12/05/16 5:00pm

Merchant, 1707 Post Oak Blvd., Uptown, Houston, 77056

The back-alley Post Oak strip center corner previously occupied by a franchise of not-quite-ice-cream purveyor Tasti D-Lite appears now to be operating under the banner of New Orleans-based Merchant Cafe, whose signature noun list was spotted over the weekend by a reader in the shopping center. The new cafe is catty-corner to Berryhill Baja Grill, and flanked by Five Guys Burgers and Fries and The UPS Store. The city planning department  started issuing permits for a remodel of the space by September of last year, though some appear to have been given the OK as recently as October. 

The vicinity’s softserve niche is currently filled by a branch of pay-by-the-pile California frozen yogurt shop Pinkberry, facing San Felipe right across Post Oak Blvd. Tasti D-Lite, meanwhile, appears to have largely pulled out of Houston altogether over the last few years, with a lone holdout franchise remaining in Katy.

Photo: jatorres

NY to NOLA
12/02/16 5:45pm

JUSTIN YU TO CLOSE OXHEART, SPEND SOME TIME IN THE HEIGHTS Oxheart, 1302 Nance St., Warehouse District, Downtown HoustonNext in the line of succession for the corner spot at 1302 Nance St. currently occupied by Oxheart: . . . well, something else. So says James-Beard-ed chef and owner Justin Yu, who announced today that the restaurant will close on its 5th birthday in mid-March — to reopen with a new name, a redone interior, and former Oxheart sous chef Jason White at the helm in the kitchen. Eric Sandler notes that Yu will eventually be splitting his hours between the yet-unnamed redo of the Nance space, wine and whiskey bar Public Services in the Cotton Exchange building on Travis, and whatever he’s doing with Bobby Heugel over on Yale St., in the former home of Dry Creek Cafe. [CultureMap; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 1302 Nance St.: Ken L.

11/29/16 1:45pm

7710 Long Point Rd., Spring Branch, Houston, 77055

7710 Long Point Rd., Spring Branch, Houston, 77055The new lessees of 7710 Long Point Rd. — formerly home to all-Mex-no-Tex Otilia’s Mexican Restaurantannounced last week that they’ll be filling the spot with a craft beer bar and restaurant called The Branch. The folks in charge appear to be former Hay Merchant-slash-Underbelly catering head Madeline Cabezut, current Hay Merchant bar manager Kyle Pierson (though Hay Merchant itself is not involved in the project), and former Miller/Coors spokesmodel Amanda Mixon. An entity linked to serial redeveloper Braun Enterprises bought the place last year, after Otilia’s 2014 for-real-this-time shutdown. The trio formally leased the space around the end of September, and plan to have the place open early next year.

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Branching Out to Long Point Rd.
11/28/16 4:15pm

Beaver's, 6025 Westheimer Rd., Houston, 77057

Beaver's, 6025 Westheimer Rd., Houston, 77057

The faux lighthouse atop Christie’s got some company this week — namely, the giant fake beaver now heralding the arrival of the second Beaver’s location, in the first and last Houston outpost of southern cheesesteak fusion shop Texadelphia. After a few years of looking around for potential second spot spots, the selection of 6025 Westheimer Rd. was announced early this year; the new trio of Beaver’s head chefs told Eric Sandler just this month that they’re planning to put of more seafood on the menu, while upping the chainlet’s barbecue game.

The beaver itself got craned into place on top of a steel frame last Tuesday, with the faux-rock ledge applied afterward (the shot above is from work spotted on Saturday). The chefs told Sandler that the plan is to open as soon as permitting and training wrap up in the next few weeks, and a Now Hiring banner was still on display over weekend:

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Beaver’s in Briargrove
11/22/16 1:45pm

301 Main St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

301 Main St., Downtown, Houston, 77002The outdoor garden and patio space at 301 Main St. is being tended this week as Salt N Pepper group’s taco restaurant and bar Dizzy Kaktus finishes setting up near the Preston light-rail stop. City historical records say the Victorian structure was built in 1889, after which the Sweeney & Coombs jewelry company jumped across the street from the building currently footed by The Pastry War; the ground floor space of the structure went up for lease after Nit Noi closed last year, and signage noting the restaurant’s liquor license application was posted in October.

