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How soon after it opens should a new restaurant be reviewed? That's the question posed by Amanda Cohen, the much admired chef–proprietor of the Manhattan vegetarian/vegan restaurant Dirt Candy, in the latest installment of her Eater.com column, Dispatches from Dirt Candy.
"These days," she writes, "I feel like restaurants are getting reviewed almost as soon as their doors open. I wonder if that does everyone a disservice…." She points out that in earlier times, critics typically waited a decent interval between an establishment's first night and their own first full-scale review of the place. Some reviewers would give a place a now-astonishing six months before judging it publicly. Today, says Cohen, "The New York Times usually files on a restaurant within two to three months of opening and seems to give restaurants a six-week grace period before visiting for the first time." For other publications, two months or less now seems to be common."These days I feel like restaurants are getting reviewed almost as soon as their doors open. I wonder if that does everyone a disservice."-Amanda Cohen
The problem, says Cohen, is that "The restaurant that opens on day one isn't the restaurant that exists six months, or even six weeks, later."
Of course, that's true. But there are two issues here. The first is a modern-day one: Everybody with a smartphone is a reviewer, and dining at a new restaurant the moment it's open is a badge of, what?, hipness, prestige, influence, passion for dining out? What's the point of getting a table before the craft beer in the cooler has had time to chill if not to let the world know — stat! — that you're there, to show them what you're eating, and tell them what you think of it?
So, first of all, the question of when a new restaurant gets reviewed has nothing to do with professional critics or journalistic practices. Sorry, Ms. or Mr. Restaurateur, but you're pretty much fair (even if it's unfair) game to the world at large the moment you turn on the lights.
But the second issue, which has been with us for as long as there have been restaurants, is that you probably ought to be fair game to professional critics at that moment, too. Six months? Six weeks? No, how about a six-thirty reservation on night number one?
Back in medieval times, when computers took up whole rooms and phones were anchored to the wall with wires and people took photographs with contraptions called "cameras," I was reviewing restaurants for the Los Angeles Times and writing restaurant guides to Southern California. I used to hear sometimes from wounded restaurateurs, men and women whose establishments I had been unkind to in print. The tone and grammatical legitimacy of their comments varied, but the general idea was: "I work hard and this is my livelihood and how dare you, who have never even worked in a restaurant [though in fact I had], write words that will potentially diminish my business?"
What I always pointed out in reply was that: (a) the restaurant critic is a "first eater" — someone who devotes his or her time (typically during three or more visits) and somebody else's money (his or her employer's) to function as a kind of scout, undergoing an experience, analyzing and appraising it, and then reporting on it to thousands or hundreds of thousands of other people so that they'll know what they're being asked to spend their time and money on; and (b) restaurant customers quite probably worked hard for their money, too, and should be able to reasonably expect some measure of value in return for what they paid. If they are greeted rudely, served badly, and given crap to eat, then, sorry Ms. Restaurateur, but you deserve to have your business diminished.
Of course, no restaurateur (except maybe those wackos out in Arizona) gives his or her customers a bad experience on purpose, and of course it takes time for new restaurants to work out the kinks — to get all that complex human and mechanical machinery up and running. But why should the paying customer subsidize the transitional period? If a restaurant is operating at, say, 75 percent of what it will be when it's fully up and running (and that's generous, in the case of many new places), then why should diners pay 100 percent of the price?
If you take your shirts to the new dry cleaner down the block and get them back scorched and ripped, are you supposed to just be a good sport about it because they're just getting started? If you go to hear a new ensemble play Mozart and instead of the sublime music you've anticipated you hear a bunch of screeching and honking, do you forgive them because they haven't had time to really practice as much as they should have? Uh-uh.
Broadway shows, some of which have at least as many moving parts as the average restaurant and can cost as much to get up and running, get reviewed on opening night — typically after a string of half-price previews, incidentally, which are not reviewed — and if they get universally slammed, they're not going to be around for very long. I don't see why the same rules shouldn't apply to restaurants. Get your act together before you start handing us the check. Or open with all the imperfections and take your chances. Maybe we'd end up with fewer restaurants overall, but better ones.
Cohen suggests that if restaurants are reviewed early on, then they should be re-reviewed when they're functioning as they were meant to, and I agree. But as soon as an establishment starts running up charges on your AmEx card, it ought to be giving you full value, and if it isn't, your friendly neighborhood restaurant critic — and I don't mean that tableful of 20-somethings with their iPhones and snarky vocabularies — ought to tell the world that it isn't. If you're not ready for Pete Wells or Leslie Brenner or Jonathan Gold, amigo, you're not ready for anyone.
Tracing the Footsteps of Patrick Clark
I remember exactly how I felt when I saw a picture of Patrick Clark for the first time. The chef had dark brown skin like mine, and his grin was bright and wide, reminding me of those my uncles share at family gatherings. He looked healthy, self-assured, and confident. A list of accolades and adulation accompanied his portrait like a tail on a comet: He𠆝 been the executive chef at the groundbreaking New American restaurant The Odeon at age 25, a James Beard Award–winner𠅊 first for a black chef𠅊t 39. He𠆝 made television appearances aplenty, and his cooking drew love letters from food critics. Unlike the (mostly) French chefs whom I𠆝 studied in culinary school, he wasn’t wearing a tall white toque, and his close-shaved hair matched the thick black mustache atop his smile. He seemed instantly familiar to me though I𠆝 never seen his face or even heard his name. I knew I should know more about this man. But unlike his contemporaries, whose names I𠆝 been taught in school and always seemed to be on the lips of white chefs and food editors, he𠆝 seemingly faded from collective memory. Edouardo Jordan, chef at Seattle’s JuneBaby and Salare, had a similar experience. “There wasn’t a lot of talk about black chefs in culinary school, so I did some research and his name popped up,” he remembers. Like him, I needed to understand. I grabbed my laptop.
