Georgia James Tavern, the restaurant initially introduced to Houston's food scene as the "little sister" offshoot to Chris Shepherd's flagship steakhouse Georgia James, has made some changes since we first reported on the Downtown restaurant's opening last summer.
Although the restaurant maintains the same name as the hospitality group's forerunner, Georgia James Tavern is coming into its own. The quaint pub, located on the first floor of Market Square Tower, recently introduced its new executive chef, Tim Reading.
"We knew GJ Tavern hadn't quite found its identity,” Chef/Owner of Underbelly Hospitality Chris Shepherd tells Houstonia, "and I realized that Tim would be the right fit for this property. He has made the restaurant a more lively spot, and the restaurant has really found its voice.”
A Boston native, Reading worked in a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Lerbach, in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. Before joining Underbelly, he spent time as executive chef of Hugo Ortega's Caracol, and he is no stranger to Downtown either — Reading formerly ran the kitchen at Ixim Restaurant in Bravery Chef Hall.
Now, he's curated an extended menu at the Old-Hollywood-inspired outpost. His most important goal, he says, is to create a home away from home for everyone who comes to dine.
"I like to say that the Tavern has ’swank,” Reading says. “The definition of tavern is a gathering place, and we want people to want to gather here."
The old regime for Georgia James Tavern was run by Underbelly alum Matt Coburn, where the menu featured small plates like the baked pimento cheese, roasted oysters and steak fries. With Reading at the helm, Georgia James Tavern now sports an elevated menu of bar snacks that includes roasted almonds, warm marinated olives and salads with vegetables. The entree menu has been overhauled as well, and what used to be a small selection including dishes like wagyu ribeye, roasted gulf fish and chicken, and a ham-brined pork chop, has been extended to include seared bavette steak, cavatelli, roasted bone marrow and a reimagined tavern burger.
One thing that hasn't changed in the new transition is the restaurant's cooking practices. The kitchen's biggest highlight is its hearth, an open-air fireplace that has in the past been used to cook up piping-hot baked apple crumbles and roasted oysters. The new menu gives the hearth just as much stage time. "We've got a killer hearth, so I'm going to use it as much as I can," Reading says.
If you've kept up with any Houston food news, you'd know that The Pass and Provisions closed in 2019, but under Reading's leadership, the tavern will recreate the now-defunct restaurant's bread and cheese pairings, locally sourced from Kraftsmen Baking and Houston's Dairymaids, that will change weekly.
The wine and spirits have also been dialed up a bit, with espresso martinis, a praline alexander, and a Simon sauternes all on the list. Five different beers make the cut, including St. Arnold's Art Car IPA and two alcohol-free mocktails — but don't fret; you can still add a CBD elixir.
"This restaurant is about respecting the integrity of the food we're serving — highlighting seasonality and locality, preserving and utilizing as much of each ingredient as we can, sometimes in different dishes," Reading says.
You'll still get the same excellent Underbelly quality, however, be prepared to be introduced to a whole new world of flavors. Reading's cunning French techniques can be felt and tasted throughout the food, so be sure to come on an empty stomach.
More information on Georgia James Tavern here.