First Bite: Highly Acclaimed Pitmaster’s New Houston Restaurant Serves Gulf Coast Comfort
Pitmaster Greg Gatlin, owner of Gatlin’s Barbecue, opened his newest restaurant Fins and Feathers at 302 West Crosstimbers in July. The menu is a collaborative effort between Gatlin, executive chef Michelle Wallace and chef de cuisine Darius King. Staples include a variety of fried foods and Cajun favorites, plus dishes influenced by barbecue, Asian and Mexican cuisines. The result is a shift from a barbecue focus to a broader celebration of Gulf Coast cuisine. Houston Food Finder recently accepted an invitation to try the new menu, and while there are some expected new-restaurant wheels to grease, the overall experience was positive.
Starters include the F&F Clucker, a beak-to-tail charcuterie board “of sorts,” and by far the most intriguing plate on the menu. It offers Southern classics such as cracklins and fried gizzards in a transformative fashion‚ — in fact, the gizzards are a show-stealer. Typically tough and dry, the gizzards at Fins & Feathers have a buttery texture. Also on the plate are chips made from chicken feet (yes, you read that right), soft-textured Szechuan-spiced chicken cracklings and smoked chicken liver pâté with a whole-grain mustard seed sauce. There is also Berbere spice-dusted quail, which is delicious and mouth-numbingly spicy, but it feels out of place on a tray full of chicken.
The Grilled Jerk Chicken is another of the restaurant’s curveballs. While the chicken is succulent and falls off the bone, the seasoning is unexpectedly mild. Served on a bed of cilantro-lime rice, this traditionally spicy dish ended up being refreshing. The Nola BBQ Shrimp with Toast was served with the shrimp bordering on overcooked, but the dish still acted as a practical vessel for the buttery, garlic Worcestershire broth with a fragrance that could be detected throughout the restaurant. It was frustrating that the shrimp was slightly rubbery and the cilantro-lime rice was still slightly dry and chewy.
No Gulf Coast meal is complete without fried seafood. Fins and Feathers executes its cornmeal battered catfish and oysters swimmingly. An impressive detail was the customized seasonings for the batters. The one for the oysters had a sharp acidic bite not present in the catfish’s batter. Other menu items include fresh oysters, gumbo, smoked chicken enchiladas, blackened catfish and F&F fried chicken.
The restaurant also offers more than half-a-dozen sides including collard greens with smoked turkey, red beans and rice, creamed corn, potato salad, and a smokey, gouda heavy macaroni and cheese.
The dessert menu features pecan and apple pies, New York Style Cheesecake, and Big D’s Dreamsicle Donut. It is easy to overlook the beer and wine selections, because these are not listed on the food menu, nor did we receive a second drink list.
Right now, at least, Fins & Feathers’ Achilles heel is service and organization. There was no record of our reservation. Most of the staff seemed inexperienced, and the entrance was cluttered, leaving little room for guests while checking in. The main dining room felt spacious, however, and comfortably housed the 20 or so tables. We were seated next to the hostess stand, and at one point, a stack of menus fell on me. While it’s good for servers to check on customers, we had a helicopter waitress who stopped by so frequently we hardly had time to enjoy the experience.
As for the overcooked and undercooked dishes, this can be par for the course at newly opened spots, as restaurants are full of variables that are discovered and smoothed in the early weeks. Diners who plan to visit soon should be understanding of that fact and have some patience.
Fins and Feathers is open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. reservations are available on OpenTable.