The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in September 2021
Houston’s restaurant scene continues to evolve, despite the ongoing pandemic. There are several new additions to this month’s Hit List: a tavern from a well-established, local chef and restaurateur, a Canadian import that opened in the Galleria, a self-serve wine destination in Spring Branch and more. Whether you are looking for a full-service meal or cocktails and light bites, one thing remains clear: Houston’s dining scene always has what you need.
Agnes Café & Provisions, 2132 Bissonnet: This new Mediterranean cafe and grocery in Rice Village springs from two longtime Houston friends and veterans of the restaurant scene, Molly Voorhees and Carolyn Dorros. Another familiar face, Brendon Fetzer, formerly of Canopy, is serving as general manager. The café serves Greek-influenced meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which also incorporate ingredients from local purveyors, such as Houston Dairymaids. There is also a specialty grocery section and to-go items.
Breakfast choices include Baklava Granola, made with oats, pistachios, walnuts, Bulgarian yogurt and honey, and the Breakfast Mezze with a nine-minute egg, labneh, hummus, pickled tomatoes, cucumbers, dates and flatbread. For dinner, guests can look forward to options such as half-roasted chicken with turmeric-green olive vinaigrette and saffron rice.
To sip alongside meals, diners can choose from assorted non-alcoholic items or recently added cocktails such as the Strawberry-Rhubarb Smash. A wine list curated by John Mason, the current wine and beverage manager at River Oaks Country Club and formerly of Camerata, is coming soon.
Da Gama, 600 North Shepherd (M.K.T. Development): This restaurant, situated inside The M‑K‑T mixed-use development in the Heights, is from Shiva and Rick Di Virgilio, the industry veterans behind Oporto in midtown and the now-closed Queen Vic Pub. Poised as the “next level” Queen Vic, the Portuguese- and Indian-inspired menu hearkens back to their combined heritage.
Da Gama currently offers a selection of tapas-style dishes broken out into four categories: do Quinta (vegetables), do Mar (seafood), do Carne (meat), and Pao (breads). We suggest the Tandoori Roots made with tandoor-roasted carrots and beets, whipped honey ricotta and pistachios, and the hearty Pork Vindaloo with braised pork curry, Kashmiri chili, peas and sweet potatoes. From the bar, diners can get wine on tap as well as unique cocktails, such as the Cashew Milk Punch with Old Monk Rum, cashew milk, sweet chai and passion fruit.
Fegen’s, 1050 Studewood: Lance Fegen and his restaurant group, F.E.E.D. TX, have converted the former Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar in the Heights into the chef’s first eponymous restaurant. Fegen’s is serving classic American fare that leans heavily into Southern Italian cuisine. Diners can start their meals with appetizers such as Meatballs & Fennel Sausage with tomato-veal gravy, basil, cherry pepper and salted bread and then order Linguine & Clam Sauce with a choice of red or white sauce.
Sicilian-style pizza is also on the menu, with familiar staples such as Margherita and signature combinations like Purple Rain with fried eggplant, fresh ricotta, tomato gravy, basil and Sicilian olive oil. Those looking for meatier fare can choose from a selection of steaks, chicken dishes or a love-it-or-hate-it classic: liver and onions.
To accompany dinner, Nicole Meza, whose bar experience includes Weights + Measures and Julep, has curated a cocktail list of classics such as the Sazerac and original concoctions like the Staycation with bourbon, lemon juice, passion fruit and grapefruit bitters.
Feges BBQ Spring Branch, 8217 Long Point: The first of two Spring Branch entries on this month’s list, this family-friendly eatery is the second outpost from chefs and owners Patrick Feges and Erin Smith. The couple’s original location in The Hub at Greenway Plaza quickly became a Houston favorite with the one-two punch of Feges’s smoked meats and Smith’s one-of-a-kind sides such as Moroccan Spiced Carrots and Elote Corn Salad.
The Spring Branch location offers a larger kitchen and dining room, giving the the couple a chance to expand the menu with mains like Southern Fried Chicken, served with charred slaw, buttermilk biscuit, gochujang BBQ sauce and Alabama white sauce, and Porcini Crusted Hanger Steak with roasted cauliflower and romesco sauce. Of course, diners will also find an array of expertly smoked meats, including the Texas trinity: brisket, pork ribs and sausage. There is also a large selection of sides, several that were introduced at the first location and a few new ones such as Spicy Korean Braised Greens and Hog Fat Cornbread. The new space also offers diners the chance to sip adult beverages with their barbecue, with the addition of wine, beer and a frozen margarita. For more details, check out David Leftwich’s First Bite article.
