By Eric Sandler
Photography by Barbara Kuntz
One of Houston’s foremost culinary talents are uniting for an innovative pop-up. No, this isn’t some one-night only affair with a sky high price and a limited menu designed to appeal to only the most hardcore diners. Rather, it’s just lunch.
Peter Jahnke, a chef whose resume includes stints at Underbelly and Oxheart as well as time spent bartending at Anvil, David Keck, the “wine guy” at Camerata who recently became only the eighth Master Sommelier in Texas, and Jillian Bartolome, the pastry chef who until recently worked at Common Bond, have joined forces to create a pop-up restaurant called LÜNCH.
Set to take place from July 29 until August 7 at Oxheart (which will be closed for its annual summer vacation), LÜNCH will, as its name implies, only be open from 11 am until 4 pm. For Jahnke, who collaborated with chef Justin Bayse on the Les Sauvages pop-up series in 2011-12, serving at lunch instead of dinner provides an opportunity that’s different than a one-off pop-up like those that take place at Glitter Karaoke on Thursday nights or as part of the Aces of Taste dinner series.
“I think that both David and myself were just a little tired of the same old paradigm, the stereotypical way everyone does dinner now a days. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do an actual pop-up restaurant in awhile,” Jahnke tells CultureMap. “Even when they do a pop-up, it’s a single meal . . . You get the testing menu. Someone explains each dish. At the end the chef comes out and everyone claps.”
Needless to say, dining at LÜNCH won’t be quite so precious. As a restaurant rather than a meal, LÜNCH will offer diners a range of options to choose from: everything from grab and go items like sandwiches to sit down meals designed around how long people have to dine: everything from “business lunch” to “I have all day,” Keck explains. In addition, Oxheart designer gindesignsgroup will remodel the space to optimize it for lunch service. Similarly, the attitude won’t be as serious as it can be at some dinner pop-ups.
“The concentration will be on that it’s lunch and therefore casual and light and fun and good,” Jahnke says. “It won’t be so precious. There won’t be any dishes with 45 components. Just a good feeling out of the whole thing is what we’re looking to get out of it.”
Jahnke is still making decisions about what to include, but they will generally be lighter, more acidic, vegetable-oriented dishes designed to suit summer’s elevated temperatures. Bartolome will contribute both sweets and savory baked goods. Individual items will stay on the menu for only three days or so before being replaced.
“It’s not going to be super themed,” Jahnke says. “I don’t tend to work that way.”
Keck will be crafting a wine list, naturally, but also non-alcoholic drinks designed to pair with the food — and make it possible to be productive at work after the meal.
Price are still to be determined, but Keck says they’ll be mindful of what people typically spend on a midday meal. “We’re not going to do anything crazy. It should be reasonable but with options to go a little bigger if desired,” by purchasing a bottle of champagne, he says. “It’s lunch, and we don’t want it to be too serious or expensive for what that generally entails.”
Given the location and its status as a pop-up restaurant rather than a one-off meal, diners might be tempted to compare LÜNCH to 2010’s Just August Project, the month long pop-up that united Justin Yu with Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner before they became the chef-owners of Oxheart and The Pass & Provisions, respectively.
“That wasn’t really one of the deciding factors in deciding to do lunch versus dinner, but we were conscious of separating ourselves from that,” Jahnke says. “It’s going to be at a property that Justin launched, but Seth and Terrence aren’t involved in this at all. We’re not trying to ride on the coattails of that.”
But will this also lead to the creation of a new restaurant? Jahnke isn’t quite ready to say yes, but he allows that it’s a possibility.
“David and I, as much as we like each other, it’s been a few years since we’ve worked on a solid, dedicated project. We wanted to get used to working next to each other and start the conversation. The restaurant was offered to us. It was good timing on top of the idea that we’d like to work a little more together.”
Tentatively, the group has decided not to accept reservations, but people who are familiar with the project, including this author, have encouraged them to reconsider. After all, with so much talent in one place, LÜNCH is bound to be the summer’s hottest dining experience. Given the small space, forcing people to wait outside for a table might make it the sweatiest one, too.