I found a grainy video of Clark competing in the 1997 Iron Chef World Cup semifinals. 𠇊merican chefs have for a very long time been in the background of the French and the Chinese and the Japanese,” Patrick Clark says, his high-pitched, raspy voice betraying his Brooklyn upbringing. “So this is a good chance to show our best strength here at this competition.”
I could see his pride at being invited to represent the United States. But I also knew what the outcome would be. Clark lost that round of the championships to Alain Passard, and just a few short months after the program aired, he died of heart failure at age 42. Fat tears fell on my keyboard as I conceded to the space between the time this video was filmed and the time I now occupied—years and decades between. I put my head in my hands, shaking with anger at his erasure, guilt for not knowing of him sooner. As the video ended and my sobs slowed, I got to work chasing down every word ever written about Patrick Clark𠅊nd trying to understand why his name had been excised from the conversation.
I soon learned that Clark was a classically trained powerhouse of a chef and one of the leaders of New American cooking in the late s and s after studying under Michel Guérard in Eugénie-les-Bains, France. There he learned cuisine minceur𠅏ocusing on healthy approaches to French dishes𠅊nd applied this sensibility to the menu at The Odeon in New York, where he was made executive chef. Clark’s cooking was energetic, attracting the attention of chefs, restaurateurs, writers of New York City, and beyond.
His cooking showed a deft understanding of texture and temperature and a playful approach to tradition. Poached eggs perched on creamed spinach with hollandaise, while crisp blanched green beans and carrots adorned delicate poached veal medallions𠅌lassic dishes juxtaposed against The Odeon’s casual, almost cafeteria-like, atmosphere. It was a fine-casual restaurant before the term was created.
Author and former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl took note of Clark’s food at two different points in his career: at Bice, an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, while she was the restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times from 1984 to 1993, and at Tavern on the Green, when she held the role of food critic for the New York Times from 1993 to 1999.
“He was doing really interesting American food,” she recalls. “It was like suddenly you’ve got someone thinking with an American mind-set who doesn’t look to other countries.”
In 1994, Clark won his Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic Region James Beard Foundation Award for his cooking at The Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, D.C. Danielle Reed Rivera, his sous chef, attended the awards with him. “He didn’t even celebrate that night,” she says. Awards are nice, but Clark wanted to be in the kitchen making good food. “We were back to work the next day.” Humility was a core part of Clark’s character and leadership. On the night of that historic James Beard victory, “he called the kitchen and said ‘we won.’ It was so great that he said ‘we’—not ‘me’ or ‘I,’” says chef Donnie Masterton of The Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, who first worked with Clark as a line cook at Metro, a restaurant Clark opened in 1988, and collaborated with him at Bice, The Hay-Adams, and Tavern on the Green.
“He really made sure each part of a dish was as perfect as possible,” Masterton continues. A dish as simple as a clay pot chicken roasted with garlic and herbs and served with potato pancakes showcased Clark’s technical skills. “His food was ingredient-driven, seasonal it was a composition.”
Clark was also part of the second wave of celebrity chefs, making appearances on Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs, Great Chefs of the East, and the original Iron Chef. “If he were still around, he would be bigger than Emeril,” says Scott Alves Barton, PhD, who cooked with Clark at The Odeon and Metro and went on to study African American foodways at New York University. In 1995, Clark took on the gargantuan task of leading the kitchen at Tavern on the Green, one of the busiest, most high-profile restaurants in America at the time.
“Tavern on the Green is really tough,” Reichl says. In her one-star review of the restaurant, she praised the food but called the service the rudest in the country. Clark took the review in stride and sent her a handwritten thank-you note.
Less than three years later, Clark died while waiting for a heart transplant at only 42 years old, a time when most chefs𠅎specially those who achieve his stature𠅊re fine-tuning the ways they translate their unique perspective through their food. The chef community, led by Charlie Trotter, held events commemorating Clark and even put together a cookbook to raise money for his wife, Lynette, and their five children. It included warm remembrances and recipes from a host of his peers—Thomas Keller, Jacques Pépin, Alice Waters, and Daniel Boulud among them. Marcus Samuelsson wrote, 𠇊s a young chef arriving in New York, I frequently looked to Patrick for guidance and inspiration. Being the most famous and respected black chef in the U.S. was a huge responsibility for him, and one he gladly accepted. As a role model and leader, Patrick opened many doors for young, aspiring chefs who otherwise would not have chosen this industry.”
It’s hard to not feel cheated out of Clark’s foundational American cooking and mentorship for chefs when I think about his story. Seeing how committed he was to his craft and advancing American cuisine, and how he was so clearly revered by his peers, makes me question why he’s been largely forgotten. But I fear I know the answer: Like many black chefs, his work is neglected in favor of white chefs who stand upon it. Instructors and editors don’t uphold his legacy because the people and places they cover haven’t always given him the credit he deserves. This erasure may be unconscious or born of ignorance, but either way, it’s cyclical and pervasive perhaps worst of all, it robs a rising generation of chefs of an opportunity to learn the full story of the diverse forces who have shaped our country’s fine-dining culture.
