Xin Chao Says Hello, Katz’s Opens in the Heights

Xin Chao, 2310 Decatur, softly opened September 25 in the Sawyer Heights area. The modern Vietnamese restaurant comes from Christine Ha, Tony J. Nguyen and John Suh. Ha is best known as ” The Blind Chef” who won the third season of Master Chef in 2012. She and husband Suh opened The Blind Goat at Bravery Chef Hall in 2019 and quickly earned accolades including being a James Beard Award semi-finalist nod for Best New Restaurant 2020.  Now, she has teamed up with Saigon House chef and owner, Tony Nguyen, to showcase their  Vietnamese-American heritage and culinary skills with a contemporary approach to traditional Vietnamese dishes with a touch of Texas BBQ and eventually Gulf Coast seafood.

The menu will have seasonal rotations but a look at its online menu shows a sample of starters such as Not Our Ma’s Eggrolls, a blend of both chefs’ mothers’ recipes with their own personal twists. There’s also Pork Belly Bao, fried buns with braised pork belly and beef tallow aioli. There’s also the house-made Smoked Duck Salad which is gluten-free.

For entrees, guests can try its Nguyen-er, Nguyen-er Chicken Dinner (love it!) which can be ordered as a half or whole chicken. The chicken is marinated in lemongrass buttermilk, battered lightly with pandan rice then fried. There’s also the gorgeous house-smoked Beef Rib with Flat Rice Noodles. To get a taste of what made Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot choose Ha as their Master Chef champion, try the Braised Pork and Crispy Rice, a dish of braised pork cooked for 24 hours and served over rice in a stone bowl. It’s served with seasonal pickled greens and a soft boiled egg. This writer was fortunate enough to try Ha’s pickled greens at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo before the event was shut down in March due to the pandemic. They were delicious.

The restaurant will also serve beer, wine and cocktails. The Dragon Highball Z is made with Suntory Toki Japanese whiskey, Topo Chico, ginger and grapefruit. There might be a couple of frozen drinks available such as the Pandan Colada. The restaurant is still in its soft opening stage so some items may not be available.

The new owners have transformed the space which used to house the original Beaver’s and then Decatur Bar and Pop Up Factory into a light, airy space with wood tables and simply painted walls. There’s an expansive patio for al fresco dining and it is dog-friendly. There are a number of safety protocols in place including disposable utensils, hand sanitizing stations and no reusable menus.

For now, the restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for dinner only and take-out is available. The crew is planning to add a weekend brunch as things get ramped up.

Katz's has Ruebens 24/7.EXPAND

Katz’s has Ruebens 24/7.

Photo by Shawn Chippendale

Katz’s Deli and Bar, 2200 N. Shepherd, opened in the Heights September 15, as reported by CultureMap Houston. It began its 24-hour service September 22 in keeping with its “Katz Never Kloses” motto.

“We’re excited to welcome diners to our new location,” said Barry Katz in a press release. “It’s truly a blend of old and new which you see in the architecture, food and drinks, and even the logo. It was important for us to preserve the past while incorporating new tastes and styles to bring something unique. Even though the dining experience itself may be different, the same New York flavor and Texas hospitality will be here!”

The interior offers a modern feel with a vintage aesthetic.

The interior offers a modern feel with a vintage aesthetic.

Photo by Shawn Chippendale

The new building was designed by The Michael Hsu Office of Architecture to bring a little bit of New York energy to the Heights while still keeping with the neighborhood’s vintage feel.  A  U-shaped bar serves as the centerpiece, offering guests a comfortable place to enjoy one of the new craft cocktails or a glass of Texas wine. There’s a  hexagonal oak rod screen element over the bar, and small globe lights add a playful, retro touch. The large recessed skylight in the center of the restaurant allows natural light to flood in during the day while a spectacular art deco globe chandelier provides abundant light around the clock, as Katz Never Kloses.

Katz Deli first opened in Austin in 1979 before it eventually made its way to Montrose at 616 Westheimer, a perfect spot for a 24-hour diner. It opened a second Houston area location in The Woodlands. The massive menu offers something for everyone from salads and homemade soups to mile-high sandwiches like the Muscletrap Rueben or Katz Meow. There are plenty of comfort food options such as meatloaf, burgers and open-faced sandwiches plus pasta, fish and chicken dishes. Katz’s Deli and Bar has always been a late-night last stop for Montrose party animals who could counteract the booze with items like the Nosh Basket with fried potato pancake wedges, fire dog wedges, fried zucchini and cheese balls. The new Heights location aims to be a comfortable place for residents to linger on its pet-friendly patio or settle in at a booth in the retro-style dining area.

Katz's is more than just a delicatessen.EXPAND

Katz’s is more than just a delicatessen.