Gatsby’s Prime Steakhouse, 4319 Montrose: Housed in the former Pax Americana space, Gatsby’s Prime Steakhouse opened its lavish doors in March. This intimately focused dining experience is hitting its stride. The menu is decadent and rich, as in, pricey. Start with two indulgent options for deviled eggs: fried or topped with fried shrimp and bacon jam. There are also customizable seafood towers and a bevy of steak options, such as a 24-ounce Porterhouse and the 40-ounce “Tomahawk” Ribeye. Since no steakhouse is complete without sides, Gatsby’s offers up a dozen to accompany your steak, from the usual suspects such as steak fries and baked potatoes to specialties like Cream Corn Brûlée.
From the bar, Gatsby’s offers over 20 wines by the glass, a large selection of wines by the bottle and housemade cocktails such as the Great Gatsby made with Wheatley vodka, Lillet, and grapefruit juice, and the Plain James with Presidente brandy, honey, spice and ginger beer.
Georgia James Tavern, 737 Preston: Located on the first floor of downtown’s Market Square Tower in the former Coterie space, this casual outpost is the newest restaurant from Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly Hospitality. With a menu and decor inspired by Shepherd’s acclaimed steakhouse Georgia James, the new location has some Underbelly veterans at the helm. Former Georgia James sous chef Matthew “Tally” Coburn is the chef de cuisine, while Matthew Pridgen is wine director and Westin Galleymore is overseeing the bar.
Tavern-goers can indulge in steaks such as a Cast Iron Seared Wagyu Ribeye served with potato hash, crispy tobacco onions and G1 sauce and small plates like Viet-Cajun Confit Chicken Wings with candied peanuts. A good casual joint needs sandwiches, and this well-appointed eatery doesn’t disappoint. There are currently four on the menu, including Tally’s Cuban made with mojo roasted pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, yucca fritta and island sauce.
As one would expect from a tavern helmed by this esteemed team, the beverage list is extensive. There are over a dozen wines by the glass and over 65 by the bottle. Creatively named signature cocktails include the Tortoise + The Hare, made with a blend of rums, lime, green tea, mint and housemade bitters, and the Two Who Flew made with dry gin, Basil Eau de Vie, lemon, blanc vermouth, raspberry, Peychaud’s and egg whites.
Gratify Neighborhood Bistro, 5212 Morningside: From Clark Cooper Concepts comes Gratify Neighborhood Bistro, which is housed inside the former Punk’s Simple Southern Food spot in Rice Village. Currently open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays (lunch is in the works), Gratify’s menu is comprised of posh fare such as Lobster and Crab Mac n’ Cheese made with gruyère, gouda, manchego, garlic butter and the Taglierini and Truffles, which Houston Food Finder’s Sandra Crittenden tried on her recent visit and indeed found gratifying.
From the extensive raw bar, diners can go decadent with choices like the Plateau de Fruits de Mer (in both grand and “gratify” sizes) or keep things on the lighter side with dishes like the Yellowfin Crudo with capers, onion and lemon olive oil.
Gratify’s wine list offers a good range of bottles and selections by the glass. There are also classic cocktails like the Negroni and the Manhattan and, on the Traveler’s List, drinks inspired by bars from around the country, such as The Good, the Bad and the Hombre from the legendary Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, made with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Montenegro amaro, fresh squeezed lemon .
Homestead Kitchen & Bar, 600 North Shepherd in the M.K.T. development: Houstonian transplant Jeff Svenvold was looking for a cozy space to open his first restaurant, and the mixed-use M-K-T development in the Heights fit the bill. Drawing inspiration from Tex-Mex, Cajun and Southern comfort food, Svenvold partnered with A’ La Carte Consulting Group for the café’s menu, which aims to hit the sweet spot of offering satisfying dishes from all three influences. The resulting menu is ample, with the all-day breakfast section alone offering over a dozen features such as the Breakfast Huarache made with fried masa cake layered with refried beans, Mexican chorizo, sunny-side-up egg, crema fresca, shredded lettuce, queso fresco, avocado and cilantro. There are also five different pancake choices (like the Pina Colada Pancakes) and bakery items like churros and beignets.
The Lunch & Later section (available from 11 a.m. until “close,” which is currently 9:30 p.m.) offers standouts such as Southern Fried Chicken served with mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and chipotle aioli, and the Backyard Beef Barbacoa made with adobo-spiced beef served with diced white onions, cilantro, lime, morita pepper salsa, creamy salsa verde, housemade flour or corn tortillas, Mexican rice and beans. House cocktails include classics like the Old Fashioned and Sazerac alongside originals such as the Homestead Bloody Mary made with housemade mix and cucumber vodka.
JOEY Uptown, 504 Westheimer: This new restaurant is from the Vancouver-based team behind JOEY Restaurant Group. JOEY transformed the former Yauatcha “jewel box” space at the Galleria into a tropical retreat with plenty of green space (including a living green ceiling), walls adorned with artwork from Texas based Jon Flaming, and a retractable roof.