Because when we know where to look, we have to recognize the impact of Clark’s work across the restaurant landscape. I see it in today’s dining scene, with its plethora of fine-casual restaurants, and I see his influence on a generation of black chefs, like JJ Johnson at Henry at Life Hotel in New York City, Mashama Bailey at The Grey in Savannah, Georgia, and Edouardo Jordan. I especially see it in Preston Clark, Patrick’s son who is the chef at Lure Fishbar in Manhattan.
“When you talk about American cooking, you have to talk about my father,” Preston says. Though there don’t seem to be official statistics for black-owned fine-dining restaurants, then or now, I know that his father’s story of restaurant ownership in Manhattan is still so incredibly rare. I wish it wasn’t.
Within Patrick Clark’s story is the story of black chefs—so essential to the history of cooking in this country but still invisible𠅊nd an inheritance of possibilities for black culinarians. I know that just like me, there are plenty of black people searching for chefs who look like them, who have to piece together Clark’s story, as I did that night, so they can recall it when they need inspiration. But everyone should know his story.
“There should be a Patrick Clark Day,” says Jordan. “He paved the way for a lot of us. I’m constantly asking myself if he would be proud of me.”
At the 2018 James Beard Awards, Jordan became the first black chef to win the Best New Restaurant accolade for his restaurant JuneBaby. He thanked Clark in his acceptance speech.
I’ve been moved to tears over this chef’s legacy two other times since watching that Iron Chef clip. Once was when I heard that when Clark was in the last few months of his life, staying in a hospital in New York, he asked his family and sous chefs to bring fresh seafood and produce to his room, where he prepared meals for himself and his fellow patients. The other was when Jordan told me that Clark’s wife, Lynette, called JuneBaby to thank him for mentioning her late husband while he stood on that stage.
Recently, I spoke about Patrick Clark to a class at Brownsville Community Culinary Center, which is not far from Canarsie, the southeastern Brooklyn neighborhood where Clark grew up. The first slide of my presentation was that same photo I𠆝 first seen of him. I watched as the students’ eyes lit up with a mix of familiarity and curiosity as they saw a chef who looked like them. And it became clear to me in that moment that Clark’s story doesn’t just illuminate the past. It lights the way forward.
“There should be a Patrick Clark Day,” says Edouardo Jordan. “He paved the way for a lot of us. I’m constantly asking myself if he would be proud of me.”
New restaurant openings to watch for this spring and summer in Baton Rouge
Despite the challenges the local culinary industry has faced over the past year, there is still much developing across Baton Rouge. Here are some new openings to keep an eye on—and when you might expect to first walk through their doors.
What other food businesses should the 225 Daily team have on our radar for a First Look feature? Please send tips to [email protected] .
Bites and Boards
The artfully created cheese boutique of your dreams is mere days from its Willow Grove debut. The new shop should be open by April 15, says owner Robyn Nicosia Parker. It marks the the first brick-and-mortar store for the brand, which opened in 2018. Follow Bites and Boards on Instagram at @bitesandboards for the latest .
City Pork at Highland Park Marketplace
The Baton Rouge favorite is opening its fourth location in a Highland Park Marketplace spot formerly occupied by Adrian’s. The new location is opening in May, according to owner Stephen Hightower, and will feature menu items from previous City Pork ventures such as Kitchen & Pie and Deli & Charcuterie. Check out City Pork’s menu and Instagrammable dishes at @city_pork .
Soon, you’ll be able to play more than 20 classic arcade games and enjoy a full bar at BRcade. This new retro arcade bar will set up shop at 2963 Government St. in the former Pop Shop Records space. It is shooting for an early summer 2021 opening date, co-owner Cave Daughdrill says. Follow it on Facebook for the latest.
Dillon Farrell originally opened his coffee cart, Social Coffee, in July 2019. Photo courtesy Dillon Farrell.
This pop-up coffee shop currently serves drinks at the Chow Yum Phat counter, and it’s prepping for a permanent location downtown. Its new location will serve its signature coffees and espresso, along with baked goods from CounterspaceBR. The new location is slated for an early summer arrival, owner Dillon Farrell told Daily Report last month. You can see some of its current favorite menu items by following its Instagram at @socialcoffeebr .
The cannabis-themed sandwich shop has been in the works for a while now, but owner Meredith Beck-Wiggins says it will finally be opening its doors in early July. The Colorado-born eatery will be serving up signature toasted subs along with mouthwatering sides like pretzel nuggets and loaded “not’chos.” Check it out on Instagram @chebahut .
Spoke N’ Hub
Another venture from restaurateur Stephen Hightower, the new neighborhood restaurant will take over the old Bistro Byronz space on Government Street. Spoke N’ Hub will be opening in July 2021, Hightower says.
This new brewery will offer 20 rotating taps when it opens on Airline Highway in the now-closed Southern Craft Brewing Company space. The taps will even include kombucha and nitro cold brew coffee. The brewery expects to open in July or August, owner Keith Primeaux told Daily Report earlier this year.
Bistro Byronz’s original Mid City location. Photo by Collin Richie
It feels a little sad to drive by the vacant Square 46 space that was once home to White Star Market. But Bistro Byronz will bring new life to the building this summer. The restaurant is moving from its previous Government Street location, and while the Square 46 space will be a bit smaller, it will boast an outdoor patio for dining. The new location is tentatively scheduled to open this summer, according to owner Emelie Alton. Check out Bistro Byronz’s Instagram page for updates at @bistrobyronz .