Photo by Shawn Chippendale

Besides the huge offering of sandwiches, entrees and starters, Katz’s menu also offers a large dessert section. For cheesecake lovers (and who isn’t), there’s the Famous Cheesecake Shake with a whole slice of cheesecake blended in with Oreo crumbles. There’s also the Cheesecake Sandwich with a slice of New York cheesecake in a brioche roll with Oreo crumbles and topped with chocolate and strawberry sauce. For smaller appetites, there are brownies, cookies and cake slices. Breakfast is served 24/7 with choices such as Texas Brisket Benedict, Challah French Toast, Bagel with Lox and Cheese Blintzes.

Coffee and CBD brighten the day at Amsterdam Co.

Coffee and CBD brighten the day at Amsterdam Co.

Photo by Jennifer Lake

Amsterdam Co., 807 W. 19th, began its soft opening stage September 21 and is geared up for a grand opening October 5, as reported here in the Houston Press. The new coffee shop and cannabidiol dispensary will offer coffee and tea drinks with or without CBD plus edibles like cookies and chews. The owners, Drew Bailey and Michael Migl have teamed with local roaster, Matt Toomey, of Little Dreamers Coffee to create some of the blends. They have also brought in products from Leaf Life Wellness CBD such as shampoos, face creams and bath bombs.

Though CBD regulations have been spotty and the laws regarding cannabis vary from state to state, Texas allows the sale of hemp products with less than a THC level of.3 percent.  CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis, or marijuana plant.

Amsterdam Co. is located in the Heights, fittingly in a 1900s Dutch Colonial. It features a large patio for lounging.

Chef/owner Jasmine Anderson welcomes guests to her Southern kitchen.EXPAND

Chef/owner Jasmine Anderson welcomes guests to her Southern kitchen.

Photo by Lady D Photography

1101 Southern Kitchen, 12020 FM 1960, softly opened September 7. The restaurant then took a week’s hiatus to work out the kinks and reopened September 15. The family restaurant is Black-owned and woman-owned and serves Southern comfort food with modern inspiration. Chef and owner Jasmine Anderson is creating starters like Voodoo Spring Rolls and Oxtail Sliders plus Cajun specialties like its 1101 Gumbo made with sausage and seafood. Its Shrimp and Grits dish is a little different in that the shrimp is served atop a fried grit cake. Its meatloaf gets the cupcake treatment and each individual meatloaf cupcake is topped with mashed potatoes, bacon and chives.

Anderson chose the name 1101 to honor her late father whose birthday is November 1, according to Shout Out HTX.  The restaurant is a dream come true for Anderson and a tribute to her father’s memory.

The restaurant is now serving weekend brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are also lunch specials during the week that might include Chicken and Waffles or a 1/2 soup 1/2 sandwich deal.

Brass Tacks, 612 Live Oak, softly opened September 12 and is currently operating under the radar as locals discover the new business. The coffee house and bar has been in the works for a couple of years as the owners renovated the 1938 building in East Downtown that once housed an armature company. The build out remains true to the architecture with its high, beamed ceilings and exposed red brick. The coffee bar also has an upstairs area and there are plenty of individual cubbies to work or study.

Besides coffee drinks, there is a selection of beer, wine and cocktails plus  an assortment of sandwiches and salads.

Julep's menu includes oysters on the half shell.EXPAND

Julep’s menu includes oysters on the half shell.

Photo by Julie Soefer

Julep, 1919 Washington, reopens October 2 for Friday and Saturday service from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. The boutique cocktail bar from Alba Huerta has been selling its cocktails and frozen booze pops from its Julep to Go truck during the pandemic. Now, due to special regulations allowing bars to re-permit as restaurants, Julep is reopening with a new food and drink menu. For now, the menu is pared down for the next few weeks and the cocktail menu is the same as its Julep to Go truck menu with offerings like its frozen boozy pops in flavors such as Mint Julep, Cherry Bounce, Strawberry Rita and Apricot Bellini. The pops are 3 for $12.

The bottled cocktail choices include Negroni, Sazerac, Vieux Carre and Oaxacan Old Fashioned. There are large format cocktails starting with the Pina Colada in a Pina ($25) which serves two or the Bottled in Bond ($75) which serves eight. There are also individual cocktails such as a Moscow Mule, Pimms Cup and Bourbon Mint Julep. The Julep to Go truck operates daily from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. for catering and delivery within the beltway.

Julep is prepared for social distancing.EXPAND

Julep is prepared for social distancing.

Photo by Alba Huerta

The new food menu is available for dine-in only. There are a couple of sandwiches such as the Croissant Chicken Salad or the Croissant Pimento Cheese plus a lobster roll, raw oysters and the 5 Dairymaids Cheese Platter and Fixin’s. Tables will be spaced out with wood and glass dividers. Guests are required to wear masks when not seated.

