Restaurants / Openings

Pioneering Rice Village Restaurant Takes a Bold Leap — Rediscovering the Revamped Benjy’s

25 Years Later, Restaurateur Benjy Levit Still Pushes for Something New

BY // 01.10.20

It’s been 25 years since Benjy Levit launched his first restaurant, Benjy’s in Rice Village. More than two decades later, the savvy restaurateur remains way ahead of the curve. Back then, Levit was a newly minted culinary school grad who had studied the tenets of vegan cookery.

He eschewed the ridiculously large-sized portions of the day, along with heavy cream sauces and butter, and instead brought fresh fruit and vegetable emulsions into the spotlight. His kitchen was even devoid of one restaurant standard: the fryer.

He and his stylish wife, Erica, always made the ambiance a priority as well, collaborating with myriad design talents to outfit the two-story space with splashes of color, bold wall coverings and contemporary art.

Recently, Levit and company reinvented the original restaurant in celebration of its 25th anniversary, working with design cohort, Aaron Rambo, who has helped shape the look and feel of Levit’s other popular concepts, The Classic and Local Foods. They closed Benjy’s for three days and stripped the floors and walls, upstairs and down, to create a vibrant new restaurant, with high/low materials.

The “high” includes a covetable Maison Jansen vintage piece refashioned as a hostess stand. As for the “low,” Levit and Rambo scoured Home Depot and came away with shiny jade-colored lava tiles that now line the bar. They also challenged a master carpenter to take Baltic birch plywood — a reasonably inexpensive material — and create rich-looking paneling throughout the dining room. The light, bright interior shines with curvaceous canary-yellow banquettes, Breuer cane-and-chrome cantilever chairs and celadon-colored tabletops.

Longtime co-exec chefs Mike Potowski and Maria Gonzalez head-huddled with chef Seth Siegel Gardner (Pass & Provisions) to overhaul the menu at brunch and dinner. (Fear not: The dish no one dared to touch was Mom’s Chocolate Cake, a delectable take on the chocolate-pecan Texas sheet cake.) Their inspired collaboration resulted in sharable dishes at dinner labeled small, medium and large, such as the cheeky cauliflower cream dip topped with smoked trout roe and served with Funyuns, potato chips and airy beef chips ($15).

And here’s a dish that will inspire you to eat all your veggies: wood-oven-roasted carrots tossed in a toasted sesame vinaigrette with puffed rice and batons of fresh Granny Smith apples ($9). You’ll see chef Gardner’s contribution in the sea urchin carbonara, an unexpected favorite made with squid-ink bucatini pasta strands and guanciale, or cured pork cheek ($19).

Friday and weekend brunch service brings on okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake made with cabbage and topped with slices of bacon, fried egg and togarashi-spiked bearnaise ($15) as well as a caviar sandwich layered between two slices of toasted pain de mie with smoked egg yolk, caviar and onion jam ($15).

Benjy’s is open Tuesdays through Saturdays for happy hour and dinner, and Fridays through Sundays for brunch.

Benjy’s, 2424 Dunstan Road, 713.522.7602.

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