More from Brad A. Johnson
I’ve barely begun to explore the menu at Ysidora, which is currently limited not just in scope but in time. The restaurant opens only three nights a week for now, Thursday through Saturday.
So for now I’ll just tell you this: Go sit on the patio, order a frozen Paloma cocktail and eat the carpaccio de res. The raw beef is exquisite. The shaved ribeye is speckled with fat and decorated with teardrops of saffron aioli, fried capers, cured egg yolk and Manchego cheese. A flourish of shoestring potatoes scattered across the top gives each bite a little crunch.
You’ll consume this dish in a matter of seconds, but the memory of it will haunt you for days.
Small Bites: 7 new restaurants and eateries in the South Bay
Brightly colored Bangkok café with an extensive menu of tasty Thai favorites, all made to go, and made to travel well. Named, curiously, for the code for Bangkok’s airport — a pleasantly obscure source for a moniker.
A Fish & Friends
King Harbor, 136 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach 310-376-9215, www.afishandfriends.com
The Basq Kitchen has departed, making way for a seafood intensive with an upstairs patio for outdoor dining, offering a fine view of the harbor, while you inhale fish and chips, and an Old Bay poached shrimp and lobster roll. Don’t miss Thursday Paella Night, and the Seafood Boil Sunday.
This latest concept from the relentless Guy Fieri — the TV celebrity chef sine qua non — is a “ghost kitchen” offering delivery-only of Guy Chow from the website: bourbon brown sugar chicken wings, cheesesteak egg rolls, mac-and-cheese burger. The man does love his calories — and so do his many fans.
Mr. Fries Man
The original location (14800 S. Western Ave., Gardena 424-292-3616) has given birth to a spinoff (1120 W. Florence Ave., Inglewood 424-702-5100), both offering heaping orders of french fries topped with eight proteins — from chicken and shrimp, to snow crab and Beyond Meat plant stuff. A meal built around fries and so much more. With a new shop scheduled to open soon near USC. Fries rule!
Nana’s Italian & Mexican
2617 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach 714-338-9250, www.cometonanas.com
The heritage of the owners is both Italian and Mexican — and rather than battling over which cuisine to serve, they’ve opted for both. Which allows you to order a meal of quesadillas and chicken parmesan, along with jalapeño bucatini and Calabrian shrimp tacos — dishes that may be unique to this RB destination.
Remember San Pedro’s sadly rundown Ports o’ Call? It’s gone, to be replaced in the future by a fresh new complex called West Harbor, which will feature a branch of Gladstone’s, along with a sundry of other eateries — including one by Robert Bell of Chez Melange fame. There’ll also be a waterfront amphitheater, and a brewery with a beer garden. The groundbreaking is later this year, the opening a couple of years later. Stay tuned…
The Wood Urban Kitchen and Sports Lounge
129 N. Market St., Inglewood 310-466-9741, www.thewoodbbq.com
What can be better than a big platter of ‘que — ribs, brisket, chicken wings, turkey legs — along with the games of the moment. Sports and ‘que make life worth living.
Here’s what’s on the menu
The restaurant is open for breakfast, weekend brunch and lunch. Breakfast and brunch dishes include an avocado toast topped with crispy prosciutto, burrata, tomato confit, artichokes and a Calabrian chili oil a pressed egg sandwich on Cuban bread with bacon, grilled onions and heirloom tomatoes and a coconut-crusted tres leches French toast filled with guava and served with rum-caramelized bananas. For lunch, there’s a selection of salads, sandwiches and heartier dishes, including a short rib brisket burger topped with mojo-roasted pork, Muenster cheese, pickled red onions and chimichurri on a brioche bun coffee-rubbed red snapper tacos with mango, jicama slaw, pickled red onions and a chipotle aioli and a French onion soup-inspired grilled cheese sandwich served with an au jus on the side.
Exclusive Details on Moon Rabbit, Chef Kevin Tien’s Soon-to-Open Wharf Restaurant
Global pandemic aside, chef Kevin Tien has had a rollercoaster of a year. The 33-year old chef left his tiny first restaurant Himitsu—for which he earned nods from James Beard and Bon Appetit—last August. He then opened one of DC’s most buzzed-about dining rooms, Emilie’s, roughly two months later. But after just eight months, Tien left there, too. He cited that he and his business partners had different visions for the Capitol Hill hotspot. Since then he’s continued with his popular Ballston chicken-sandwich spot Hot Lola’s, launched a new Asian barbecue concept, and recently married his fiancee Emilie—the namesake of his former restaurant.
Now, Tien is ready for his next adventure: Moon Rabbit, a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant that will open by the end of October* in the InterContinental at the Wharf. As Tien tells it, management for the luxury hotel contacted him after another high-profile chef, Kwame Onwuachi, left Kith and Kin there in July. Since then, the former Afro-Caribbean restaurant has been closed, and the waterfront dining room has undergone a transformation with custom art work from Atlanta-based artist Tran Nguyen. There’s now loads of lush greenery—a tribute to Tien’s Vietnamese grandmother, whose house is filled with plants.
Chef Kevin Tien at his new restaurant home at the Wharf.
Like everything else Tien has done, Moon Rabbit feels like a personal venture.
“When Covid started, I started cooking more Vietnamese food to reconnect with my family and background—recipes my mom and grandma taught me,” says Tien. The chef, who is of Vietnamese and American descent, grew up in Louisiana.
