Each Friday, Gastronaut rounds up the most notable opening and closing of the week.
"What's like cancer but not terrible?" I overhead a coworker ask this week, looking for a term to describe the rampant growth of something friendly, benign. We eventually settled on mushrooms, a decent enough metaphor to describe the number of Barnaby's popping up around Houston lately. When the downtown location opened in 2013, it was our favorite for a while. When the Heights location opened last November, it was a new favorite for a while. And now it looks like we'll have a new favorite when the eighth Barnaby's opens in the Museum District at 1801 Binz St.
If that address sounds familiar, it's because it currently houses the much-lauded Museum Park Cafe, which opened to great acclaim in late 2014. There, chef Justin Basye—whose previous work at Stella Sola earned him a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination—put together an in-house charcuterie program for his ambitious menu and aimed to wow not only tourists trickling in from the nearby museums but local residents and food-lovers alike. Talented pastry chef Chris Leung was brought in to handle the desserts, and the twosome seemed poised for success. At only three months in, they'd already received a three-star review from Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook, who noted: "Fans from [Basye's] Stella Sola days or his earlier incarnation as Voice's salumi whiz will recognize old favorites and themes on the Museum Park menu, some of them tightened and brightened to reflect a more mature approach."
However, Basye departed only a month later, leaving the kitchen in the hands of Jason White, formerly a sous chef at Oxheart. This change didn't seem to affect reviews, with diners on Yelp praising the food as "creative" and "tasty," but cracks were beginning the show. The "coltishness" that Cook noted during her review seemingly continued unabated, with Yelpers and other foodies chiding the restaurant's slow service, limited parking and poor visibility from the street.
This week, owner Chris Balat announced in a press release that the grand Museum Park Cafe experiment had ended. In an attempt to put a positive spin on the situation, Balat stated: "We have always felt that Barnaby's would be the perfect fit for this neighborhood. We knew that Museum Park Cafe would reenergize the Museum District restaurant scene and we happily met that goal."
The final dinner service at Museum Park Cafe will occur on Saturday, April 11 if you're interested in sampling some of that energy for yourself before it's fully absorbed into the new Barnaby's moving in shortly. Meanwhile, other tenants in the Balat-owned building—notably Bosta, his coffee and wine bar, and Korean fried chicken joint Dak & Bop—seem to be running smoothly. And if Barnaby's continues to reenergize the area (which it no doubt will, because if there's one thing Houstonians can agree on it's that we love Barnaby's), look for other restaurants to move in down the line. "We are pleased that our location has found a loyal base so quickly," Balat stated, "and we look forward to making additional progress with new tenants."