The reader who snapped the shots above and below says a worker on the site mentioned an opening next week, and that while the interior layout was still a bit jumbled, the outside appeared to be shaping up:

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Historic District Taco Bar
11/14/16 10:45am

Winburn Mess Hall, 3701 Travis St., Midtown, Houston, 77002

The brick building at Travis and Winbern streets, wedged between the Breakfast Klub to the south and Continental Club to the east, is occupied these days by Winbern Mess Hall — a joint truck-to-brick-and-mortar project involving both Korean-Mexican fusion truck Oh My Gogi! and Asian-fusion hotdog truck Happy Endings. The fused fusion truckers quietly opened shop in October, with plans for a grander opening tentatively planned for mid-December. A rep tells Swamplot that items from both trucks are on the menu, and a bar is also in the works.

Winbern has moved into the spot in the wake of the sudden May flight of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, another animal-mascotted endeavor of Beaver’s chef Monica Pope. The red banner by the tucked-away front door on Travis (above) has been updated to reflect the switchover, though the new occupants say they haven’t changed too much inside the place. Here’s a shot of the spot (from back when it still played host to the avian theme):

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Winbern Fusion Fusion Joint
11/10/16 3:30pm

Hubcap Grill at IAH

Hubcap Grill at IAHThe 5th link in Ricky Craig’s Hubcap Grill chain is opening next week to travelers through Terminal A at IAH. The former food truck expanded from its first permanent Downtown spot to a Shady Acres location in 2011, and a Kemah spot in 2014. Craig also recently converted Harborside Mercantile  — which Craig opened in January in a renovated Galveston Strand spot, with Modular chicken rancher Joshua Martinez — into a cocktail bar version of Hubcap as well; following the seafood restaurant’s August shutdown, the remodeled joint reopened as a burger place in late October.

Photos: Ricky Craig

Food Truck Links
11/01/16 10:45am

KFC at 2359 S. Shepherd Dr., Vermont Commons, Houston, 77019

The Colonel is still hanging around by the door, but KFC is in the process of leaving the building at 2359 S. Shepherd Dr., a few readers report. The spot at the corner with Fairview Dr. has been sporting now closed signage, and the location has already been eradicated from the annals of KFC’s store database. The chicken shop’s decommissioning follows the late-June sale of the property to an entity called 2359 S. Shepherd, which shares a Smith St. address with Crosspoint Properties (responsible for the redevelopment of a number of Midtown and properties, including the building that now houses Reef and Proof).

The drive-thru sits just south of the Shepherd Place office tower (once the site of those 1960s lesbian bar raids, in its pre-highrise days), and across Shepherd from the former Arby’s, converted to the Inner Loop’s first-ish Dunkin’ Donuts back in 2013.

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S. Shepherd Retreat
10/28/16 12:45pm

Rendering of Shake Shack Houston, 5015 Westheimer Rd., Uptown, Houston, 77056

The first Houston Shake Shack will be opening on November 4th near the mall’s new parking lot jewel box pad site, a rep for the New York burger chain announced this morning. On the menu, on top of the usual fare: a handful of concretes made with donuts from Morningstar on N. Main, Houston roaster Greenway Coffee‘s coffee, and baked goods from Fluff Bake Bar on the western edge of Midtown. On the exterior: a living moss wall created by Austin-based Articulture Designs, as seen in the rendering released back in January. The firm designed a plant-covered wall for the Shake Shack that opened in Austin last year as well — here’s a shot of how that one turned out, with an accompanying succulent planter out front:

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Side of Greens
10/24/16 12:30pm

Riel Restaurant under construction at 1927 Fairview, Montrose, Houston, 77006

French-Canadian-Ukrainian-Texan fusion restaurant Riel is still being installed at 1927 Fairview St., formerly home to Te House of Tea and Trudy’s Boutique Re Sale at the corner with Woodhead St. A reader snagged the shot above yesterday afternoon, showing the former mid-60’s retail strip dressed up in green construction fencing and still sporting that above-it-all street number signage. Ex-Reef chef Ryan Lachaine last said in September that the place should be opening some time next month.