For Moon Rabbit, Tien will reinterpret those family recipes—including lesser-seen regional dishes and those native to Saigon, where his grandmother grew up—using modern techniques. “A lot of people think of Vietnamese food as pho, rice plates, and noodle bowls. You won’t see much, if any of that, on our menu,” Tien says.
Instead, the chef has been busy reinventing his grandmother’s congee. Instead of the rice stew with ginger and chicken, Tien’s version stars creamy Carolina Gold rice cooked in seafood stock with local crab and “tons of textures.” He’s also toying with grilled prawns, chicken liver pate with figs, and a riff on his family’s version of bo luc lac (shaking beef), which they make with loads of peppercorns, in the style of a French au poivre sauce. He’s already invited his mother and grandmother—in town recently for his wedding—into the restaurant to test out the new dishes.
“I haven’t seen my grandmother in 20 years. They both have never had my cooking before. It was fun to hear what they thought of it,” says Tien. So did they approve? “I can always improve everything,” he jokes.“Vietnamese parents are the toughest critics.”
Chicken liver pate with figs.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Tien told Washingtonian that he wouldn’t reopen the dining room at Emilie’s until there was a vaccine. He says he was encouraged by the safety precautions of the hotel, he says are “far above the standard regulations.” At Moon Rabbit, he’s planning a slow, safety-conscious roll-out. The restaurant will be open for dinner only (there’s an outdoor patio in nice weather), eventually followed by a more casual lunch. He’s not planning to do any takeout, and catered events at the hotel are limited to mini-gatherings and micro-weddings.
Crispy pan-roasted branzino.
Though you wouldn’t necessarily know it, the restaurant’s name nods to the pandemic autumn in which it’s opening. The “moon rabbit,” celebrated in Vietnam’s fall festivals, is a mythological character. In the legend, a common rabbit sacrifices itself on a fire to feed the moon emperor, who’s disguised as a beggar. The emperor pulls the rabbit from the fire, rewarding the creature for its virtuous, selfless nature by bringing it to the moon and giving it an elixir of eternal life.
“I thought a lot about the rabbit and how much he sacrificed himself for others. It’s literally what the restaurant industry is doing during the pandemic, and it’s very in line with what the industry always does,” says Tien. “Everyone is still going to work, putting themselves at risk, and providing for their staff, friends, and family. It really resonates with me right now.”
*This story has been updated with a new opening timeline from Moon Rabbit.
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Tiger Woods’ PopStroke putt-putt bar and restaurant opens soon in Wesley Chapel
New locations in Orlando, Sarasota, and Delray Beach join existing PopStroke’s in Ft. Myers and Port St. Lucie.
Hide your Buicks because PopStroke , a golf-centric casual dining concept co-owned by Tiger Woods has plans to open in Wesley Chapel.
The concept—which a release says includes a 36-hole professionally -manicured putting facility, dining area and outdoor playground complete with games like ping-pong and cornhole—also has plans to open Florida locations in Orlando, Sarasota, and Delray Beach. A customized app allows for food delivery anywhere on the property and more.
Tampa Bay Business Journal says the PopStroke Wesley Chapel location is at the Cypress Creek Town Center, located on SR-56 in between I-75 and Wesley Chapel Boulevard.
"We are very excited to expand our unique golf entertainment experience across the United States, particularly in markets supported by surging population growth and great climates,” said co-owner Greg Bartoli in a press release .
"I am very excited about our expansion plans," Woods wrote in the release. "Putting is a universal part of golf that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels.”
The new PopStroke joins current locations in Ft. Myers and Port St. Lucie. Until the new golf course opens, feel free to make the drive over to Topgolf or other smaller mini golf courses.
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Two Music Critics Dive Back Into the Scene
By Kevin Curtin and Raoul Hernandez, Fri., May 28, 2021
Raoul: Hey dude, so Saturday I attended my first show since the 2020 Austin Music Awards: Nemegata and Tiarra Girls at the Far Out Lounge, a new venue for me. The idea of witnessing live music again sounded so novel that Agnes asked to tag along, which she never does. Date night in far South Austin proved an evening we'll never forget.
Kevin: First show? Pshhh, rookie. I've been back at concerts for six weeks &ndash though not anywhere near my pre-pandemic click of five nights a week. After a year away, I find myself so enthusiastic about live music that I even get excited watching bands soundcheck, like, "Oh yeah, that snare's gonna sound goooood!" So far, the act I've seen the most is Jesse Ebaugh's great hippie country band the Tender Things. I caught them at Spaceflight Records' Scholz Garten series and at the Long Time, performing during a sandlot baseball game, both outside shows, which feel pretty safe.
Raoul: Nemegata soundchecks a song, walks off, and Agnes goes, "Wait, what!? That's IT?" We're soooo green again &ndash born again live-music virgins. Lemme tell you this, though: When that band began to glow phosphorus &ndash that Colombian voodoo of theirs &ndash I turns to the wife and sez, "Live music is alive and well in Austin, Texas." And the Tiarra Girls, fuggedaboutit. They went off like ZZ Top meets Selena.
Kevin: I've felt the "Live music is alive and well in Austin" vibe on different scales. A couple weeks ago, I watched the Fontanelles play a private concert to 30 friends in their backyard and it evidenced this beautiful DIY concert scene that I love. That band is simply lovely: saxophone imbued art-pop, with African grooves and three fantastic vocalists harmonizing idiosyncratic lyrics. It was a going away party for my local guitar hero, Bill Anderson. I also witnessed the resuscitation of live music when Golden Dawn Arkestra brought 600 seated attendees at ACL Live to their feet in early May with their infectious Afrobeat/funk/disco circus. I watched the set from backstage and seeing the sold-out audience come to life as the set raged on was a thing to behold.
