Texas educator, businesswoman and culinary pioneer Lucille Bishop Smith isn’t alive to see the restaurant that opens today in the Museum District bearing her name. But her spirit – and her recipes – fairly waft through the cozy LaBranch restaurant like the hearty, hunger-inducing aroma of braised oxtails and smothered pork.
Smith’s great-grandson, Christopher Williams has created a chic southern restaurant that’s also a loving tribute to a family matriarch who was a home economist, restaurateur, innovator and famous for her chili biscuits that were once served on American Airlines flights. Chef Williams, whose local credentials include work at the Bedford and Max’s Wine Dive, will open Lucille’s this week along with his brother Ben Williams in a charming Mission-style house where Lucille’s signature recipes are being reinterpreted in a modern, elegant menu.
“The life she led was all about taking care of people. She wanted to live a life of service,” Christopher Williams said. I see her in my passion about this business.”
If Lucille cooked from the heart, so too does her great-grandson.
The menu includes shrimp and grits with andouille in a sherry tomato broth; “pork and beans” (braised pork shank in a stew of fava beans, English peas and black lentils); fried whole snapper snuggling basil succotash; braised oxtails with Yukon potatoes and caponata; and Mrs. Smith’s Salmon served with chimichurri quinoa and roasted vine tomatoes. For starters there are oyster sliders; freid green tomatoes; crab cakes; boiled peanut hummus; watermelon salad; and Lucille’s famous chili biscuits – bite-size biscuits with a dollop of chili.
Photos of Lucille decorate the restaurant’s dining rooms. One wall features reproductions of notecard recipes, all in Lucille’s hand, that were her bread and butter.
“I love to let food speak for itself,” Williams said of his cooking style. But there’s a lot of Lucille doing the talking too – in the most touching, heartwarming way.
The 65-seat restaurant, which Williams has been laboring over for more than a year, opens today for dinner at 5512 LaBranch; 713-568-2505. (Soft opening hours this week will be 5 to 10 p.m.) For more information see lucilleshouston.com.