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Restaurants / Openings

B&B Butchers’ More Casual Offshoot Restaurant Gives Houston Its Own Version of a New York Haunt

Your First Look at B.B. Lemon

BY // 11.09.18
photography Kirsten Gilliam

There’s been a lot of buzz about meat maestro Benjamin Berg’s newest restaurant, almost enough to match the buzzing, crackling neon yellow B.B. Lemon sign out front. It opened Thursday, finally satisfying eager eaters’ curiosity.

Short answer: it’s not much of a mystery. It’s straightforward and simple, just how Berg wants it.

B.B. Lemon is Berg’s boyhood nostalgia made compact, contained in one cozy, three-part format. With green-and-white checkered tablecloths and potted Meyer Lemon trees thrown in for good measure, on Washington Avenue right across the street from B&B Butchers.

“This is the place where I want to hang out, to be honest,” Berg laughs. “It’s always something that you want — that’s what we’re trying to give.”

And he knows what the people want, and have wanted since their childhood into their adulthood: chili, shepherd’s pie, patty melts, BLTs, steak frites, burgers, banana pudding and Root beer floats. And lobster rolls, for those of you with some East Coast prep cred.

It’s pretty retro, a different tack than Berg has taken with B&B Butchers and his upcoming restaurant Benjamin, planned for The Star high-rise downtown. But they all have one thing in common.

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“We have to serve good meat,” Berg laughs.

B.B. Lemon is a mishmash of his a couple of his favorite youthful New York haunts, P.J. Clarke’s and JG Melon.

Berg’s aiming for something super comfortable, the kind of place where you’d go and hang out for hours, nibbling on a little something or tossing back a signature, and of course citrusy, cocktail.

The food was the most challenging aspect, Berg says. He chose an elevated pub food path, landing on a kind of New York meets Texas medley. It’s time for some Big Apple action in the state where everything’s bigger. When life hands you lemons, this is what you do.

The dishes are comforting, but not comfort food. “I guess it’s kind of like tavern food. There are just a lot of restaurants with 8 million people. I’m just trying to create a place for people to come hang out,” Berg tells PaperCity.

“There’s nothing on the menu that I don’t think anybody’s never really had before, except maybe the hog wings. You know, we’re just trying to make straight-up good food. Not pretentious. Even from the plates, simple green and white stripes.”

Berg’s favorite dish comes on a heavy, heavy plate.

“The shepherd’s pie is one of my favorites, definitely,” he says. “It’s a big dish, almost too big for the plate. It’s 19 ounces of shepherd’s pie, ground lamb, peas, carrots.”

Berg’s also big into the full raw bar and 100 percent Texas Wagyu beef burger. “It’s really rich, really juicy and really flavorful,” he notes.

You can chow down on a burger from any of the three different areas that encompass B.B. Lemon, each with their own vibe.

“The front room with the bar is going to be kind of lively, the back room will be more kind of clubbish, but not dance club,” Berg says. “The patio, we’re trying to make that really tranquil, very relaxed and nice outside with the green space.”

And, of course, the 14-table patio features an old school lemonade stand crafted by Berg’s eight-year-old son Diego. It’s got the requisite backwards E for a grand, grade school finish.

It made its charming debut at the sneak peek on Tuesday night, but it’s not going anywhere. “We’re just going to keep it there. It’s a nice outdoor bar and service area,” Berg says.

A New York Moment

B.B. Lemon owes its very name to youth, as well. Berg’s family used to take him and his buddies to JG Melon on Thursday nights. “We thought that was a big deal,” Berg says.

“Now I have kids and go back to New York and take my kids there. One time, one of my buddies brought his daughter out there. She said ‘Oh, this is my dad’s favorite place!’ But she said ‘lemon’ instead of ‘melon.’ It stuck in my head. I liked that.”

That’s how Ben Berg makes a lot of his restaurateur decisions, decor included. It’s kind of refreshing, no muss, no fuss.

“I just kind of like green,” he says of the restaurant’s interior, even though you’d expect bright yellows from the name — and get them in the sign.

“I kind of fell in love with the paint color, bronze and green, and kind of went from there. The front room’s ceiling is red pressed tin. The back room is pressed tin as well, but copper,” Berg says. Why? “I liked it.”

bb lemon backroom
Berg describes the back room as clubbish, but not dance clubbish.

Just more unexpected choices from Berg, who had a surprise musical guest at Tuesday’s preview. On top of the string quartet — playing a medley including hits like “Beat It,” “Call Me Maybe” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” — there was a Scottish musician waiting in the wings.

“I said, ‘Hey, let’s get a bagpiper,’ ” Berg laughs. While he likes the bagpipes, he was clear that the piper won’t be a part of the regular dinner service.

But you can expect the unexpected at B.B. Lemon, just how Berg likes it. You can expect the kitchen to be open til 2 am on weekends and midnight on weekdays. Berg envisions the nattily dressed showing up on B.B. Lemon’s doorstep after an evening at the opera or a charity event, down to devour some blue crab beignets.

“The idea is I hope I spark some passion in people,” Berg says.

He’s doing his best — you’d better b-believe it.

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