Raoul: Not sure I'm ready for a concert on that scale, although there are three Austin City Limits tapings I'd like to see at the Moody in the next month. A year later, all the venues in town go by some variation of "Moody"! That physical dominion over people, though &ndash definitely witnessed it. Those Latin bands at Far Out drew out the dancers, and for rock music, no less. I seriously dug the miles and miles of Texas at that venue, but by the time it got dark, those bands pulled everyone toward the stage like a tractor beam, proverbial moths to flame.
Kevin: The moth analogy reminds me, I had my first pandemic freakout after that Golden Dawn show. I'd eaten some mushrooms and was having a great time with friends backstage, then we all headed to Coconut Club to afterparty. They let our large group in through the alleyway, so I didn't get a sense of how crowded it was until the door opened to a full-capacity squash of people &ndash the kind of environment I used to thrive in, but haven't experienced in over a year. I think I screamed, "Oh fuck no!" and ran out like I was on fire.
Raoul: Well, I became the whole Coconut Club in one person. First off, Far Out's mezcal margarita hit me straight between my third eye like the time they served Jimmy Buffett's own margarita mix at ACL Live and Agnes and I went blind for a week. After a couple of those, I became that guy at the Christmas party: HUGGING ON EVERYONE like COVID-19 never existed. And me, the dude who only felt marginally better about all this after attending the best show evah at COTA: the Pfizer world tour. At Far Out, the bands, their labels, managers, and parents &ndash I hugged 'em ALL and I'm not even that touchy-feely! Worst hangover ever: not the alcohol, but knowing I'd committed the ultimate party foul.
Kevin: Who can blame you? It feels so damn good to be back enjoying the human connection of live music. I might have even encroached a hug or two last week at the Long Center when I saw Harry Edohoukwa and Jake Lloyd fire up impressive sets. That connection is the constant, even when the places change. Speaking of which, I need to take you to the Sagebrush &ndash coolest new venue in town! I know we both have a lot to look forward to. For me, it's Scott H. Biram's Monday night residency at C-Boy's &ndash that opens this week.
Openings and Closings: Common Bond On-the-Go in G.O., Fegen's HeightsEXPAND
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Common Bond On-The-Go, 3210 N. Shepherd, opened March 4 in Garden Oaks. It's the second location for the brand's more casual, trimmed down version of its popular Common Bond Bistro and Bakery. The first offshoot opened in the Heights in May 2020.
Common Bond's success lies in its fresh baked bread and beautiful pastries which offer Houstonians a taste of European-style delicacies. The pastries, though not inexpensive, are delicious pieces of art and the breads are reminiscent of a Parisian boulangerie. While the full-on Common Bond Bistro offers a place to unwind and linger, the On-The-Go version offers a limited menu of grab n' go salads, sandwiches and breakfast treats. However, there's a full pastry case and a small selection of loaves is available. The Country Sourdough is a particular favorite among Houstonians. Its croissants are also a big draw with butter, Nutella, pistachio and chocolate iterations.EXPAND
The fast-casual concept also offers breakfast items from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. which includes yogurt and fruit cups, croissant breakfast sandwiches and its Breakfast Bites, mini versions of crust-less quiche. The croissants also play a major role in the lunch offerings with a variety of sandwiches like the Chicken Salad. There are also choices like Curried Egg Salad on Ciabatta and Tuscan Vegetable on Rye.EXPAND
Common Bond excels with its delectable, pretty pastries from its pastel macarons to its Turtle Brownies, Chocolate Parisian Brest and Strawberry Chocolate Passion. There is a selection of typical coffee drinks like cappuccino, cortado, nitro cold brew and more. The Frozen Bond is a slushie option, made with espresso, whole milk and sugar. There's also Underwood wines available in cans.
The Garden Oaks location is set in a former service station with one of the service bays transformed into a drive-thru. Patrons picking up orders can admire the mural done by local artist Shelbi Nicole who also designed the artwork for Alto Ride Share vehicles, a ride-sharing app that hit Houston streets in October 2020.
Fegen's, 1050 Studewood, is set to open this spring. It comes from F.E.E.D. TX Restaurant Group, with partners, Lance Fegen Carl Eaves, Will Davis and Jim Jard. F.E.E.D. TX founded Liberty Kitchen in 2010. The group sold the brand last summer. The new restaurant will focus on American cuisine and classic cocktails as it takes over the space which formerly house Liberty Kitchen and Oyster Bar.
Chef and owner Lance Fegen (FEE-gehn) is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Over the years, he's had stints at Brennan's of Houston, served as executive sous chef at The Houstonian Hotel Club & Spa and worked at Zula and Trevisio before opening Glass Wall, also on Studewood, in 2005. In 2010, he and his partners founded F.E.E.D. TX, after leaving Glass Wall. It shuttered in 2017 and the space is now occupied by BCK.EXPAND
The Heights neighborhood is a perfect fit for Fegen and F.E.E.D. TX Restaurant Group. Managing partner Will Davis says, "When we sold the Liberty Kitchen brand last year, we knew we had to keep this particular locale it's where Liberty Kitchen started." Davis added that the neighborhood is a special place for the team because it's where they live and where they go with friends and family.
