restaurant that will help Andiron stand out.

"Honestly, it's questioning the steakhouse standard. The creative side is obvious, but also questioning, what is it? What is a steakhouse? We're going to have a sauce program. We'll have a saucier to do beautiful sauce work," he says. My role is driving the creativity, the vision."

Listen to the full interview to hear Sambrooks discuss the restaurant's different dining rooms and his expectations for the experience. Maldonado also shares some of his favorite meals in Houston so far.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Linda Salinas discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: a quick recap of the best bites at this year's Southern Smoke festival; chef Christine Ha's plans to open a new sandwich shop in Spring Branch; and Niko Niko's opening a new location in The Woodlands.

In the restaurant of the week segment, Salinas and Sandler share first impressions of Wild, the tropical-themed restaurant that just recently opened in the former UB Preserv space. Tune in to hear their thoughts on chef German Mosquera's menu and the CBD-infused cocktails.


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

Photo by Dylan McEwan

Garden Oaks bar owner dishes on her chill new neighborhood spot, plus hottest food news

What's Eric Eating 261

On this week’s episode of “What’s Eric Eating,” Paige Lujan joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss the Upside Pub. Recently opened in the former Shepherd Park Draught House/Tres Amigos space in Garden Oaks, the Upside Pub serves an eclectic menu of comfort food paired with wine, cocktails, and craft beer.

The conversation begins with Lujan explaining why she and her husband/business partner Andy decided to leave Southern California to open their bar in Houston. From there, she discusses the overall concept — a friendly place where neighborhoods can gather over food and drinks — and creating a menu that nods to her New Jersey roots, her time in California, and her new home in Houston.

Sandler asks how she feel like it’s going after more than two months of being open.

“It’s going great. My favorite part about the whole thing . . . It’s super cheesy to say, but it does feel like Cheers sometimes. We knows the names of at least half the people coming in here. We know about their kids already and their businesses. We starting bicycling groups and football groups. It really is that vision we had for what it is, and we’re hoping we can continue to grow on that community feeling.”

Listen to the full episode to hear how Lujan is giving back to the community with a monthly program to assist local non-profit Kids’ Meals. She also explains why the bar serves more drink options than just craft beer.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Michael Fulmer discuss the news of the week. Their begin by discussing the Houston Chronicle’s new list of the city’s top 100 restaurants. They debate whether a food hall restaurant deserves to be ranked as the city’s best restaurant. Then, Sandler throws out about a dozen missing restaurants that he thinks could have been included. The news segment concludes with a discussion of Artisans’ plans to move to the Galleria area and that the team behind Gatsby’s Steakhouse will open a more casual grill concept in the former Acadian Coast space.

In the restaurants of the week segment, they head to two newly opened Italian restaurants near Highland Village. The first, Numero 28, features Neapolitan-style pizzas, a full bar, and a show stopping presentation for its cacio e pepe. Davanti Ristorante, their second stop, offers well-executed pasta dishes by chef Roberto Crescini and affordable prices.

Photo by Dylan McEwan

Paige Lujan is this week's guest.


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

Photo by Emily Jaschke

Beard Award-winning pizza star dishes on his Netflix time and EaDo Throwdown, plus hottest Houston food news

what's eric eating episode 260

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Chris Bianco talks to CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler about his career. The conversation begins with Bianco, who won the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2022, talking about the Southern Smoke Festival. He'll serve pizza at the festival's East Downtown Throwdown on October 23 (tickets are still available).

From there, Sandler asks Bianco about his participation in Netflix's documentary series Chef's Table: Pizza. Released in September, the episode provides a detailed look at both the chef's professional accomplishments and personal struggles. Sandler asks Bianco what he thinks about the episode now that he's had a chance to view it, including the praise from food writers Ed Levine and Brett Anderson.

"Brett and Ed have said kind things about me, and I'm grateful for them," Bianco says. "I always said, I can tell you who I want to be, but only you can tell me who I am. I'm grateful they had those kind things to say, but I only take it as a responsibility to not let you down. I don't want to be the person that you saw that doesn't live up to that expectation in real life."