Permission Whiskey and Service Co., 2920 White Oak,  opened this week. The new bar and restaurant from Peter Nolan, offers nearly 350 different whiskeys, according to CultureMap Houston.  The selection runs the gamut from everyday favorites to hard to find bourbons and rare Scotch whiskeys that aficionados seek. A curated selection of rums, tequilas, gins and vodka is available plus beer and wine. Nolan also has a couple of White Claw flavors on hand for those with simpler tastes.

Antique chandeliers and green velvet couches create an atmosphere of comfortable lushness, perfect for sipping champagne and slurping raw oysters. Charcuterie boards and crafted cocktails can be shared in a private booth. For now, the business is limiting its capacity to forty persons which will be expanded once the patio is completed. 

The Sporting Club, 5102 Washington, is aiming for a mid-October opening. The new open-air concept comes from SoClutch, the hospitality group which just reopened its speakeasy-style concept Sugar Room last month. The group also operates Concrete Cowboy which has outposts in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Frisco and Houston.

The restaurant and bar will have a retractable roof and an expansive outdoor dining space. Chef E.J. Miller, formerly of International Smoke and Riel, will helm the kitchen and has designed the menu for the restaurant. The cocktail offerings will include creations from Ladies of Libation, the consulting duo of Laurie Sheddan Harvey and Kris Sowell, who also designed cocktails for Sugar Room.

More details on The Sporting Club will be forthcoming so stay tuned.

A new icehouse is coming to Jones Road.EXPAND

A new icehouse is coming to Jones Road.

Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Keg’s Ice House and Grill, 12551 Jones, is making progress on its build out, according to its Facebook page. The icehouse will offer beer, wine and set-ups in the Cypress area.

It's pumpkin spice time at Voodoo Doughnut.

It’s pumpkin spice time at Voodoo Doughnut.

Photo by Ariel Pastore-Sebring

Voodoo Doughnut, 3715 Washington, has brought back its popular fall treat, The Dashing Pumpkin. It’s a cake doughnut with a swirl of cream cheese frosting, sprinkles and a dash of pumpkin spice. It is available until November 30.

Onion Creek has a shady outdoor space for enjoying the fall weather.EXPAND

Onion Creek has a shady outdoor space for enjoying the fall weather.

Photo by Fabiola Valencia

The Creek Group is offering 50-cent cups of its Creek Blend coffee at all five of its locations during the month of October. Each of the restaurants, with some of the best patio seating in Houston, are open for weekend brunch as well. They are Onion Creek, Canyon Creek, Cactus Cove, Cedar Creek and Piggy’s. You can start the lazy morning with a cup of coffee or two, then linger with an adult beverage into the afternoon.

Openings and Closings Reported for September 2020:

Bistro 555, 13616 Memorial, opened September 15
The Bomb Wings and Other Things, 5549 Richmond, opened August 17
Bottled Blonde, 4901 Washington, opened September 17
Crafty Crab, 211 Cypress Creek Parkway, opened August 18
Crawfish Cafe, 1026 N. Shepherd, opened September 19
Eight Row Flint, 1039 Yale, reopened early September
Einstein Bros. Bagels, 15605 Aldine Westfield, opened in August
Gyro Hut, 18002 Park Row, opened September 5
Howdy Hot Chicken, 19922 Southwest Freeway, opened early August
In-N-Out Burger, 7611 FM 1960, opened September 4
Kirby Ice House, 3333 Eastside reopened September 2
Kirby Ice House, 1015 Gessner, reopened September 2
The Love Shack, 3709 Eastside, reopened September 2
Magnolia Cajun Comfort, 1807 Broadway, opened August 31
Miss Carousel, 1201 Saint Emanuel, reopened September 24
Molina’s Cantina, 6300 FM 1463, opened September 3
Off the Hook Seafood, 2222 Rayford, opened August 27
The Original Ninfa’s Uptown Houston, 1700 Post Oak Boulevard, reopened August 29
Ostia, 2032 Dunlavy, opened September 25
Pho Ben, 935 Shepherd, opened September 18
Pressed Juicery, 714 Yale, opened September 23
Raising Cane’s, 12627 S. Kirkwood, opened September 9
Robot Noodle, 1221 W. 11th, opened September 19
Sugar Room, 5120 Washington, reopened September
Sweetgreen, 820 Main, opened September 21
The Woodshed Smokehouse, 3728 Wakeforest, reopened September 2
Xochi, 1777 Walker, reopened October 1

Closings Reported for September 2020:

AGU Ramen Bistro, 7340 Washington, closed September 27
Bellaire Broiler Burger, 5216 Bellaire Boulevard, closed in June
Burger-Chan, 5 Greenway Plaza, closed late August
SusieCakes, 2563 Amherst and 1711 Dryden, closed in September
Willie’s Grill and Icehouse, 4561 FM 1960 W, closed July 29

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