Restaurants / Openings

Houston Rodeo’s First Fine Dining Restaurant is Already a Hit — Behind the Curtain at Ranch Saloon and Steakhouse

Ben Berg's Baby is Drawing a Crowd of Heavy Hitters and Champagne Cowgirls

BY // 03.01.22
photography Shelby Hodge

Only hours before restaurateur extraordinaire Ben Berg officially opened the doors to The Ranch Saloon + Steakhouse at NRG Park, his grand venture into Rodeo fine wining and dining was packed with special guests that included Houston Rodeo leadership and the colorful Champagne Cowgirls. The first look at the new on-site Rodeo restaurant earned unanimous rave reviews.

Even those who aren’t rodeo fans were swooning over the authentic Texan style decor, the impeccable service and the delish food, all of which convinced even the most reluctant rodeo-goers that a return visit was a must.

Applause, applause for Berg and his team and for Elizabeth Swift of Swift + Company, who brought Berg’s imagined on-the-grounds rodeo restaurant to fabulous design fruition. The Ranch Saloon + Steakhouse is the best thing that RodeoHouston has seen since its big move to the Astrodome decades ago.

“It’s beyond my wildest dreams right now . . . We’ve got Western cool, yeah?,” Berg tells PaperCity. He allows that this is the biggest kitchen in the Berg Hospitality Group stable, which includes such Houston restaurants as B&B Butchers, the Annie Cafe and Turner’s.

The Aztec tents that are erected and decorated to belie the temporary structure also house the biggest bar in Berg’s empire with seating for 70 inside.  The open air bar outside seats more than 40. And the swank Veneno tequila bar is a cozy hideaway within the vast hospitality arena. With 50 full-time staff rotating in and out, the service was impeccable, the attitude entirely positive.

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Bill Baldwin & Fady Armanious, April & Dr. Jorge Salazar at The Ranch at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (Photo by Shelby Hodge)

“This means so much to be chosen to do this for the Rodeo, for the city of Houston. This is amazing,” Berg told the early gathering of more than 100. “We have the weight of the Rodeo, the weight of Houston on our shoulders and we want to make you proud and that’s what we’re out here to do. Have a really good time with you, and deliver great food and great service.

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“None of this would have happened without my good friend, he has a place on all my menus, Mr. Robert Clay.”

Doors to the ranch open at 4 pm weekdays throughout the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo with expanded hours for brunch, bringing an 11 am opening on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the Rodeo run. Live entertainment, arranged by J&D Entertainment, will keep the joint jumping during the day and evenings and with DJs later in the night.

Reservations for dining in The Steakhouse are available at [email protected], 832-470-6519, and at OpenTable.

Receiving special recognition during the private opening were the Champagne Cowgirls, the group formed in 2009 to combine their monies to up the ante during the steer auction. In the 13 ensuing years, the ladies have been high bidders on the grand and reserve grand champion steers nine times. And that means considerable funds going the Houston Rodeo’s scholarship programs.

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Kiki & Carmen Dikmen, Lucinda & Javier Loya at the Veneno Tequila Bar within Ben Berg’s The Ranch at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)

Heading the fashionable entourage on this day was Champagne Cowgirls founder Ellie Francisco, who was presented the champion junior market steer hide from the 2021 auction by Steer Committee chairman Sean LeHane. In their signature black Western hats with interlocking rhinestone C’s headbands, they group had chartered a bus from Tootsies for the jaunt to NRG park and The Ranch Saloon + Steakhouse opening.

PC Seen: HLS&R board chairman Brady Carruth, Veneno Tequila owners Lucinda and Javier Loya and Carmen and Kiki Dikmen, Tootsies owners Donna and Norman Lewis, Shelley Ludwick, Michael Francisco, Alan Perry, April and Dr. Jorge Salazar, Fady Armanious and Bill Baldwin, and Champagne Cowgirls including Susan Sarofim, Elizabeth Stein with husband Alan Stein, Lesha Elsenbrook, Kelley Lubanko, Shelley Reeves, Kelli Weinzierl and husband John, DeeDee Marsh with husband Wallis, Bobbie Nau, Denise Monteleone, and Kristina Somerville.

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