The conversation covers more lighthearted topics, too. Bianco shares the story of how got into the tomato business. Known for his devotion to the Phoenix Suns, Sandler asks the chef about sports podcaster Bill Simmons joking that he might be the team's next general manager. After telling the story of how he became a fan of the team, he drops a memorable quip.

"Bill Simmons, first of all, I love him. He's a dear friend and a nut. For anyone who's going to buy the Suns, I hope they're a great humanitarian, a great leader, a great communicator to the community and others. I've got about $600 burning a hole in a coffee can. That's probably about as deep as my pockets go."

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Matt Harris discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Cali, a new restaurant that will serve dishes from Trap Kitchen and other California restaurants; Dallas-based sports bar BoomerJack's plans to open two Houston-area locations; and Hungry's opening a third location in Tanglewood.

In the restaurants of the week segment, Sandler and Harris share first impressions of Lagniappe Kitchen & Bar, the Louisiana-inspired restaurant that recently opened in the former Revival Market Space. They also share thoughts on a preview pop-up held by the chefs of Baso, a Spanish-inspired restaurant opening in the Heights next year.


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

Courtesy of Navy Blue

Bludorn's top team reveals details on their new seafood restaurant and more insider info

What's Eric Eating Episode 259

On this week's episode of What's Eric Eating, three of the men behind Navy Blue — chef-owner Aaron Bludorn, general manager-partner Cherif Mbodji, and executive chef Jerrod Zifchak — join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss the eagerly anticipated seafood restaurant's scheduled to open in Rice Village next month.

The conversation begins with Mbodji, who is also a partner and the general manager at Bludorn, tracing the story of how a Senegalese immigrant attending college on a soccer scholarship found his calling in the restaurant business. Zifchak recounts how his childhood experiences cooking alongside his culinary school instructor father led him to the world of professional cooking.

Mbodji also reflects on life in Houston and what he remembers from opening Bludorn two years ago. "People who say this is our first time dining out in months. We'd hear that for months after we opened. This is why I feel so grateful that we're able to do what we love for a living . . . I felt that somehow we were able to help people get back to some sort of normalcy."

Moving on, Bludorn notes that the location, formerly the Politan Row food hall, and Zifchak's decision to take the job, helped steer Navy Blue towards being a seafood restaurant. The chef brings experience from Le Bernadin, the world-famous, three star Michelin seafood restaurant in New York City.

"I don't think we'd be opening a seafood restaurant if Jerrod hadn't said yes," Bludorn says. "One of the things he brushed over, fish butcher at Le Bernadin. There's one guy who does it, and he takes a one month vacation every year. Jerrod was one of very few line cooks who held down that position. You break down all of the fish for the entire restaurant."

Bludorn has earned significant local, regional, and national attention since it opened — including a James Beard semifinalist nomination for chef Bludorn. The trio have similar ambitions for Navy Blue.

"There's not a lot seafood restaurants across the country that have gained any national notoriety. People are seeing an opportunity," Bludorn says. "Joshua Skenes did Angler, Fermín Núñez just opened Este. I think, where better than Houston to be the next one of those restaurants that opens and focuses on American seafood."

Listen to the whole interview to hear Bludorn preview some of the ideas for Navy Blue's menu. Also, Mbodji shares insights into the spirit behind Bludorn's exuberant service, a style that will also be extended to Navy Blue.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Rebecca Masson discuss the news of the week. The award-winning chef-owner of Fluff Bake Bar shares her perspective on what Zifchak's experience says about Navy Blue. They also share thoughts on two other topics: what the renovations at the River Oaks location of Cafe Express indicate for the restaurant's future and Sambrooks Management hiring Top Chef alum Louis Maldonado to lead Andiron, its new live fire steakhouse.

In the restaurants of the week segment, they share thoughts on the Upside Pub. They find quite a bit to like about the casual new spot in Garden Oaks, including its nostalgic fare (patty melt, latke balls), friendly service, and well-chosen craft beer list. They conclude the segment with a brief conversation about Kate Weiser Chocolate, the Dallas-based chocolatier who just opened a pop-up shop in River Oaks District.


