The way Lyle Bento tells the story, it was just a few days into the opening of Southern Goods when a customer asked to speak to the chef. Bento straightened his black apron and headed into the busy dining room, which has remained packed to its brick-and-glass walls since he and partner Charles Bishop opened the restaurant in early August. It was Bento’s first time, as the executive chef of his own place, to make that trek across the floor—a journey all chefs eventually make—dodging servers and bussers before finally approaching the table in question. There, a woman who greeted him warmly admonished him: “This food tastes like Underbelly’s.”
Bento laughed. “Did you know I used to be the executive sous chef at Underbelly?” he asked. The woman did not, but she had noticed several similarities between the two restaurants—the shared love of collard greens and grits, for instance, and the mutual focus on local byways that bring in fresh fish from the Gulf and beef from 44 Farms in Cameron.
In his three years at Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly, one of Houston’s best restaurants to open in the past decade, Bento absorbed many of the influences that inform the modern Southern comfort menu at Southern Goods. But his new place has also set itself apart from Shepherd’s in several significant ways. Sure, you’ll find plenty of heirloom pork—a signature Shepherd ingredient—prepared in a variety of interesting ways at this new Heights spot, but the international influences that have led many to call Underbelly’s food “Mutt City Cuisine” are few at Southern Goods, whose pull-up-a-stool-at-the-patio-bar vibe has a more relaxed feel.
At Bento’s restaurant, the most successful dishes are those that take Southern standards and give them a little twist. For example, he brines his chicken livers in buttermilk before frying—an unusual technique—and then perches each delicate, delicious bite atop Texas-style polenta cakes made from cheese grits and bright spring onions. He similarly tweaks your standard cucumber-tomato salad, tossing the diced vegetables atop a sunny schmear of deviled egg yolk for a fun, unexpected twist on two church potluck staples that’s one of the only things that could possibly make me wish summer would stick around. The menu isn’t entirely free of international influences, however. Southern Goods’ Mexican street corn is threaded with red onion and dosed with crema. And though elote is now de rigueur on Houston menus, it seems, this version—a large portion at a reasonable price, just like what you’d find at a corner stand—does the dish justice.
Bento is assisted in this reinterpretation of family picnic favorites by chef de cuisine J.D. Woodward and pitmaster Patrick Feges. The latter lends his talents to some of the restaurant’s best items, notably the towering plate of beef belly burnt ends—a Houstonian spin on a Kansas City delicacy which typically trims burnt ends from the point of a brisket rather than the juicy belly of the cow. And while the smoky, succulent, bark-covered hunk of beef is enough of a reason to visit in and of itself, the lush grits and snappy collard greens underneath are attractions in their own right—a testament to a kitchen whose sides stand up to such monumentally good ’cue.
Southern Goods is only one of the new restaurants making a splash at the corner of 19th and Shepherd in the Heights, an intersection that was nigh desolate only a few years ago. Today, it hosts arguably the city’s best ice cream and donut shops (Fat Cat Creamery and Hugs & Donuts, respectively) as well as the promising new Ka Sushi. And before too much longer, two critically acclaimed pizza places will be moving in—Cane Rosso and Mellow Mushroom—while the long-awaited Hunky Dory just opened only a few steps away. That this long-neglected intersection should receive such a concentration of culinary talent is surprising, but only until you stop to consider its location as the boundary between Oak Forest/Garden Oaks and the Heights, two neighborhoods which have seen tremendous growth over the past few years.
Those wishing to enjoy that beef belly—or Southern Goods’ equally indulgent 18-day-aged Duroc pork chop—will want to arrive early, as the small dining room fills up fast, and reservations are not accepted. This being November, however, it’s patio season in Houston—and Southern Goods delivers there, too, with an open-air bar that feels at one with the dining room. Let the talented bar staff make you a daiquiri that would please Hemingway himself, or settle in with a Buffalo Bayou brew while you wait. The tables turn fast here—and besides, a meal at one of the best new restaurants of the year is worth any wait.
Gallery Furniture has opened its newest, biggest furniture store on the boundary between Sugar Land/Richmond and Katy/Cinco Ranch. It also happens to be the only one (to date) with an in-house, chef-driven restaurant. Given that these areas are all booming, the location is no surprise. What is a surprise, though, is how much credit Brick & Mortar Kitchen deserves as a restaurant in its own right.
Jim McIngvale’s grandmother’s recipe cards receive a sweet shadowbox treatment near the front door, giving diners a sense of what to expect inside—and it’s not a menu of Mattress Mac ’n’ Cheese. Instead, you’ll find thoughtful and appealing items from executive chef Eric Johnson, such as a colorful salad of charred carrots atop snowcaps of goat cheese mousse, a farm egg pizza topped with meaty guanciale and a bowl of wonderfully al dente cacio e pepe. What could have been a food court–type setting is instead luxurious and comfortable, with plush chairs and modern bistro décor. The place offers a soothing ambience that, over multiple visits here, was only once interrupted by a small child running past our table, kicking one of the free basketballs that Gallery gives away to customers.
Brick & Mortar already does brisk business at brunch—after all, it’s the only non-chain, sit-down restaurant of this caliber for many miles around—serving excellent renditions of hazelnut French toast and Texas grapefruit mimosas, but it’s at supper when the restaurant really shakes off its retail roots. You’ll quickly forget you’re dining inside of a furniture store when you’re knife-deep in a 46-ounce dry-aged tomahawk steak, enjoying a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino from sommelier Lexey Davis Johnson’s smart wine list.
Just remember: keep your receipt. Gallery Furniture gives customers a credit on store purchases of up to $100, not including any alcoholic beverages consumed during your meal—a caveat that may be for the best. We can tell you from experience that during a mimosa-powered postprandial stroll through the store, it’s difficult indeed not to purchase that $2,000 stuffed snowy owl, just the thing to complete your living room set.