NoPo Cafe Opens, il Bracco Comes to Houston, Ragin’ Cajun Spring Branch

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NoPo Cafe, Market and Bar, 1244 N. Post Oak, opened June 10. NoPo is an acronym for the North Post Oak area encompassing the neighborhood east of Spring Branch, north of the Galleria and west of Timbergrove. Berg Hospitality’s culinary director, Jose Hernandez, has created a classic American menu for the all-day restaurant that also features a market offering staples and baked goods, handy for nearby residents. Ruth Messele, who has spent the past 25 years managing the Center Court at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, will take on the role of general manager at NoPo.

Benjamin Berg, founder of Berg Hospitality Group, said in a press release, “I’m excited to create a fresh neighborhood dining experience for a rapidly growing area that is really underserved by restaurants and bars. Jose and our culinary team really took their time creating these menus while Ruth visited every Houston farmers market and met with several local retailers to handpick each item for the market, and I am proud of the end result.”

Other Berg concepts include B&B Butchers & Restaurant in Houston and Fort Worth, B.B. Italia Kitchen & Bar, B.B. Lemon, The Annie Café & Bar and Turner’s. A new Italian-inspired restaurant from Berg Hospitality, Trattoria Sofia, is set to open in the Houston Heights in August 2021. And even more concepts are on the horizon for the restaurant group.

NoPo offers all day service.EXPAND

NoPo offers all day service.

Photo by Carly Shuttlesworth

The new cafe is located next door to Berg Hospitality’s corporate office. Berg brought in local architect Issac Preminger to design the 2,600 square-foot interior space which includes a a 35-seat dining room and a six-seat full-service bar in the back. The design is French country with elegant touches like white birch floors and high ceilings with chandeliers. Vintage rodeo and western wall décor along with a custom-made pewter bar add a little rustic charm to the space. There’s a patio off the main dining room patio overlooking North Post Oak made cozy with bistro umbrellas and planters of iris.

The market at the front lets guests peruse a selection of local provisions. Display cases are filled with freshly baked pastries and desserts plus grab and go premade meals. Breakfast and lunch are counter service and the breakfast menu includes avocado toast, egg dishes, breakfast tacos and quinoa bowls along with fresh juices and coffee drinks. For lunch and dinner, there’s a menu of sandwiches, salads and pizza plus entree dishes like Red Snapper, Chicken Paillard and Pork Ribs. Guests can enjoy table service at dinner.

Jose Hernandez creates a classic cafe menu for NoPo.

Jose Hernandez creates a classic cafe menu for NoPo.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz

Jose Hernandez, who has more than 20 years of international training and experience from renowned restaurants throughout Mexico, Manhattan and his adopted hometown of Houston, wanted to keep the menu well-rounded but not too extensive. “I really enjoyed being able to combine my pastry and savory chef skills to create the wide variety of dishes on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and in the grab-and-go market.”

The wine and cocktail menu was created by Berg Hospitality Group’s Director of Wine and Spirits, Renato Bringas. It too is simple and straight forward with five classic cocktails and a wine list that ranges from $36 to $115 per bottle.

Crispy Artichokes make the Houston menu.EXPAND

Crispy Artichokes make the Houston menu.

Photo by Kathy Tran

il Bracco, 1705-A Post Oak Boulevard, will open this fall. This will be the second location for the Italian-inspired restaurant which first opened in Dallas in May 2019. Located at the corner of Post Oak and San Felipe, the neighborhood restaurant comes from industry veterans Matt Gottlieb (COO) and Robert Quick (CEO). Quick trained at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California before joining Thomas Keller as a chef de partie at Keller’s Ad Hoc and Bouchon restaurants. He then began a stint with Hillstone Restaurant Group as kitchen manager and followed that role as an owner at Mountain Mike’s Pizza, helping to grow system sales from $75 million to $150 million in his five years of leadership. He moved back to Dallas in 2018 and founded Western Addition with il Bracco being the first concept in the company’s portfolio.

Meaty Bolognese balanced with a kale salad at il Bracco.EXPAND

Meaty Bolognese balanced with a kale salad at il Bracco.

