As we reported at the end of April, owners Yun Cheng and Sammy Saket closed Izakaya at 318 West Gray in Midtown Houston with plans to replace it with a restaurant focused on Gulf Coast seafood and southern dishes. That restaurant, Josephine’s, is now open with Lucas McKinney as executive chef, Emily Rivas as pastry chef and Joseph Ramirez as general manager.
McKinney was previously with Underbelly Hospitality and worked at Georgia James, The Hay Merchant, and, most recently, as a sous chef at GJ Tavern. Josephine’s is named for Lucas’s great grandmother as well as a steamship that sank off the Mississippi coast. The team represents quite a spectrum of Gulf Coast-state heritage, as McKinney is a native of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Ramirez is from Metairie, Louisiana and Rivas is a born-and-raised Houstonian.
Some of the Gulf seafood dishes are New Orleans-style BBQ Shrimp with Worcestershire butter and French bread ($16), and Palacios farm-raised Halfshell Grilled Redfish with chermoula ($44). Alongside, diners can enjoy housemade biscuits or hushpuppies. Current boiled seafood options are peel-and-eat shrimp, snow crab clusters and blue crab — and you can bet when it’s crawfish season again, those will be added. The raw bar features various types of oysters, smoked redfish dip, amberjack crudo and blue crab fingers, as well as seafood salads and other selections.
Offerings that are not seafood-focused include an appetizer called Chicken On a Stick ($13), a traditional Mississippi dish served with buttermilk ranch dressing alongside; Sittin Sidewayz Burger with R-C Ranch wagyu, onion straws, burger sauce, bread and butter pickles on on a bun from Leidenheimer in New Orleans; . A vegetable-focused option is Southern Pea Salad ($16) with peas, diced vegetables, egg and cheddar. It comes with Bibb lettuce so the diner can make wraps.
Josephine’s also serves po’ boys, and one is the Biloxi Vancleave Special ($18) with blue crab patties and American cheese. The sandwich is an homage to a 1940s-era one served by Rosetti’s Café in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Rivas’ dessert menu leans on Southern nostalgia, offering creations such as Barq’s Peanut Pie ($12) with Barq’s root beer caramel, Oatmeal Moon Pie ($8) with, of course, marshmallow filling but also dark chocolate and cacao nibs and a take on Mississippi mud pie that’s presented in a jar. It consists of chocolate pudding, caramel, chantilly cream and Oreo pecan chocolate crumble. That said, there are off-the-beaten-path options, too, such as the seasonal Corn Flan ($12) with blueberry compote, corn flake clusters, thyme and chantilly cream, and Calas con Leche ($10) — sweet rice fritters with rye whiskey condensed milk for dipping. The full menu is available online.
To convert the space from a Japanese izakaya into a Southern restaurant, Nest Interiors completely redecorated it with a substantial amount of rustic wood accents, white painted tin ceiling tiles and vintage light fixtures. The color motif is natural wood and white with subdued accents of blue and green. A personal touch is the gallery wall, which showcases art from Lucas’s and Joseph’s families. The patio is currently being renovated but should open in time for Houston’s pleasant fall weather.
“Our goal is for Josephine’s to be a place to decompress, recharge, and let the gratitude of Southern hospitality take over,” said Ramirez via a press release.
This week, Josephine’s is only serving dinner starting at 5 p.m. Regular hours start next week and are Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., and Saturday is dinner-only from 5 to 11 p.m.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.