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

Photo by Mikah Danae

A preview of the Heights' newest liquor lounge from Coltivare's owners, plus hottest food news

What's Eric Eating Episode 258

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Morgan Weber and Matt Tanner join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss EZ's Liquor Lounge. Located next to sister concept Coltivare, the new bar will open in the coming weeks.

The conversation begins with Tanner explaining his decision to leave his role leading the bar program for Pappas Restaurants to partner with Weber and the Agricole Hospitality team on EZ's. Part of that decision stemmed from their friendship, but Tanner also acknowledges that he'd long aspired to own a bar.

From there, the discussion turns to the details of EZ's. Inspired by casual neighborhood bars, EZ's will be a retro-styled ode to the era when smoking indoors was not allowed but encouraged. Tanner describes the process of sourcing the vintage advertising, signage, and other artifacts that adorn the walls. Weber states that some people have described EZ's as a dive bar, but that's not a term he thinks is appropriate.

"We're not opening a dive bar. Maybe 30 years from now it will be considered that, but I do feel like that's one of those names that's earned over time," Weber says. Later, he adds, "we really wanted to open a place in the Heights that kind of reminded people who come in of the nostalgia of times past. That sent us down a rabbit hole that we have yet to recover from."

Listen to the full episode to get a preview on EZ's food and drinks. Weber also provides updates on Eight Row Flint's plans to open a second location in the East End and discusses the Marfa Spirits Co., his West Texas distillery project.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Mary Clarkson discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Frank's Americana Revival moving to a new location; Zanti Cuciana Italiana opening a new location in River Oaks; and LA-based ramen restaurant Killer Noodle's plans to open in the Heights.

In the restaurants of the week segment, they share first impressions of Mala Sichuan Bistro's new location in the M-K-T development and recommend some favorite dishes. Then, they share thoughts on a preview tasting they attended for Ciel, a new restaurant opening later this year near River Oaks District.


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

Courtesy of Fat Boy's Pizza

The skinny on a Fat Louisiana pizzeria heading to Houston, plus cutting-edge sushi in Bellaire

What's Eric Eating Episode 257

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Gabe Corchiani joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Fat Boy's Pizza. The Louisiana-based pizzeria plans to open its first Houston-area location this December in Richmond at The Grand at Aliana, a development at the intersection of W. Airport Boulevard and the Grand Parkway.

The conversation begins with Corchiani discussing his decision to open Fat Boy's after a successful career in the world of coin-operated gaming. After encountering 30-inch pies at a pizzeria in Miami, he worked with a chef to develop the version that has become Fat Boy's signature. Selling such massive pizzas also allows the restaurant to tout itself as serving the "world's biggest pizza slice."

At a time when many pizzerias have shifted their focus towards to-go diners, Fat Boy's remains a dine-in experience. Each restaurant has an arcade to entertain children of all ages, and locations feature both expansive patios for outdoor dining and a full range of wine, beer, and cocktails. Sandler asks Corchiani about the other things the restaurant does to encourage diners to stick around.

"We're very service-oriented. We greet guests when they come in the door," he says. "You order from a menu board. We bring the food out to you. We make sure you get touched at least once out there to see if you need anything. We're friendly. That's what we bank on."

Listen to the full episode to learn more about the restaurant's signature "2ft challenge" that rewards people with a gift card if they can finish a massive slice of pizza in under seven minutes. Corchiani also provides some insight into other Houston neighborhoods that Fat Boy's is eyeing as it expands into the Houston market.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Linda Salinas discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Lyric Market's announcement of the nine vendors that will occupy that food hall when it opens this fall; restaurateur Bill Floyd opening Real Agave in a downtown office building; and how Black Page Brewing will fit in to Houston ever-evolving craft beer scene. The segment concludes with the two friends discussing the highs and lows of their recent experiences attending pop-up dining events.

In the restaurant of the week segment, Salinas and Sandler share first impressions of Aya Sushi. They find a lot to like about the newly opened Bellaire restaurant, praising its knowledgable service, thoughtful beverage offerings, and chef Yoshi Katsuyama's well-executed menu.


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

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CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd reveals the ultimate holiday 'death match' party game

wine guy Wednesday

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he shares his favorite way to win more wine. Take it away, Chris.