Photo by Kathy Tran

Gottlieb also spent over a decade with Hillstone Restaurant Group serving as general manager, including  Houston’s restaurant on Westheimer  astint which he feels makes the city feel like a second home. He says, “Both Robert and I have friends and family in Houston…It was a natural fit. Many of our managers and staff will be familiar names and faces from the Houston hospitality scene as well.

When the restaurant opens in the fall, guests can expect some of the more popular items from the Dallas menu like the Crispy Artichokes with olive aioli and the Meatballs made with a blend of ground beef, lamb and pork. Standout pasta offerings include Spicy Gemelli in a vodka sauce. The gemelli pasta is made in-house. The Bolognese is made with six-hour slow-cooked beef, lamb and pork ragu served over malfaldine noodles. Entrees like the Mediterranean Sea Bass with mint gremolata and the Center Cut Filet are classic and elegant dishes and are accompanied by seasonal vegetables. Whole fish is filleted in-house and the steaks are butchered daily at the restaurant as well. There will also be new items unique to the Houston menu.

Get some Spicy Gemelii in your belly.EXPAND

Get some Spicy Gemelii in your belly.

Photo by Kathy Tran

The 6,000 square foot space was originally the home of California Pizza Kitchen. It has been transformed by Michael Hsu of Michael Hsu Office of Architecture into a contemporary dining and bar area with artwork from Quick’s personal collection, curated by his wife and il Bracco’s design director, Mary Lucille. The restaurant will also have a spacious patio with seating for 35 guests.

Sonoma Katy offers comfortable seating for wine and conversation.EXPAND

Sonoma Katy offers comfortable seating for wine and conversation.

Photo by VJ Arizpe

Sonoma Wine Bar, 9920 Gaston, opened June 4 in Katy. This is the third location for owner Farrah Cauley’s upscale wine bar which was on the forefront of the wine bar explosion in Houston. The Upper Kirby location opened in 2007, followed by the Heights location in 2012. The company is 100 percent female-owned.

For her third wine bar, Cauley is doing things a bit differently. While there is a comfortable and contemporary space in which to enjoy a tasting flight and build-your-own cheese and charcuterie boards, the new Sonoma will also offer wine and cheese for retail as well.  To-go wines will be offered at 30 percent off. Sonoma is looking to add delivery options in the future.

The contemporary decor is warmed by the woodwork.EXPAND

The contemporary decor is warmed by the woodwork.

Photo by VJ Arizpe

Cauley and her team focus the wine list on small producers and family-owned wineries keeping the list to 70 different choices from around the globe. The by-the-glass offerings and tasting flights will rotate often to allow guests and customers new wines to experience.

The Katy location will not have a full menu but guests can enjoy cheese and charcuterie sourced from local purveyor Houston Dairymaids. Guests can order a curated board or opt for the build-your-own which ranges from $8 for one choice to $21 for three. Add-on accoutrements include Slowdough ciabatta, housemade pickles, Marcona almonds and marinated olives. The small menu also offers a Slowdough pretzel served with locally made pimento cheese.

The space was created by contractor Jacob White with white oak woodwork and furnishings from Fyrn, Restoration Hardware and Crate and Barrel. Cauley said of the contracting firm, “They did an amazing job. They were able to bring my vision to life.”

Ragin’ Cajun, 1725 Wirt, is shooting to open in February/March 2022, just in time for crawfish season. A reader’s tip led us to reach out for more information and the new Spring Branch location was confirmed by owner and president, Dominic B. Mandola.

In an email Mandola said, “As a resident of Spring Branch, I am excited to bring the Ragin’ Cajun brand to the community. Ragin’ Cajun Spring Branch will offer the same fresh Louisiana seafood and Cajun specialties, crawfish, po’boys and gumbo as our long-established Richmond Avenue location.” That location has been around since 1974. The Westheimer location closed in May 2020, after 20 years, leaving many residents in the Westchase neighborhood very disappointed.

But for the folks in Spring Branch, ca c’est bon.

Shokku Ramen, 933 Studewood, softly opened June 5. Its grand opening is June 10 and June 11. The restaurant is offering dishes 50 percent off for both grand opening days.

This is the third location for the ramen concept which also operates a restaurant in Las Vegas and one in Nashville. It takes over the space recently vacated by BCK which closed April 30.