Photo: Mosaic Clinic Dermatology

Fairview Preview
10/20/16 12:30pm

Cowboys & Indians, 1901 Taft St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77006

The palm-tree-garnished signage for Juan Mon’s International Sandwiches is now down at 1901 Taft St., shown above near the tail end of the space’s conversion into Cowboys & Indians Indo-Tex Kitchen. The 1920s building hit LoopNet in the spring after about 7 years of serving globally-themed lunch options, and the Juan Mon’s folks appear to be helping to ease neighborhood diplomatic relations for the space’s new Texan-South-Asian-fusion operators. The space has been remodeled during the transfer of power: those covered drivethru lanes out front at the corner with W. Webster St. are now serving as a covered patio, and the building’s coat of flag-worthy primary colors have been replaced with a more neutral suite of grey-browns. Here’s the old look, for comparison:

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Culinary Alliances
10/18/16 11:00am

Worcester's Annex site, 1433 N. Shepherd Dr., Houston Heights, 77008

The Kirby Group folks (behind Midtown beer and cocktail bar Wooster’s Garden and those since-demolished converted funeral home bars in Upper Kirby) look to be setting up for their Worcester’s Annex cocktail project south of N. Shepherd and 15th St.  The new bar (which is taking off the linguistic gloves and using the full-on British spelling of the name) is being built on the far southern end of the former Longhorn Motor Company lot at 1433 N. Shepherd, previously tapped as the intended site of the Heights Bier Garten; Greg Morago reported this summer that the 2 developments would be near one another. The bar is going up across the street from legally-tangled tortilla factory La Espiga De Oro (which was infiltrated and raided by ICE officers last year, after which the company’s owners were indicted for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants).

Photo: Worcester’s Annex

Seeding the Heights
10/17/16 12:15pm

5404 Almeda Rd., Museum Park, Houston, 77004

The fenced-off L-shaped strip center that previously hosted a string of smoked meat vendors at 5404 Almeda Rd. looks to be the planned site of a new restaurant connected to Breakfast Klub owner Marcus Davis. The strip center got a new roof during the summer of 2014, after permits were issued with Davis’s name in the occupant spot; plans to remodel the space for a new restaurant and bar were moving through the city review system again as recently as last month, and a tipster tells Swamplot the place could open early next year (if all goes as planned).

The site sits about 6 blocks south down Almeda from Davis’s Reggae Hut; the shot above looks west from Almeda down Prospect St. (not even a quarter mile down the road from that trio of light-up townhomes that just went on sale). The once-Green’s space became a Harlon’s Bar-B-Que for a few years before it was turned into Bar B-Que Blues (which shut down by early 2011). Here’s what the space looked like circa 2010, when the strip was also occupied by the Black Heritage Gallery and the Grape & Grain Liquor Store:

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Joining the Klub
09/28/16 3:30pm

2700 Polk St., East Downtown, Houston, 77003

A construction fence has gone up around the former King’s Wholesale building in East Downtown, a reader tells Swamplot. The rendering above shows a planned renovation for the structure at the corner of Polk and Nagle streets, just a few blocks northwest of the purportedly-reopening-in-October Ivy Lofts sales center. The curved awning-fin isn’t new, but the glass storefronts are — below is a shot of the building’s pre-redo state, from when it last hit the market:
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Opening Up in East Downtown
09/26/16 5:15pm

Pi Pizza, 181 Heights Blvd., Brunner, Houston, 77007

The newly opened stationary location of former food truck Pi Pizza got a huge boost in business this weekend after pro-gun-carry groups began leaving hundreds of negative online reviews of the restaurant, Eric Sandler reports this morning. Owner Anthony Calleo tells Sandler that Pi’s sales at the strip center spot south of I-10 where Funky Chicken used to roost were up nearly 20 percent on Saturday and 40 percent on Sunday.

What exactly triggered waves of gun activists (and counter-protesting pizza-supporters) to take to the restaurant’s Facebook and Yelp pages en masse? A casually dismissive and — sure — less-than-completely-diplomatic response to an initial 1-star review of the restaurant, by a user who had never visited, based solely on Pi’s decision to opt out of open and concealed carry. Sandler notes that Pi’s Facebook review page has been temporarily taken down, as the hundreds of negative reviews (and even larger numbers of positive comments and counterreviews, at least some of which also appear to be from people who have never visited the restaurant) eventually escalated to public searches for Calleo’s home address by some of the more enthusiastic pro-carriers; the pizza joint’s Yelp page was still in lockdown as of this afternoon.

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Booming on Heights Blvd.