The fried half chicken is a must-order.

Image: Jenn Duncan

You know what’s a daring move? Playing episodes of Netflix’s Chef’s Table during dinner service at your first restaurant. Allowing the face of some wunderkind chef to appear in your dining room while seating diners for a meal of elevated comfort cuisine can only raise expectations. But who are we to question Elliot Roddy? The chef and owner of Elliot’s Table, the popular spot that opened last December in the Cottage Grove neighborhood, knows what he’s doing.

Though this is his first restaurant, Roddy has an impressive résumé that includes the 2018 pop-up put on by his company Family Meal HTX, which won over customers at places like downtown’s Blue Field Market, and his experience as general manager of Pinkerton’s Barbecue, where he was one of the minds who helped modernize the classic Texas pit experience with a full bar program.

Elliot’s Table is a rustic-chic shoebox of about 12 tables, plus a twinkle-lights-draped side patio. Reservations are only for groups of six or more. Guests clamor into the small dining room, happy to sit close to one another. During my visits, conversations sparked: What did you order? Ooh, that looks good.

The T.C. Turkey Club

Image: Jenn Duncan

Holding court from his wide-open kitchen, Roddy isn’t afraid to bounce ideas off his guests. Each time I visited, the menu had changed, and there were moments it felt like I personally was witnessing his evolution as an executive chef. One night I ordered Thai chile ribs, which were a bit tough; unprompted, the chef delivered us another version of the same dish, asking for our input. They were smokier and more succulent.

My favorite dishes among Roddy’s comfort staples were the sublime deviled eggs; the simple, tasty, lightly fried pork belly pieces served over wasabi ranch, for a no-frills introduction to his skill with flesh; the succulent lamb chops, glazed with sweet red wine sauce and served with mushroom rice pilaf and browned Brussels sprouts; and, especially, the fried turkey club with tomato, onion, and arugula. Roddy could offer the super-thin-cut, crunchy turkey by itself, but the eggy brioche bun and dash of acidity from the vegetables make this sandwich spectacular.

Elliot Roddy in his open kitchen

Image: Jenn Duncan

The chef is also serving up a righteous plate of shrimp and funky blue cheese grits—homestyle cooking at its finest. The grits arrive bathing in seafood broth and topped with whole shrimp, andouille sausage, and chopped peppers for an extra kick. You can get them plain, as a side, too; whatever you do, order them.

If it’s available, the fried half chicken, too, is a must—the pieces, crispy and seasoned with just enough black pepper, are served on a wood block with skin-on fries, roasted vegetables, and that same wasabi ranch, although the meat’s so juicy, there’s no need for it.

The restaurant has partnered with local bakers for its desserts, sourcing bread and cakes (get the key lime cake) from Cake & Bacon and fresh pies from Jodycakes. There’s a modest wine list, plus a welcome selection of 22-ounce “bomber” beers, perfect for sharing. Or just savor a bomber over the course of an evening. After all, Roddy’s comfort cuisine was made for lengthy, fun meals with old friends—plus new ones at the next table.

Mari and Xavier Godoy of Mastrantos

Image: Jenn Duncan

When you visit Mastrantos, you’ll undoubtedly meet Mari and Xavier Godoy. The young couple were high school sweethearts in Venezuela who traveled for a time before settling in Houston in 2010. It was in December that the couple opened their pretty restaurant on Studewood in the Heights—their first—naming it after a Venezuelan flower. With help from executive chef Tony Castillo, formerly of Tiny Boxwoods, they’re serving dishes inspired by their homeland and their travels to places like Italy, at both sit-down dinners and counter-service breakfasts. And the husband and wife are everywhere: playing host and hostess, serving, making coffee.

The first-timers also designed the restaurant, an airy, luminous space with high ceilings and tall windows. For our money, the best seats in the house are the ones offering a view into the open kitchen. On one visit I watched as Castillo sang along with the sound system and two other cooks danced in formation. They were having a blast as they cooked up the restaurant’s exciting, colorful cuisine, which successfully reflects the tastes of the worldly young couple.

Consider Mastrantos’s take on cioppino—the Italian-American fisherman’s stew of mussels, shrimp, and fish in tomato sauce and wine—which here showcases Gulf Coast seafood, including crawfish, in tomato sauce and fish stock, a hearty broth I could drink on its own. I also could’ve slurped up the spicy leche de tigre in the snapper crudo.

The pasta is made fresh by Eliu Palacios.

Image: Jenn Duncan

Elsewhere red and orange beets with snappy gorgonzola dolce, sweet hojiblanca olive oil, and microgreens fairly burst off the plate; a dish of chopped cherry and garden tomatoes over creamy labneh and homemade balsamic vinaigrette brightened my palate; and a tri-tip rubbed in espresso grounds was cooked expertly, served with sweet garlic butter yucca and an outstanding Dijon cream sauce.

Pastry chef Eliu Palacios makes pasta for all to see in a glass-walled space, and it shines, whether his twisted, thread-like caserecce pasta for the meaty ragù Bolognese; his Instagram-worthy squid-ink linguini (the accompanying coconut curry, unfortunately, isn’t rich enough); or his best creation, the delicate beet-juice-dyed agnolotti, pillows of pasta stuffed with sweet potato and gorgonzola served swimming in a heavenly sage-butter sauce.

Luscious: passionfruit mousse

Image: Jenn Duncan

Palacios’s desserts are luscious. I savored the delicate passionfruit mousse topping his sweet almond cake, before delighting to discover its cavern filled with just-sweet-enough chocolate. Equally delicious is the thick, tiramisu-like wheel of Pavarotti cake.

Breakfast, by the way, is worth a visit, whether for arepas, breakfast tacos, or Palacios’s sweet croissants and cachitos—Venezuelan-style kolaches with fillings like bacon and cream cheese. Given Palacios’s baking prowess, I wish the place offered bread service at dinnertime, but no such luck.

I visited Mastrantos three times for dinner, all before a complete menu change, but given the skill in the kitchen, I’m confident the next iteration will be just as good. I do hope they speed things up a bit—I often waited 15 to 20 minutes between some plates. Of course, the Godoys are working out the kinks. These passionate restaurateurs care, and their food is interesting, at times exceptional. I am rooting for them.

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