Executive chef Chris Mills and executive director (and a Top Chef Canada winner) Matthew Stowe developed an array of dishes aimed at having a little something for everyone. Under the “Smalls + Sharing” section, dinners will find dishes such as Roasted Corn Guacamole and Korean-Fried Cauliflower made with sweet and spicy Korean chili miso paste and toasted sesame seeds. Those looking for heartier fare can choose from mains like Cajun Blackened Chicken served with warm potato and bacon salad, creamy coleslaw and the Sake-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass served with wok-fired vegetables, gold potatoes and dashi broth.
The wine list features over 20 by the glass, while those in the mood for a cocktail can try one of the signature cocktails such as the JOEY Manhattan made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, montenegro amaro, apricot and aromatic bitters.
Le Jardinier, 5500 Main: At Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s new Kinder Building, Houstonians can now snack on baked items from the casual Café Leonelli or indulge in elegant, fine dining at Le Jardinier, which is helmed by French chef Alain Verzeroli. Le Jardinier’s menu emphasizes locally sourced items and influences.
With seating alongside artful views of the Cullen Sculpture Garden, the dishes are almost as pretty as the views. À la carte selections such as grilled Spanish octopus with romesco and smoked marble potatoes, and the ricotta agnolotti with spiced tomato coulis, pine nuts and herbs, deliver on taste as well as presentation.
There is also a seasonal tasting menu for $125. Specialty cocktails include the Noguchi Garden with Meyer lemon vodka, sake, cucumber and tomato water, lime and soda and the Cromosat & Tonic with gin, butterfly pea flower, lemongrass, lime and tonic.
NoPo Café Market & Bar, 1244 North Post Oak: Berg Hospitality Group (B&B Butcher and Restaurant, B.B. Lemon, Turner’s) recently opened NoPo Café Market & Bar — an all-day café with breakfast, lunch and dinner, in addition to a marketplace. NoPo’s menu has an East Coast-vibe with breakfast dishes like the Smoked Salmon & Schmeer and the I “Heart” NY Egg Sandwich and cocktails like The Upper East Side made with Jameson, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Angostura Bitters and Luxardo Cherry.
Diners can opt for easy on-the-go items both at the counter and in the market or stay for a full-service meal such as Steak Frites, a Wagyu flat iron steak served with green peppercorn sauce and, of course, fries. Inside the ample space guests can choose from café seating, the dining room, patio service and even a small six-seat bar.
In addition to the cocktail list, NoPo also features a wine list with over 30 bottles hailing from Northern California to a few European options, and 10 selections by the glass.
Shoot the Moon, 8155 Long Point: The second debut on this list in the Spring Branch neighborhood is the new self-service bar and gastropub concept, Shoot The Moon. This is the first venture from STM Hospitality, which is comprised of Kevin Floyd and chef Dax McAnear, both formerly of The Hay Merchant and 1100 Restaurant Group (which also owned Underbelly) and Cecil’s Pub owner Jonas Herd.
So how exactly does a self-serve gastropub work? Guests receive a special card that adds to their tab each time they pour themselves a drink from a tap wall that features over 75 beverages: craft beers, wine, spirits and four batched cocktails, such as a boozy Old Fashioned and a Oaxacan Viejo, a margarita with mezcal and jalapeño simple syrup.
McAnear’s food menu is focused, offering pizzas, small plates, salads and entrées. The appetizers include classics you’d expect to find at a modern pub: housemade hummus, waffle fries, chicken wings and fried calamari. However, McAnear is also cooking up more creative fare such as fried cheese curds and Pimento Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms. Other innovative offerings include Deep Dark Mushroom Pizza, with raclette, a blend of roasted mushrooms, arugula and both red and white sauces, and Grains & Things, a salad that blends farro, wild rice, arugula, feta, cherry tomato, radish, avocado, jicama, cucumber, apricots and carrots with dukkah, a lemon-apricot dressing and tahini drizzle. For more details, read about Ryan Kasey Baker’s recent visit.
Soto, 224 Westheimer: Housed in the former Bistecca spot, this Austin-based sushi restaurant recently finished its soft opening. The ample space (over 3,000 square feet), which includes a dining room, sushi bar and private dining area, has been redone in a contemporary style. The menu at Soto, under the helm of executive chef Yoshi Katsuyama (formerly of Uchi Houston), is focused on nigiri and sashimi such as Red Sea Bream with lemon oil, shio kombu, shiso and yuzu zest, and Ora King Salmon with moromi miso, garlic scallion oil and lemon zest. There is also an ample selection of of hot and cold appetizers like Wagyu Gyoza and Smoked Tuna Tataki.
For those who want to get the full chef’s experience, there are two levels of omakase (regular and premium at $150 or $250 per person respectively). In addition to the regular menu, diners can also choose from the Japan Express, happy hour, takeout and vegetarian menus. The drink list includes a solid selection of sake and Japanese whiskey.