Get Ready for Filet Mignon Flights, Sushi Surprises and a Showcase Space
BY ANNIE GALLAY // 03.21.19
Guard and Grace invades Downtown in the fall.
Houston isn’t hurting for steakhouses. But carnivores are compelled by temples of meat, and new ones can never hurt. This fall, Space City’s steakhouse scene is getting a glossy new addition in the heart of Downtown.
Denver chef Troy Guard is bringing the second-ever location of his steakhouse Guard and Grace to One Allen Center. He comes armed with 11 successful existing restaurant concepts from TAG Restaurant Group and a diverse culinary background, courtesy of past cooking lives in California, Asia, New York and Hawaii.
The new 15,000-square-foot Houston stunner is on the bottom level of the center across from the green space, with 40-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows and an expansive 100-seat patio, to boot. Colorado’s Guard may be invading cattle country, but he’s ready for it.
Guard plans to be a cut above with New York Strips, dry-aged rib eye, bone-in rib-eye, hanger steak, filet mignon and more.
It’ll have all the classics you expect, and some decidedly different approaches to the traditional steakhouse concept. It may be Guard and Grace, but it’s definitely not old guard. That means oak-fired carrots with herb yogurt and fennel herb salad, and Vietnamese steak salad with citrus chili dressing and beyond.
Houston Restaurant Research
It’s a Wednesday afternoon at the Four Seasons’ Bayou & Bottle bar, and Guard is on his way. This week marks just one of his frequent trips to The Bayou City to get to know the raging restaurant scene.
He’s quite pleased to make its acquaintance. And so is his palate.
Stops so far include Goode Co. Seafood for some great grilled oysters. His culinary director, Jorel Pierce, is partial to the tongue-numbing original Mala Sichuan in Chinatown.
Bayou & Bottle is a swanky spot, all brown leather couches, black accents and mood lighting. That’s interrupted by the appearance of Guard and his wife, their two towheaded children in tow.
Guard extends his hand, showing off a tattoo sleeve, and introduces his blond little ones, Jagger — in a fitting Rolling Stones logo tee — and baby Jameson in a stroller. His daughter, Grace, his smash steakhouse’s inspiration, isn’t present. Soon, Guard’s family’s off for their own adventure, and he’s ready to chat.
Guard makes himself comfortable on the cushiony couch and reaches for a glass of the bar’s signature grapefruit-infused water. He’s just about half a mile from where his restaurant will be. And so far, he’s liking the feel of the place.
What he’s seen of Houston has been a hit.
“You’ve got a huge culinary scene here, amazing chefs. So many different countries, languages, ethnicities, foods. That’s really exciting to me. I spent eight years living in Asia, all over there. I’ve lived all over the world,” Guard tells PaperCity.
Houston’s multicultural melting pot was a major draw, but Guard sees even more potential in the coming years.
“I feel the city is obviously huge,” he says. “But I feel like there’s this huge growth coming on right now, which is what Denver was a few years ago. It’s just very exciting and vibrant and cool to jump into a scene that’s about to really take off.”
Just the Start
Guard wants to dive right into Houston, but he’ll dip his toe in first. “We’ve got a lot of other concepts in Denver that we feel would do well here. But we want to make sure we’re welcome and people love Guard and Grace and people love us. And then we’d like to bring some other concepts down here,” he notes.
In keeping with that approach, there will be few deviations from the Denver Guard and Grace when it comes to the new Houston restaurant. Both in the respective city’s business district, both heavy on his signature Mediterranean and Pacific Rim style.
All dishes ring true to his cooking philosophy.
“Fresh, quality ingredients. Kind of letting the ingredients speak for themselves. We do use a lot of bold flavors in our cooking, but we let the flavor of the octopus or the meat or seafood really shine or speak,” Guard says.
One of the most popular dishes at Guard and Grace in Denver is the filet mignon flight, a tidy trio of 4-ounce steaks.
“We have a steak flight and people can taste the difference. Grass-fed, obviously leaner, Angus, not quite as much marbling, and prime to me is just great,” Guard says.
“It really educates people. They walk in and say ‘I only eat prime steak,’ and they might just fall in love with grass-fed,” Pierce chimes in, taking a seat. “Like Troy said, ingredient-forward, ingredient-focused.”
That comes from an oak fire grill, a signature steak rub that took months and months to perfect — you’ll note garlic, mustard, salt, pepper — and letting the meat rest for a full 30 minutes.
“Spend time with the steak you’re cooking. Don’t just put it on a plate. That doesn’t make any sense. Take your time with it. Ours rest so long they’re unreal. Unreal,” Pierce says.
But just because Guard’s taking care with consistency doesn’t mean he’s not going to tweak things Lone Star State-style.
“This one’ll be twice as big as the one in Denver. But then, Texas is twice as big,” he laughs.
The Texas Challenge
Texas is its own playground, both for red meat — Guard’ll be making many voyages to visit with ranchers and sample the goods, and plans to offer a combo of Texas-sourced steaks and Colorado-sourced steaks on the menu — and seafood.
“I think what we’ve been talking about and seeing is that people here really enjoy seafood a little more than land-locked Denver,” Guard says. That’ll translate to oysters, Gulf Coast seafood, for sure, and specific Texas fish.
“When we’re down here we should talk about farmed Texas redfish,” Pierce says. “You’re really helping to recover the population by embracing aquaculture,” he adds.
Other seafood you’ll see on the Guard and Grace menu: oak-fired octopus with white bean and celery salad, a generous raw bar, Alaskan Black Cod with charred broccolini and sweet soy butter, and Australian Barramundi with quinoa in a soy broth.
Guard’s also caught on to Houston’s appetite for sushi. “We’re going to put sushi on our menu here. So that’s going to be fun and exciting, to implement a few new dishes with that,” he says.
The wine list will also double in size, to 10,000 bottles housed in the extravagant wine room you see right upon entering the building. “It’s massive, we’ve got an amazing wine list,” Guard says. Rose wine is kind of a big deal at Guard and Grace, celebrated annually with a pink-everything party.
Guard will tell you that everything boils down to hospitality and service. There’s a clear-cut ethos, complete with its own acronym: PICCHHO.
“Passion, imagination, courage, caring, harmony, humility, ownership,” Pierce says. Guard’s instilled those qualities in his staff through his enthusiasm — and the occasional cash incentive.
“He will walk around the restaurant group and ask anybody in the building at any level of employee — manager, dish washer, hostess, busboy — and ask ‘What are the seven core values?’ And if they fire them all off, he’ll open up his bill fold and pull out a crisp hundred,” Pierce says.
“I think he only carries one, he only asks the question one time a day,” he laughs.
“It’s about the money but it’s about understanding what we are doing here every day. There’s got to be a certain excitement. You want to find something you love, your family, your team. And you go at it,” Guard says.
They’re all working together to keep Guard and Grace modern, lighter, brighter than its steakhouse contemporaries.
“It’s really about our culture. Anyone can serve the same meat or the same vegetable dish. We do it differently. We’re just excited to show everyone what we have and come down into this neighborhood down here,” Guard says.
Guard & Grace might just catch you off guard.