If you’re looking to throw a killer party — one that’s unforgettable — I have an idea for you. It doesn’t have to happen during the holidays, but it will make your holiday party more fun. Let me introduce you to Wine Club Death Match.

My friend Ellen Hur, whose classmates at graduate school first started this game, introduced Wine Club Death Match to us here in Houston a few years back. It’s a game that combines things that I love — tasting wine, talking to friends, talking about wine, and, as part of a little friendly competition, you can win the ultimate prize, more wine!

“I had heard about Wine Club Death Match and thought it sounded really fun,” Ellen explains. “I started playing with a few friends in our little New York City apartments, back in 2007 or so. We liked the idea that we could entertain ourselves without having to go out all the time. Plus, if you weren’t too discerning, which we were not, or if your friends had good taste in wine, you could grow a decent wine collection pretty quickly.”

Here's how it works:

  • Every person who comes to the party is asked to bring two bottles of the same wine that fit the night’s theme (more info on that below) and the night’s price point (e.g., each bottle must be under $25).
  • When each guest arrives, one bottle is immediately stored out of sight, and the second bottle is put in a paper bag and labeled A through Z (or however you want to distinguish the covered bottles from each other).
  • As the party goes on, guests taste each wine (responsibly) and keep their own notes about which bottle they like the best.
  • Once everyone has tasted — or the tasting portion of the party is over — everyone votes for their favorite bottle. The host takes the ballots and tallies them up for the big reveal.
  • The person who brought the bottle that gets the most votes is crowned winner of Wine Club Death Match and wins the entire stash of the second bottles that have been stored away. If you have 10 people at the party participating in WCDM, the winner takes home 10 bottles of wine. Not too shabby!
  • Spend the rest of the party lobbying the winner to give you your favorite bottle (or two) as a consolation prize.

We’ve played with our friends a few times, and it’s a fun, unique way to bring a little extra excitement to a party or gathering. It’s an automatic conversation starter. Plus, there’s a lot of strategy involved. If you’re fighting to the death (or, in this case, fighting for all the wine), you’ll need to have a game plan to take home all the spoils.

A few of my favorite themes:

  • Region + Grape/Varietal or color + Price Point is always a good theme (Oregon Pinot Noir under $30, South American reds under $27, French rosé under $20, Spanish Cava under $25, or my least favorite option— Gewürztraminer from anywhere in the world at any price point—not my favorite varietal)
  • Wine from a region you didn’t know made wine.
  • Wines mentioned in music lyrics
  • Wines from a vineyard named for a person

The beauty of this game is that it’s flexible. Want to pair the tasting wines with a specific dish and make it a more hearty affair? Go for it! Want to go all champagne and deal with the consequences later? Do it! Want to tell everyone to bring magnums? Why not? Want to bring the concept to more of a dinner party atmosphere? Cool. Have fun with it, and learn something.

Let me make a few suggestions to optimize your Wine Club Death March:

  • For WCDM to operate most optimally, the sweet spot is 8-12 guests. If you live in a city like NYC, you must consider how you are transporting all the wine home. For example, 12 bottles on a subway is tough. Luckily, 12 bottles in a Houston Uber is much more doable.
  • That being said, make WCDM yours! If you want a bigger party, go for it – you can have two winners, or be creative about how to divvy up the winnings and how to make sure everyone can taste the wines.
  • Set the price point based on your guests. If your guests are bigger spenders who want to bulk up their cellars, you can have a higher price point. But I think everyone would love a solid stash of $20-$30 wines.
  • Go heavy on the apps. Even small tastes of wine can add up.
  • The wines for WCDM are for tasting, not imbibing during the party, so have other drinks available – especially if you have guests who aren’t participating in the competition.
  • Water should be plentiful, and ride shares are a must.

Let me know how this works out for you. Invite me!


Contact our Wine Guy via email at chris@chrisshepherdconcepts.com.

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. He recently parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.

Get happy with all-day Sunday happy hour at this Galleria pub

Come on down

Some pubs have it all: great food, even better drinks, and an atmosphere you crave. Ducky McShweeney’s Pub is just such a place, offering all that and so much more.

