In most cases, the opening of the second location of an established restaurant doesn't warrant a huge media preview that includes writers from every online and print publication in the city. But there are reasons B.B. Lemon's new Montrose spot, which will open July 8, deserved the hubbub.
First, it's in the former Pax Americana space, which closed back in January. Second, while it has its flaws, the first B.B. Lemon on Washington is already a cozy fit of a restaurant, delivering a few necessary staples to the Houstonian diet (the burger, for one). And last but not least, Benjamin Berg is someone to watch.
The restaurateur behind B&B Butchers and the new B.B. Italia and B.B. Pizza doesn't seem to stop opening new restaurants or re-working tried-and-true spots (like Café Annie, happening through the summer). "I get a high off it," he said Tuesday night while showing Houston's food media his more spacious version of Lemon, a concept that brings New York-style grub and swagger to Houston.
While the Washington Avenue original screams "place to go before a Broadway show," this new B.B. Lemon feels like another kind of New York restaurant: the worn-in, dark and cozy spot with a solid bar and tucked in the middle of a busy Manhattan street. With forest green and red plaid wallpaper, dark woods, and low light, it's more "place to go for a hearty liquid lunch."
The menu, overseen by executive chef Emily Trusler, has carried over from Washington (burgers, meaty entrées and all), but there are a few changes—primarily, there's more seafood here. New starters include snapper crudo with citrus, avocado, and Fresno chiles, and mussels (with lemon, naturally). Check the entrée list for a light and fresh Mediterranean snapper with tomato, artichoke, and baby potatoes; and a terrific crab-stuffed flounder topped with a foamy dijon sauce. For dessert, look for strawberry shortcake with a buttery, crumbly lemon basil scone.
The tasting also gave me fresh thoughts on dishes you can also find at Washington, including the outstanding D.W.B Mac & Cheese—fresh pasta house-made by Berg's brother Daniel, who runs the kitchen at B.B. Italia—and the stellar corned beef and cabbage, served with creamy horseradish sauce.
New cocktails—part of a beverage program led by Monique Cioffi-Hernandez—include Intentional Fallacy, a pitch-perfect old fashioned with mezcal and cane sugar piloncillo instead of traditional simple sugar; and Golden Afternoon, a tart and boozy rum, lime juice, and peach liqueur drink.
With this Montrose location, Berg seems to be trying to fit some lighter fare on his menu without losing the charm of the original (checkerboard tablecloth; ketchup, mustard, sawlt and peppa on every table; Lemonheads and matchbooks at the entrance). If the buzzy tasting on Tuesday night offers any hints, he's on the right track.