For the menu, Fegen says to expect solid seafood salads and refined American food plus pastas and pizzas that are a nod to his Southern Italian-American roots. Dishes like Chicken Schnitzel, Neapolitan-style pizza, Blue Mussels in tomato-garlic butter and a special Surrago's Sunday Meatball, Veal and Pork Tomato Gravy and Macaroni give an idea of the fare on offer.EXPAND
Fegen's Bar, on the other hand, will be open late night Thursday through Saturday with cheeseburgers, chowder fries and oysters brought in occasionally. Nicole Meza will be in charge of the beverage program serving classic cocktails with a modern twist. Meza brings experience from highly-regarded establishments like Weights + Measures and Julep.
The space no longer has the coastal vibes and bright colors of Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar. Instead, Fegen's partner, Carl Eaves, owner of Eaves Construction and Design Service, has redone the space to be more sophisticated using dark greens and reds and rich-colored paneling with cozy booths, brass accents and sepia-toned artwork giving a nostalgic feel. The dropped-down ceiling features glazed, emerald ceramic tiles.EXPAND
Matt Hart, Certified Sommelier (wine)and Cicerone (beer), will take on the role of general manager. Hart has over 20 years of experience working with large hospitality corporations such as Landry's Inc. and Darden Restaurants. Hart will curate the wine selection for the restaurant as well.
Fegen's will open for dinner only in the beginning, adding lunch and brunch service a few weeks after opening. However, it will offer to-go and online ordering from the start.EXPAND
Acme Oyster House, 1201 Westheimer, should be making its appearance this April according to a Facebook post, as reported by Eater Houston. This will make the sixth location for the storied restaurant which first opened in the French Quarter of New Orleans as the Acme Cafe in 1910. After a fire destroyed the restaurant, it relocated to another French Quarter address, 724 Iberville, in 1924. Subsequent locations in the 21st century include Louisiana locations in Baton Rouge and Metairie plus Destin, Florida and Gulf Shores, Alabama.
The Houston location takes over the Tower Theatre spot which most recently housed El Real, Brian Caswell's Tex-Mex restaurant which shuttered in October 2019. A spokesperson told the Press that the restaurant does not have any interior photos to share as there is still some ongoing construction but that the opening looks to be mid-April.
Parma Restaurant and Lounge, 6003 Richmond, opened March 4. If the address seems familiar, it's because Parma has taken over the space which once housed Barry's Pizza, the family-owned pizza parlor that had served pies for 37 years on Richmond. While the new restaurant is offering pizza by the slice and pie, it also offers a far different atmosphere than the previous tenant.EXPAND
Under multiple light fixtures and the glow of televisions, the new space is pizza joint by day and party lounge by night, complete with a DJ booth and a green neon sign that outlines a quote from Notorious B.I.G. After 8 p.m., it's also 21 and up only. For lunch there are specials on slice combos and also a Businessman's Lunch which is a slice of pepperoni and a shot of Jameson's for eight bucks. Along with New York and Detroit-style pizza, there are a few pasta dishes plus boiled Cajun crawfish which are offered at the unbelievable price of $3 per pound, with a five pound minimum. Potatoes and corn are extra. Those are prices I use to pay at places like Sam's Boat on Richmond in my younger days.
Owner Michael Collins purchased Detroit-style steel pizza pans necessary to get the crispy edges for Detroit-style pizza, according to CultureMap Houston. The new venture comes from Eighty-Six'd Bar and Restaurant Group which also operates Bovine and Barley and The Fish Restaurant and Sushi in Midtown. The group also owned South Bank Seafood Bar which closed in 2019.
Houston Farmers Market, 2520 Airline, may be just weeks from opening its produce market. In the meantime, it was announced that Trong Nyguen will join as a tenant with a second location of his Crawfish and Noodles, as reported by CultureMap. Nguyen, a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef three times, will join with another JBA alumnus, chef/restaurateur Chris Shepherd, whose Underbelly Hospitality has two concepts in the works for the market including Wild Oats by chef Nick Fine.
Nguyen is considered by many to be the pioneer of Vietnamese and Cajun fusion cuisine, perfecting the Viet-Cajun crawfish boil that has become ubiquitous at almost every Houston establishment selling the freshwater crustaceans.
House of Pies, 25686 Northwest Freeway, is shooting to open in the fall of 2021. The Cypress store will make the fifth location for the diner and bakery which has been a go-to standard for Houston pie fanatics for decades. It was founded in 1967 as a chain out of California but it was the Kirby and Westheimer stores in Houston that survived through changes in ownership. The remaining restaurants have been a workers' lunch stop and a late-night hangout in the Houston area for years. In the 1980s, HOP was the place to go after clubbing and enjoy watching the customers, many who brought to mind characters from Lou Reed's " Walk on the Wild Side".
Now, with a new direction, the House of Pies has expanded to the suburbs with the Lake Woodlands location and the upcoming Cypress restaurant. While this writer is happy to have House of Pies closer, the temptation of its Monte Cristo sandwich is dangerous.
Pacific Coast Tacos, 6329 Washington, softly opened February 26. This is the second location for the Baja-inspired fast-casual restaurant which opened its first store in Sugar Land in late 2017. Guests can start off with botanas like Baja Queso, Ceviche Tostadas, Pacific Pig Skins and Tahitian-Style Sticky Wings. Pacific Coast also offers fare that you wouldn't expect to find at a Baja joint including Tom Kha Soup and a Pork Bahn Mi taco. There are also bowls including its Poke and build-your-own Baja Bowls or Burritos. Loaded fries like Tsunami, Wasted Rage and Cheesy Hot are made with twice-fried fries as is the PCT Original version.