Ducky's is the new premier gathering spot in the heart of the Galleria area. Its atmosphere and extensive list of spirits, wine, and beer have guests coming back again and again. The menu offers everything from shepherd's pie to sushi, and is open daily from 11 am-2 am.

Visitors can watch the game (or all of them!) on more than 19 televisions throughout the pub. All NFL games are broadcast, so you won't miss a single play.

And game day bucket specials will surely keep the whole table happy. After all, it doesn't get much better than a bucket of beer and a cheese pizza for $25.

The pub is not only ideal for game days, but happy hour happens all day on Sundays. Monday through Saturday, get happy from 2-6 pm, and enjoy day-of-the-week specials as well.

Monday is industry night, and has a reverse happy hour from 10 pm-2 am. Tipsy Tuesday offers $5 tequila, $3 pints, and a $5 pepperoni pie.

Wine Down Wednesdays bring trivia night, where you and all your friends are invited to win prizes. Plus, let's not forget you get half off select bottles of wine.

Thursday is steak night with live music. That includes a $25 14-ounce ribeye and specials on tomahawks and filets. On Friday, get $5 off any whiskey, all day long.

Looking for your next favorite brunch? It happens at Ducky's every Saturday and Sunday from 11 am-3 pm.

The menu includes breakfast favorites with a twist such as Paddy's Pancake Tacos, which wraps two buttermilk pancakes around scrambled eggs, bacon, avocado, maple syrup, and hot sauce; and Mother Duckin' Waffles, with four chicken wings, two Belgian waffles, black pepper berry sauce, and whipped cream. And, of course, all the boozy cocktails your heart desires.

For a more lunch-y brunch, there's the Kobe brunch burger with American Kobe beef, provolone cheese, sautéed mushrooms, greens, and a fried egg, served with fries; or Crab Fried Rice that's a savory mix of lump crab, scallions, garlic, cod roe, and fried egg.

If your mouth is already watering, head to 2025 Post Oak Blvd. any day of the week. You can learn more about the pub and see the full menu here.

Downtown's devilish new bar serves up Mexico City vibes, live Latin music, and lots of tequila

downtown's newest nightclub

A new retro-styled, Mexican-inspired bar and nightclub is coming to downtown. La Diabla Retro Bar will open next Thursday, December 15, in the former Boomtown Coffee space at 300 Main Street.

Created by La Calle owner Ramon Soriano and his business partner Fernando Villegas, La Diabla builds on La Calle’s reputation for bringing the flavors and atmosphere of Mexico City to Houston. Just as all three locations of La Calle serve street style tacos in a vibrant atmosphere, La Diabla will pay homage to Mexico City pop culture icons of the '80s and '90s through art, music, and, of course, food and drink.

“We are serious about fresh ingredients, Mexico City, music, and good times,” Soriano said in a statement. “We are '80s guys, and we love the way the music of that decade is connecting with a new generation. La Diabla is bringing the tastes and sounds of our youth back again in ways that can feel both nostalgic and new, all at the same time.”

Portraits of Mexican pop and rock icons such as Juan Gabriel, Thalía, Luis Miguel, and others will adorn the walls. Other design elements include TVs that will show music videos and a 30-foot long, 8-foot tall bar that will display La Diabla’s selection of agave spirits such as tequila and mezcal.

Turning to music, bands will perform every night La Diabla is open. Thursdays will feature balada, described in a release as “soft, romantic Latin pop,” with more uptempo Latin pop on Fridays. Latin rock will keep the party going on Saturday nights. In between sets, DJs will spin tunes that match the night’s theme.

An extensive selection of cocktails and other boozy beverages will also puts revelers in the proper state of mind. Expect La Calle favorites like margaritas, piña coladas, and micheladas along with mojitos and four flavors of Mexican candy shots. An extensive selection of tequilas and caguamas (32-ounce bottles of beer) will also be available.

While La Calle specializes in tacos and tortas, La Diabla will serve three flavors of flautas: chicken, carnitas, and papa con queso (potato with cheese). They’ll be wrapped in corn tortillas and fried.