Cottonwood’s Chef is Bringing Outstanding Steak Nights to Your Local Houston Bar
Chef and managing partner Zach McClendon of Cottonwood — the popular Garden Oaks bar located at 3422 North Shepherd— has found a happy medium beefing up his ElementsHTX pop-ups at bars around Houston while raising the steaks at Cottonwood.
McClendon is a Houston native with over 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry. He’s worked posts in nearly every conceivable position and quite literally worked his way up from the bottom. He started his culinary journey as a Navy cook aboard a submarine where he also learned to thrive under pressure.
After several years managing restaurants throughout the Greater Houston area, he founded ElementsHTX in 2017 as a way to explore his creative passion while helping bars in need of a reliable steak night pop-up. Soon after, demand grew, and he began focusing on the project full-time. Once he had a trusted team in place, he was able to host multiple pop-ups each week in addition to providing catering services for both private homes and large corporate events. ElementsHTX’s steak night schedule includes bars such as EZ’s Liquor Lounge, Dino’s Den, Nett Bar, Duke’s in Humble and more.
At any given ElementsHTX event, you’ll find luxurious Snake River Farms Texas wagyu ribeyes, filets and strips as well as Prime cuts, burgers, chops and extravagant daily specials such as Wagyu beef tartare, seared scallops with Parmesan risotto, braised short ribs, Japanese A5 tenderloin and seasonal crawfish boils.
The steak nights also proved to be a huge success at Cottonwood, so much so that McClendon took over the general manager role in 2021 — and then that expanded into others, including managing partner, executive chef and cocktail developer.
While the completely revamped menu at Cottonwood is guided by McClendon’s signature style, he wanted it to differ from the ElementsHTX brand and have its own standout dishes. It includes elevated Southern comfort food such as Boudin-Stuffed Shrimp, smoked chicken legs, dinner-size mac and cheese and shareable appetizers such as boudin balls, fried okra, Box Tacos, smoked wings, quesadillas and Beef Fat Fries — which are available with toppings like white wine and crawfish cream, or garlic, Parmesan, herbs and truffle oil.
No bar menu would be complete without burger and sandwich options, and Cottonwood has over a dozen. Choices include pulled pork, Wagyu pastrami, patty melts, BLTs, fried chicken sandwiches, Dylan’s Grilled Cheese and specialty burgers such as the flagship Hawk Burger with spinach, caramelized onion, white cheddar and curry sriracha aioli. All of the patties are crafted of all-natural, dry-aged Prime beef with a 90/10 fat ratio. The burgers are dusted with a proprietary mix of seasonings before being smashed on the flat-top to develop a beautiful brown crust that will have you nodding your head and declaring “Mm-hmm! This is a tasty burger!” à la Jules Winnfield.
Of course, McClendon offers high-grade steaks and chops at Cottonwood, too. Highlights include dry-aged ribeyes, beautifully-marbled Prime steaks, double-cut pork chops and a dry-aged Snake River Farms Berkshire Kurobuta pork chop. Crawfish fondue, jalapeño kiwi jelly, stuffed shrimp and ancho truffle butter are available as add-ons.
McClendon opts to use locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. This includes responsibly-raised beef from Thomas Cattle and Catering, buns and baked goods from Cake & Bacon and Snake River Farms’ Texas wagyu steaks and beef tallow. He uses the tallow in all of the fryers at Cottonwood to add an extra layer of richness and umami to all of the fried items, including the Chicken Fried Strip — a battered and fried Prime New York strip steak covered in a buttermilk country gravy atop a heap of mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans.
Cottonwood has daily specials throughout the week. Tuesday is Wing Night with half-price wings, and on Whiskey Wednesday, guests can enjoy chicken fried steak, chicken fried chicken or fried pork chop plates for $15 along with two dollars off whiskey cocktails. Thursday is steak night and includes a choice between an 8-ounce filet, 12-ounce ribeye or New York strip with mashed potatoes and green beans for $27, or a 12-ounce pork chop for $15. Cottonwood is also kicking off its barbecue season on Saturday, September 9 with an all-you-can-eat college gameday pig roast. For details, follow Cottonwood on Instagram.
There’s also a full bar with specialty cocktails, an impressive whiskey set, craft beer, wine and more. Other features include a huge, dog-friendly patio with outdoor TVs, Portacool fans, and plenty of shady trees. That’s all in addition to the massive, covered patio resembling an industrial-chic beer hall. It’s perfect for large gatherings and company parties. The main bar area has both tables and bar seating to catch your favorite game.
Members of Facebook foodie groups often ask where to find the best steak night, burgers, or chicken fried steak around Houston. At Cottonwood and his ElementsHTX pop-ups, McClendon and his team are checking those boxes by offering gourmet bar food that is a cut above. It’s a rare job that’s being well-done if you ask me.
Cottonwood is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5 to 10 p.m., Thursdays from 5 to 11 p.m., Fridays from 4 p.m. until midnight, Saturdays from 11 a.m. until midnight and Sundays from noon until 10 p.m. Plentiful parking is available on-site.
Mario-Sebastian Berry is a wine and spirits vendor who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002. Currently, he represents Blanco, Texas-based Andalusia Whiskey Co. and multiple wine labels. Somehow, he also finds time to be Houston Food Finder’s associate editor and social media manager.