Underbelly To Relocate And Make Way For Steakhouse Inspired By One Fifth

Chris Shepherd with Romanesco broccoli

Ever since One Fifth Steak was replaced with the second of what will ultimately be five concepts in total, One Fifth Romance Languages, James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd has been seeking a permanent spot for his steakhouse. Now, it’s been revealed that he and his fellow owners in 1100 Restaurant Group, which includes The Hay Merchant’s’ Kevin Floyd, has decided the best site for the steakhouse is Underbelly’s current spot at 1100 Westheimer. It’s named Georgia James after Shepherd’s parents.

Underbelly isn’t exactly going away, though: it’s being renamed to UB Preserv, downsizing and moving down the street to Poscol’s original spot at 1609 Westheimer. (More recently, pan-Asian eatery Jimmy Chew’s was housed there. It closed in July.)

The move is a response by the owners to how Houston’s dining scene has evolved since Underbelly opened almost six years ago. Via press release, Shepherd says, “It’s becoming more global, with flavors and spices and products from around the world. Underbelly was founded on a very strict philosophy of what we could and could not serve. No more. Houston doesn’t limit itself, and neither do I.”

Underbelly’s main dining room.Photo by Julie Soefer.

It’s also the third time a Houston-based chef has closed the restaurant that he operated when he won a James Beard Best Chef—Southwest award and reopened with a more modern idea. Robert del Grande, who won in 1992, closed Cafe Annie in 2009. (It was later reborn in the former RDG + Bar Annie space on Post Oak in March 2016.) Chef Justin Yu, who won the award in 2016, shuttered Oxheart this past March and reopened it as Theodore Rex in October.

It’s going to be a busy 2018 for Underbelly Hospitality, the new company formed by Shepherd and Floyd to manage their growing restaurant and bar empire. Buildout on UB Preserv is already underway and it is expected to open late this spring. One Fifth Romance Languages, as planned, closes in July to give way to a new concept. Previously, it was slated to be One Fifth Fish, but that idea has been put on the back burner in favor of One Fifth Mediterranean, which will debut on September 1. Then, Georgia James will open in the remodeled Underbelly spot in mid- to late-2018.

Kevin Floyd
Kevin Floyd of The Hay Merchant. Photo by Julie Soefer

The Future Of Underbelly—And A Big Change For The Hay Merchant

Underbelly as we currently know it is closing around the end of March. Underbelly’s most popular and enduring dishes—Korean Braised Goat and Dumplings, Cha Ca and Crispy Vegetables in Caramelized Fish Sauce—are moving to The Hay Merchant’s menu. In addition, the popular beer bar (which added cocktails recently) will fill the lunch service left behind when Underbelly closes. Starting in April, the new hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.

When Underbelly opens in late March or April as UB Preserv, it will have 80 seats. The current incarnation’s “farmhouse” look, with its rustic wood accents and harvesting tools, is being used as the inspiration for UB Preserv’s interior design. As reported in June, Shepherd also is no longer strictly constraining his menus to what can be made with local ingredients.

However, Shepherd says to not expect it to be “Underbelly 2.0.” The more cozy neighborhood restaurant will have a set menu, not one that changes daily. It’s not known right now exactly what dishes will be on it.

The logo for forthcoming steakhouse Georgia James. Courtesy of 1100 Restaurant Group.

All About Georgia James

Top sellers from One Fifth Steak are being carried over to the Georgia James menu, including the “baller boards” (huge seafood and charcuterie boards), the Airman salad (using the original Caesar salad recipe invented by Alex Cardini) and cast iron-seared steaks. Like Underbelly, local and seasonal ingredients are going to be used as much as possible.

Collaborative Projects is designing a new look for the current Underbelly space. It will be modern, sleek and feature a lot of glass and steel. It will be dressier, too: this one is going to pull out the white tablecloths and tableside service.

One Fifth Dining Room
The dining room of One Fifth during its steakhouse incarnation.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Why One Fifth Mediterranean?

At first, the new idea for the third restaurant concept is a little confusing. Currently, it’s One Fifth Romance Languages. The “romance languages” that inspire the dishes include French, Italian and Spanish—which are Mediterranean countries.

The new restaurant debuting in September, though, isn’t an extension of One Fifth Romance Languages. Rather, it’s Shepherd’s opportunity to explore other sides of the sea: Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and the Middle East. Via press release, the chef says that it’s also inspired by Lebanese steakhouses he ate at growing up in Tulsa, where tabouli was served right alongside a ribeye.

Diners who want to visit Underbelly’s current incarnation should do so before the end of spring, while those who enjoy (or still need to experience) One Fifth Romance Languages have until July 1 to do so.

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