Chef Nick Wong Quietly Prepares to Leave Underbelly Hospitality’s Georgia James Tavern
Chef Nick Wong, formerly of now-closed UB Preserv, is quietly preparing to leave his role as executive chef of Georgia James Tavern at 737 Preston in Market Square Tower. The news has been confirmed by both Wong and a representative of Underbelly Hospitality, James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd’s company which owns the tavern. Wong’s replacement is chef Tim Reading, whose experience includes top, authentic Mexican establishments such as H Town Restaurant Group’s Caracol (working two years for another James Beard Award-winning chef, Hugo Ortega) and IXIM in Bravery Chef Hall, which he opened with Jonathan Gallardo.
“I will be leaving the restaurant at the end of the week,” Wong told Houston Food Finder. “I have been training my replacement, and they will take over after I am gone.” Wong declined to discuss any future plans.
To cover the recent, somewhat complex history that’s led to this: Wong was moved to the the executive chef role at Georgia James Tavern after Underbelly Hospitality decided to close UB Preserv and turn it into a bar called Everlong. However, those plans fell through, in part because the company has other restaurants that either recently opened, such as Wild Oats (click to read about our first visit) and Underbelly Burger, or are under development, including relocating Georgia James from the former One Fifth space to the new Regency Square development. Additionally, Underbelly Hospitality is also opening a “red sauce Italian” restaurant, Pastore Italian Kitchen, in Regency Square. Recently hired chef Chris Davies will be in charge of that kitchen.
The move to Georgia James Tavern clearly proved to not be the right fit for Wong, who earned a following at UB Preserv for his unique perspectives on Asian fare and Southern influences. While, as discussed on an episode of the Houston Food Finder podcast, Wong was tasked with developing new dishes for the menu, it seems that effort ultimately falls to Reading.
A representative for Underbelly Hospitality says that information on and photos of Reading’s new dishes could be available as early as next week.
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.