Chef Chris Shepherd definitely isn’t afraid of change. The chef behind constantly-revolving restaurant experiment One Fifth is now switching up his essential Houston restaurant Underbelly — although “evolving” it is the word he’d prefer to use.
Shepherd and his business partner Kevin Floyd just announced that they will open a brand-new steakhouse at Underbelly's current location at 1100 Westheimer. It will be called Georgia James (the name is inspired by Chris’ parents’ names). Turns out Shepherd had so much fun with One Fifth Steak this spring, he’s been plotting a full-time steakhouse ever since then.
The menu at Georgia James will be familiar to One Fifth Steak fans: steaks will be cooked in cast-iron, and cold seafood is a focus. The space’s interior will be completely transformed from a farmhouse-inspired look to a restaurant accented with white tablecloths, glass, and steel.
So what’s happening to Underbelly? The restaurant's favorite dishes like Korean braised goat and dumplings and cha ca and crispy vegetables in caramelized fish sauce will live on at Shepherd’s Hay Merchant. Underbelly will close in late March 2018 as the renovation of Georgia James begins, and Georgia James will open in mid-to-late 2018.
Meanwhile, Shepherd is working on an entirely new neighborhood restaurant for Montrose. The 80-seat, no-reservations-required UB Preserv will open in April 2018 at 1609 Westheimer in the former Jimmy Chew’s space.
The menu won't change daily at UB Preserve the way it did at Underbelly. But UB Preserv will "preserve the ethos of Underbelly," according to the release, without Underbelly’s self-imposed limitations of locality, whole animal and an ever-changing menu.
"This isn’t Underbelly 2.0,” Shepherd said in a statement. "This restaurant is my interpretation of how Houston is evolving. It’s becoming more global, with flavors and spices and products from around the world. Underbelly was founded on a very strict philosophy of what we could and could not serve. No more. Houston doesn’t limit itself, and neither do I."
Ready for even more changes? Hay Merchant will open for lunch beginning April 2018, and One Fifth is deviating from its third concept of fish to the food of the Mediterranean. One Fifth Mediterranean will open September 1, 2018.
"I grew up going to Lebanese steakhouses in Tulsa,” said Chris. “As a kid, it was normal to eat tabouli alongside a ribeye, and it wasn’t until later that I realized it was a result of the Lebanese population in Tulsa. Looking back, it was my first time to experience the merging of cultures."
Shepherd and Floyd also started Underbelly Hospitality to manage operations of all these restaurants and bars, which will grow to include One Fifth, Georgia James, Hay Merchant, and UB Preserv.