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Culture / Home + Design

Historic Downtown Building Transforms Into a Stunning New Restaurant

Gourmet Sandwiches and Seafood Beckon

BY // 01.26.17
photography Julie Soefer

For restaurant number four, partners Benjy Levit and Dylan Murray catapult their beloved gourmet sandwich shop Local Foods to new heights with circa-1930s digs in the heart of Downtown Houston. Designed by prolific Houston architect Joseph Finger in 1934, the historic, art-deco building — previously home to Byrd’s Department Store — stands out amongst the sea of bars and restaurants on Main Street, touting Local Foods’ signature vibrant hues and whimsical flair.

Nautical vibes greet customers upon entry thanks to Austin-based architect Michael Hsu and Houston designer Aaron Rambo, principle at Found for the Home. Striking blue hues engulf the sprawling space while candid black-and-white photographs of Galveston fisherman serve as oversized show pieces — a fitting design aesthetic considering the new location is home to Local Foods’ first-ever raw seafood bar.

“One of the reason’s we added the seafood bar is because this is really how Benjy and I like to eat, and all of the fish we’re bringing in is local product,” Murphy says. “Also, there’s been this huge onslaught of barbecue, and greasy burgers, and fried chicken, and it’s just not my style. I’m looking for something more balanced.”

On the raw bar menu: oyster shooters crafted with Pepperoncini vodka and Bloody Mary vinaigrette; Gulf shrimp ceviche elevated with jackfruit and spicy chili; red snapper campechana served with avocado, miso cucumbers, and rice crackers; sesame-crusted tuna accompanied by pickled ginger aioli and tamari glaze; and Gulf Coast shrimp skewers.

Local’s signature menu also receives a refresh with two new sandwiches — the BHR, which combines Black Hill Ranch ham with a bright butternut squash slaw and swiss chard kimchi; and the breakfast sandwich fashioned with Hebrew National salami, a fried egg, and cheddar cheese — alongside the addition of savory edamame dip served with bagel toast (Local’s healthy take on spinach artichoke dip) and brussels sprouts topped with balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese.

Complementing the food menu is an expanded beverage program led by general manager and former benjy’s beverage director Vinny Torrez, which features everything from exclusive flavors of Pat Greer’s popular kombucha tea on-tap to a range of seasonal cocktails, including a vinegar-and-fruit-based libation known as a shrub. Local’s first designated happy hour is also in the works.

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“I want to really try my best to keep with local spirits. We’ll take a few requests of course, because there are just some things you can’t get locally, but I definitely want to keep the product as Texas as possible,” Torres says. “You’ll find everything from Yellow Rose to Swift single malt whiskey, which is made in Texas.

“We make a drink using Swift, and we mix it with ginger honey, a little fresh lemon juice, and ginger ale. We’re also doing a hibiscus-infused rum, and it’ll be used in a drink called Mr. Pink, which mixes the hibiscus with a blend of citrus juices and mint.”

Coming soon? Local Foods Downtown’s third floor basement, which will serve as home to the brand’s catering kitchen and also host private events. Until then, diners can bask in the lively main dining room or the second floor mezzanine — still decorated with the original tile from Byrd’s — which offers sweeping views of Main Street.

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