Its menu allows diners to create their own ramen by beginning with a broth. Options include miso, tonkatsu, niku, tori (chicken), shiso and vegan. From there guests can choose their proteins, toppings, noodles and spice levels. There are also signature ramen to choose from including Da Oxtail, a combo of tonkatsu and housemade oxtail broths filled with shredded oxtail, steak, yellow noodles and topped with two shrimp tempura, Honshimenji mushrooms, soy-cured egg, bok choy, red ginger, crispy garlic, ginger butter and a hit of Togarashi. The Shinigami is for extreme spice lovers. It’s a spicy black garlic aioli with shinigami spice, yellow noodles, pork, kara-age, soy cured egg, woodear mushrooms, corn and scallions.

Shinigami is also known as the Japanese Reaper or Bringer of Death, so be aware of its kick.

Homestead offers a variety of Houston favorites like fajitas.EXPAND

Homestead offers a variety of Houston favorites like fajitas.

Photo by Traci Ling

Homestead Kitchen, 600 N. Shepherd, opened June 4 at M-K-T Heights. Last week, we reported that the restaurant would open in July, here in the Houston Press. It seems things were moving quicker than anticipated. The all day breakfast eatery joins Rakkan Ramen, which opened May 3, and Da Gama Canteen, which opened May 15, at the mixed-use development in the Heights.

Owner Jeff Svenvold’s vision for the restaurant is a blending of the cuisines he grew up with. The Houston native spent many summers in Montana on his family’s ranch so there’s a bit of Southern, Western, Tex-Mex and Cajun influences on the menu. Originally conceived as a breakfast and lunch only restaurant, Svenvold will soon add dinner service to meet the dining demands of the Heights neighborhood. The name Homestead is an homage to the family’s homestead roots.

Owner Jeff Svenvold and chef Fernanda Alamilla outside the restaurant.EXPAND

Owner Jeff Svenvold and chef Fernanda Alamilla outside the restaurant.

Photo by madmeg

Svenvold collaborated with A La Carte Foodservice Consulting Group to create a menu that reflects some of the  culinary favorites that Houstonians return to time and time again such as Texas Chili and tender ribeye Chicken Fried Steak. Tex-Mex choices show up on the breakfast menu as Chilaquiles Verdes with slow-cooked carnitas and breakfast tacos. On the lunch and later menu there are cheese Enchiladas, seafood Enchiladas and fajitas. Cajun specialties include crawfish etoufee, blackened Redfish, crawfish pistoulettes and beignets. The South gets a shout-out with Southern Fried Chicken, Chicken and Waffles and a variety of buttermilk pancakes. Diners can enjoy the Pancake Flight with a choice of three different flavors including Abuelita’s Chocolate, Mandarin-Blueberry and Apple Bourbon Bacon.

Brunch cocktails such as mimosas and Bloody Marys will be available along with frozen beverages and craft cocktails.

Chef Fernanda Alamilla, a native of Tabasco, Mexico will be in charge of the kitchen. Rafael Rizo will serve as general manager.

Currently the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner service will be announced soon.

Sweetgreen, 600 N. Shepherd, will open at M-K-T Heights June 15. This is the fifth Houston area location for the healthy-minded concept. It was founded in 2007 in a tiny tavern in Georgetown, Washington D.C. by Jonathan Neman, Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru. and now has over 100 locations. The first Texas store opened in Houston’s Rice Village in July 2019.

The company is hyper-focused on sustainability and the farm to table philosophy, partnering with small and mid-sized growers for produce and ingredients. They have a variety of salads and bowls with vegan, vegetarian and meat options like the Kale Caesar, Guacamole Greens and Chicken Pesto Parm. Most recently the company brought in tennis star Naomi Osaka as their first national athlete ambassador. She is also their youngest investor at 23 years old.

Osaka has her own creation on the menu as well. The Naomi Osaka bowl contains warm quinoa, baby spinach, avocado, cilantro, tomato, tortilla chips, raw carrots goat cheese, lime-cilantro jalapeno vinaigrette with blackened chicken further kicked-up by the addition of Sweetgreen’s hot sauce. It’s the bowl of a champion.

George Lopez is serious about tacos.EXPAND

George Lopez is serious about tacos.

Photo by Greg Cahill

George Lopez Tacos have arrived in Houston. The delivery-only tacos are available in over 80 locations nationwide as a partnership with Nextbite, a leader in the virtual restaurant concept. It connects restaurant partners with delivery services like Uber, DoorDash, Postmates and GrubHub. Nextbite offers small restaurant owners the chance to bring in more revenue by filling the delivery orders for George Lopez Tacos.

