When Benjamin Berg was building B&B Butchers a few years ago, a building across the street caught his eye. It was the Caddy Shack Sports Bar & Grill, and it resembled a shotgun-style New York City restaurant — intimate, rough around the edges, urban, comfortable.
Berg thought about the New York City restaurant he frequented as a teen: JG Melon, an Upper East Side haunt dating to 1972 with green checkered tablecloths, juicy burgers, and a lot of action all the time.
"It kind of stayed in my head," said Berg. "And when it became available, I thought, this is the place I want to hang out at."
Now he can. And so can Houstonians.
BB Lemon (obviously taken from JG Melon) is opening Thursday, combining Berg's New York City soul with a Houston heartbeat. Decorated in a green and bronze color scheme, it aims to be a comfortable, homey yet refined neighborhood-style restaurant. There are burgers on the menu, plus an outdoor patio for a couple beers and a snack. A front tavern area will feel bustling and Manhattan-esque, while a muted main dining room will be a cool romantic or friendly spot. At 2,000 square feet, it's not very big, but most restaurants in NYC have a similar (if not smaller) footprint.
The menu also reflects an East Coast meets Gulf Coast aesthetic. Old-school classics like New England clam chowder, French onion soup ("with tons of burnt cheese on top," said Berg), a patty melt, and corned beef and cabbage sit beside blue crab beignets, a fried chicken sandwich, Cajun chicken with mixed greens, and steak frites (a 10-ounce prime sirloin). That dish, and a lobster roll, will be the menu's most expensive items at $38. Most items are in the sharable appetizer zone, with lunch-friendly sandwiches like a BLT, grilled cheese with tomato and bacon, and a club sandwich hanging out around $10.
There's also a raw bar, and oysters will come from all over the map.
For dessert, classics are the name of the game, with BB Lemon offering a cheesecake (with blueberry balsamic), a root beer float (inside A&W mugs), banana pudding, brownie a la mode, and something called The Big Banana. That's priced at $32, so that looks like a challenge. Oh, and of course there's a lemon dessert: sorbet inside a Meyer lemon, served with limoncello.
Eric Johnson will come over from B&B Butchers to run the kitchen. Beverage director Monique Cioffi-Hernandez (Field & Tides) is emphasizing pull-no-punches cocktails like the Uptown Kiss (vodka, lemon, mint orgeat, Topo Chico) and of course, a Manhattan. There's an easy beer selection and modest and affordable wine list, though you can still get some Dom Perignon at BB Lemon. Finally, there's a lemonade, an Arnold Palmer, and a few nightcap choices.
"I really want to get this one perfect," said Berg, who's made a few big moves since arriving in Houston. B&B Butchers is acclaimed for its bold choices—one of our top steakhouses in the city—but BB Lemon is a noticeable change of pace. It's set up to be Berg's most personal restaurant, a reflection of what a New Yorker can bring to Mutt City. Right down to that green-checkered tablecloth.