First Look

Guard and Grace Is Ready For Its Close-up

Chef Troy Guard's downtown steakhouse opens Tuesday, and there's much more to come.

By Timothy Malcolm November 18, 2019

Bone-in New York strip at Guard and Grace.

Troy Guard’s debut in Houston took about five years, but now that it’s here, one can’t help but stare at about 4,600 bronze rods.

Guard and Grace, a steakhouse based in Denver—where Guard owns another seven concepts—opens Tuesday at 500 Dallas St. on the ground floor of One Allen Center.

Walk into this massive, 15,000-square-foot space designed by BOSS.architecture and you may be astonished by its scope. Straight and curved lines run parallel to one another and hint at a youthful energy, while high ceilings allow 30-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows to simply dominate. A color palette of black, navy, and dark wood tones give off a vibe that says “we’re not messing around.”

Which brings us back to the bronze rods, which cascade and canopy over the main dining room’s full bar and raised seating area —a hot-spot if there ever was. The aesthetic showpiece helps Guard make a dramatic entrance in a city packed with big-money steakhouses and even bigger characters.

“I’m overwhelmed, but in a good way,” Guard told Houstonia in October. “I’m like ... damn, this is a big project.”

Chef Troy Guard

Image: Jenn Duncan

Guard, a Hawaiian-born chef who sports ripped jeans and tattoos and speaks like he just happens to own a ton of restaurants, hopes his steakhouse translates as something for all flavors. He’s banking on the power-lunch crowd, and for folks to sometimes shun the tunnels for a quick salad—say, roasted beet and burrata with frisee, pistachio, citrus vinaigrette, and autumn spice honey for $13.

That’s another element that can help Guard and Grace: affordability. Starters range from $10 (a flavorful and gorgeous plating of oak-fired carrots) to $24 (wagyu bone marrow and the bar-friendly Texas fried bob white quail, served in a cute metal bucket). Speaking of the quail, executive chef Daniel Virola (formerly of True Food Kitchen) will run with a menu that’s about 80 percent standard Guard and Grace specialties and 20 percent items inspired by Texas and the Gulf Coast.

To prepare, Guard has been in and out of Houston for about five years, researching the area, getting to know Louisiana oyster farmers, and collaborating with local notables like Hugo Ortega and Levi Goode. So this menu has a little more seafood, from a crudo of hamachi topped with Pop Rocks, to a $19 lobster roll, which seems like a steal.

“It’s kind of fun to branch out a little bit and see what the palate is around here,” said Guard. “If it’s good fish, I could eat it every day.”

Of course, Guard and Grace isn’t shying away from big-ticket and classic fare like seafood towers ($85 for the “pro,” and $170 for the “boss”); a wedge salad; dry-aged, bone-in New York strip; 21-day, dry-aged bone-in ribeye; toppers like crab oscar and béarnaise; and sides like loaded baked potatoes and creamed kale.  

But the loaded potato is down at the very bottom of the menu. Look instead for wagyu selections like A5 strip from Japan; a filet flight (angus, prime, wagyu); whole-grilled red snapper with Laotian tomato curry; and two eccentrics: the Brontosaurus Steak (tomahawk with cipollini demi glaze and foie and bone marrow butter) and the Millionaire Fajitas. Those—24-ounce black wagyu rib cap, oak-charred peppers and onions, black garlic and huitlacoche steak sauce, chimichurri, queso fundido, and pickled onion—are $400 and bound to make more of a statement than anything else on the menu.

Guests hoping to show off their Millionaire Fajitas should plan to sit in the raised seating area in the 10,000-square-foot main dining room. Booths there have views of the massive, pit-like kitchen, where cooks and runners are sure to resemble Master Chef contestants darting from station to station. Cozy two-tops against an interior wall have tiny pen lights and feel perfect for casual dinners and dates. Toward the back is a full bar and adjacent raw bar with lounge seating that should be hot property come 4 p.m. Friday. Further behind that are the bathrooms and a 12-seat boardroom made for business meetings.

The 5,000-square-foot second level of Guard and Grace includes one room that can be divided into three and will primarily host private events, though it might be used as secondary seating on high-volume days. That area also has its own bar along with a mural by local artist Jessica Rice and an entrance from the second level of One Allen Center.

Guard and Grace also boasts a deep wine list curated by sommelier Lexey Davis Johnson. Look for the wine room by the staircase, an impressive space that will store 6,858 bottles. Finally, a 4,000-square-foot patio outside the main dining room is likely to open in early 2020.

There’s a lot to take in at Guard and Grace, from a menu promising amusing variations on classic steakhouse fare to a space that commands full attention. But Guard is all in. In fact, considering he now owns a house in the Heights, he’s here for the long haul. He's planning on bringing his health-bowl concept Bubu to the Allen Center food court. Then, perhaps more Guard concepts—like his eclectic chef-driven spot Tag, his breakfast restaurant #Hashtag, or a beer garden-food hall like the one he’s about to open in Denver?

It may have taken five years, but you’re going to hear a lot more from him.

“Houston is just exciting; it’s on fire right now,” Guard said. “I definitely would like to do a few more things down here.”

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