Lopez is a well-known comedian and actor known for his stand-up comedy and ABC sitcom George Lopez. he has appeared in a number of films as well as penning a couple of autobiographies. Now, he’s wanting to help small restaurants bring in more business by selling his “bad-ass” tacos.

The kitchen is virtual but George Lopez Tacos are real.EXPAND

The kitchen is virtual but George Lopez Tacos are real.

Photo by Rachel Adams

The menu features slow-cooked meats, flavorful toppings and salsas available as street taco combos and family packs in two styles of tacos, La Chingona and La Mas Cabrona. The meat options are pork carnitas, chicken tinga and beef ranchero verde. The tacos are served deconstructed so that customers can do self-assembly at home, keeping the food from getting soggy and allowing each diner to created their own taco experience.

Chips, salsa and guacamole are available along with a personal dessert favorite of Lopez’s, churro bites. Check out the George Lopez Tacos website to see if delivery is available in your area. The closest we found was off South Wayside.

Abuelita’s Gourmet Kitchen, 5700 Highway 6 N., celebrated its grand opening May 7. The Salvadoran chef in charge, has 25 years of experience. A chef by trade, Nelly Amaya lost her job at Martin Foods due to the pandemic. A good friend and former customer, knowing her love of cooking, asked her to help him open the Salvadoran restaurant.

Appetizers include Tostadas de Platano made with deep-fried plantain wedges and Pastelitos de Carne, pastry filled with ground sirloin and potatoes. There are traditional soups such as Sopa de Res, a Salvadorean beef stew. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the restaurant offers Sopa de Puya made with beef feet, tripe and yuca.

There are a variety of pupusas including one that uses loroco, a unique plant from Central America. Its blossoms and buds are commonly used in Salvadoran and Guatamalan cuisines. Entree choices like Pollo Guisado, Bistec Encebollado and Mojarra Frita are just some of the authentic dishes of the region offered on the menu.

There are soft drinks and frescos such as horchata, tamarindo and pepinada plus a selection of beer and wine.

There are plenty of beers on tap but the Haze Not Hate will be the feature for Pride.EXPAND

There are plenty of beers on tap but the Haze Not Hate will be the feature for Pride.

Photo by Wilf Thorne Photography

East End Backyard, 1105 Sampson, will host its first Annual Pride Gala June 12 beginning at 8 p.m. The large indoor/outdoor venue is owned by Houston Dynamo Brian Ching. While there are always plenty of games and outdoor distractions at East End, the fun this Saturday will be delivered by queens Shy Ann, Amanda Ann Houston, Angela Mercy, Ashleey Houston, and Marcia Mink in the form of a lip-synching drag show with plenty of dancing, too.

Now, that's a hazy IPA.

Now, that’s a hazy IPA.

Photo by Great Heights Brewing

There’s no cover charge for the event. However, the venue will have a beer on tap from Great Heights Brewing called “Haze Not Hate”. It’s a Double New England IPA brewed especially for Pride month. For each pint of the special brew ordered, $1 will be given to PWA Holiday Charities, a non-profit that assists  people living with HIV/AIDS in the Houston community.

Lucas McKinney will be the Fancy Pants Chef June 28.

Lucas McKinney will be the Fancy Pants Chef June 28.

Photo by Julie Soefer

Johnny’s Gold Brick, 2518 Yale, has three more special steak nights left for the month of June. The Fancy Pants Chef Steak Night features a different local chef doing their take on steak night for a bargain of $20 a plate. The proceeds will benefit the Southern Smoke Foundation’s mental health initiative that helps restaurant and hospitality industry professionals and their families.

The first steak night was led by Underbelly Hospitality’s Nick Fine, followed by Matt “Tally” Coburn of the upcoming Georgia James Tavern and Greg Peters, the executive chef at Georgia James Steakhouse.  Next up will be Chase Volez, chef de cuisine at Bludorn. He will take over steak night June 14 from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tony Luhrman, chef/owner at El Topo will be the featured chef June 21. The final steak night event will take place June 28 with Hay Merchant’s sous chef Lucas McKinney in the kitchen.

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