However, it's the wide variety of tacos that make its name. Customers can choose from fish and shrimp, both grilled and fried, beef, chicken, pulled pork, jerk chicken, Korean beef, fried octopus, veggie and Hawaiian carnitas. The restaurant also has breakfast tacos and online ordering for pick-up.
There's a full bar with frozen cocktails, a variety of margaritas, sangria and plenty of beer options.EXPAND
W Kitchen Chinese Restaurant, 10928 Westheimer, opened February 15 but like many restaurants in Houston, it suffered some power outages over the next few days which affected its service. However, it got back in the running February 18 with its very reasonable weekday lunch and dinner specials for dine-in with counter service. Guests pay in advance and the food is brought to the table. However, it also offers pick-up and delivery through online ordering, by phone, or through UberEats, GrubHub and DoorDash. Unlike many Chinese restaurants in Houston, it is open late night Sunday through Thursday till 1 a.m. and Friday and Saturday till 2 a.m., for pick-up only after 10 p.m.
The lunch specials ($6.25, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and dinner deals ($8.25, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.) run Monday through Friday and offer diners a choice of eggroll or cheese puff appetizer, rice and entrees options like Orange Chicken, Pepper Steak and Eggplant with Garlic Sauce. The restaurant's menu offers lo mein, udon and rice noodle dishes plus seafood boils and fried seafood baskets. Kids meals are $5.EXPAND
Vintage Crown Micheladas and Tacos, 628 FM 517, began its soft opening January 16 in Dickinson. This is the second location for the brand which originally began in Galveston as a retail shop selling high end streetwear. Owner Angelo Arriaga recruited his retired father to pass out flyers to visitors on the island when local business owners suggested they should set up a beer booth for the 2015 Mardi Gras. The beer booth morphed into a bar selling over-the-top michelada concoctions along with preparadas and mangonadas.EXPAND
The new location in Dickinson takes the michelada bar concept and adds some snacks and mariscos to go with it. It's a family affair with Arriaga, his girlfriend, his younger brothers, mom and dad all operating both locations. The micheladas are the stars and can be ordered regular size or in a 64-ounce fish bowl ($20). For a meal and cocktail in one, the B.O.I. ($20) offers 24 ounces of michelada with beer, fresh shrimp, cucumbers, spicy tortilla chips and its in-house jerky, carne seca. There's also spiked mangonadas, sangritas with wine and fruit plus other refreshing drinks like Red Hurricane, Blue Hypnotic and Margarita.
The Dickinson store also offers a daiquiri bar where guests can create their own flavors or try one of the signature daiquiris such as Miami Vice (pina colada and strawberry) and Pink Starburst (margarita and watermelon). The drive-thru service also makes it easy to take daquiris to-go. Arriaga told the Houston Press that he is currently working to get the patio area ready by the end of March.EXPAND
Arriaga also said that he is trying to recruit staff to expand the food menu at the Dickinson location. He admits that the current pandemic situation and extra unemployment benefits are making hiring more difficult.
For now, the mariscos on offer include items like ceviche, aquachile (verde and rojo) plus snacks like elote, hot cheetos and cheese and the carne seca. The Vasito Loco (Crazy Cup) is a 16-ounce cup filled with mixed fruit, chamoy, chili powder, candy, cacahuates, chips and lime juice. Arriaga plans to add more options like street-style Mexican hot dogs, carnitas and Baja-style fish tacos in the future.
Juanita's Mexican Kitchen, 29110 US 290 Frontage Road, is currently hiring. We have reached out for an opening date and were told the restaurant is shooting for a soft opening the first week of April but it could be as early as the last week of March, if things move a bit quicker. Juanita's is a family-owned Mexican restaurant from the Nunez family who use recipes from their Guanajuato, Mexico heritage. They originally opened Juanita's on TC Jester in 2000 but as of 2015, that location is no longer part of the family's current restaurant operations which includes a location on Louetta and the upcoming 290 spot.
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More from Brad A. Johnson
The tartine isn’t the only great sandwich here. They roast an impressive porchetta, which gets sliced into inch-thick slabs and piled onto hand-cut sourdough with handfuls of arugula, pickled onions, sour cherry jam and salsa verde. The housemade potato chips are terrific.
There’s an impressive slow-food philosophy at play in the kitchen here. They appear to make just about everything in-house, including all the pastas. While the rolled-and-cut noodles are thicker, denser and chewier than what most Italian restaurants serve, they are absolutely delicious. Uncharacteristically thick taglierini, for example, are tinted deep yellow from egg yolks and tossed with aged parmesan in a stunning riff on cacio e pepe. I’m glad the portion size of this dish is modest because I would have licked the bowl clean no matter how big it was, and I don’t need to be doing that.
The cooks make their own spinach tagliatelle, which gets tossed with a very nice bolognese and topped with housemade ricotta and fried breadcrumbs.
Caesar salad gets a modern makeover with baby romaine, pancetta and aged balsamic vinegar. And a beautifully cooked flat-iron steak comes with confit cherry tomatoes and dueling sauces, romesco and salsa verde.
The menu is refreshingly concise. After just a handful of dishes, I’ve already sampled a third of the menu. And I genuinely can’t wait for the pandemic to end, because I really want to dine here and see this place in action. This could prove to be the most exciting Italian restaurant ever to open in Westminster, by a mile.