This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Dining Room
BY ANNIE GALLAY // 07.11.18

Tribute will pay homage to the creativity and color of the region.
What do you get when you take a brand new restaurant and imbue it with the city’s history? The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa hopes it is Tribute, the storied place’s new showcase eatery.

"Sharing a name with Houston, we just think that it’s really important and exciting for us to be able to pay tribute to the food that the city prepares — all the cooks, all the chefs, the way Houstonians like to eat,” Houstonian Hotel general manager Steve Fronterhouse tells PaperCity.

"With our name, we have an obligation to provide that experience to our guests and our local guests as well.”

That means wood-grilled oysters with garlic butter and herbs, with a touch of heat from chorizo. That means upscale barbecue dishes, like smoked Texas Wagyu beef with pickled vegetables over grilled cream corn. And of course that means South Texas cabrito sopes braised in chili broth.

Tribute — which is scheduled to open this fall — will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The restaurant is part of a $3 million, 8,026-square-foot renovation. The Houstonian is celebrating almost 40 years in its 27 wooded acres in the heart of The Galleria area.

The Houstonian’s prior Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Olivette shuttered this past May for renovations. Now, it’s being reborn as a completely new restaurant.

Chef Neal Cox headed up Olivette and he’s eager for the new restaurant’s serious slant toward Texas. Who better to call the culinary shots than a lover of the Lone Star State?

"As a native Texan, I can tell you cooking this way is very natural. It’s a very comfortable place to be. I’ve been cooking this way my entire life — most of my career, I’ve touched on different influences from the region,” Cox says.

Cox brings previous experience cooking at Pappas Bros Steakhouse, Trevisio, Zula, Americas and Churrascos. "It’s exciting to be able to do things that you not only believe in, but you love to do. It’s a good feeling,” he says.

"Tex-Lex” is the name of the game at Tribute. That means an artful blend of Texas, Louisiana and Mexico that pays homage to Bayou City’s foodie power.

"I’m big on flavor. That’s really one of the most important things when I’m working with my team,” Cox says.

That includes everything from spices and chilies from Mexico to classic ingredients from Louisiana. And you can’t forget the token tastes of Texas.

"Texas is beef country. You’ve got to use good quality beef, and you’ve got to cook it right,” Cox says.

"One of the things we’re going to have is a wood-burning grill, cooking a lot with indigenous woods like post oak and mesquite. It’ll help really take those ingredients and flavor them in a style that’s synonymous with the region, with Houston.”

The chef is also committed to seafood and fish from the Gulf Coast, like red fish on the half shell. It’s a fresh new take on The Houstonian, but you can expect a few nods to Olivette here and there. Like the old Mediterranean restaurant, Tribute will boast a tantalizing array of sides.

But Cox plans to switch up the formatting of the mains.

"Before, the first course was really designed for one person. There wasn’t much on the menu in the way of sharing,” he says. "That was always something I had wished for. Now, we want the first courses on the menu to be shareable.

"Items to share is really important when it comes to the first courses.”

The Houstonian’s New Look

The renovation will also bring a more lively main dining room. "The bar will open into the restaurant. That should provide for more energy,” Fronterhouse says.

There are also two more intimate spots — the private wine room that houses 3,500 to 4,000 wine bottles and seats a small set of four, or the Hearth Room, fit for groups of 20 or 30.

"We’re completely revamping the Hearth Room,” Cox says. "Earlier, it felt more like a banquet space than a restaurant space. Now there’s this warmth. Hopefully the Hearth Room will be the premiere spot to be seated.

"We want it to be very true and very real, not only in the food but also in the space itself. We want people to walk in and feel that they’re inside The Houstonian. And they know it.”