Chris Shepherd & His Team Are Bringing a Tavern to Downtown Houston
James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd and the team of Underbelly Hospitality, which operates three restaurants, a coffee shop and a craft beer bar in Montrose, have set their sights on downtown Houston. Specifically, they plan to open Georgia James Tavern in Market Square Tower at 777 Preston this spring. It will be in the space that used to house coffee shop and wine bar Coterie. (It closed back in September.)
Described as a “casual offshoot” of Shepherd’s steakhouse by the same name, the tavern promises more approachable menu prices. “I love Georgia James,” said Shepherd. “But I understand that it’s not a restaurant most people can visit on a daily or even weekly basis. Georgia James Tavern is designed to be a place where our guests want to — and can — eat every day.”
Matthew Coburn, who’s worked for Shepherd at his original restaurant Underbelly and, more recently, as sous chef of Georgia James, is being promoted to chef de cuisine and running the new tavern’s kitchen. While the menu will include salads, sandwiches and burgers, guests can still land the type of upscale, chef-driven fare found at the restaurant, such as cast-iron seared steaks and entrées cooked in a wood-burning oven. Underbelly Hospitality pastry director Victoria Dearmond is developing “simple and comfortable” desserts such as cheesecake and an apple crumble that’s a riff on the Georgia James’ apple pie (both are baked in wood-burning ovens).
Also, count on the same focus on local ingredients that’s found at all of Shepherd’s other establishments. “A tavern is a place for people to gather, drink and eat,” said Coburn via a press release. “We want to build a sense of community with this restaurant strengthened by our relationships with local farmers and ranchers, and the simple, technique-driven menu will reflect those relationships. My goal is for our guests to feel the culture we create from the moment they walk in the door.”
A tavern isn’t a tavern without alcoholic beverages, so Underbelly Hospitality wine director Matthew Pridgen is crafting a sizable but approachable wine list that includes everything from light summer refreshers to rare, sought-after bottles. Spirits director Westin Galleymore is performing his usual, familiar role of developing the cocktail and spirits lists. Expect an emphasis on bourbon and scotch alike — including some hard-to-find selections. Details aren’t available on cocktails, other than a few will be specifically designed for those who want to take them to go.
Jana Erwin and Audrey Tehauno of NEST Design Group are transforming the former Coterie space from a light and airy coffee shop into a space with more of a tavern environment with “a touch of Old Hollywood”. Expect custom marquee lights, vintage wall sconces, tufted leather banquettes and brass accents.
Georgia James Tavern will serve dinner upon opening, and there are plans to add breakfast and lunch later on.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.