Pitmaster Aaron Franklin has a lot of fans. We apologize if this is a sexist trope and realize that there are a lot of people who adore the famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Still, there’s something about young guys meeting their smoke hero that makes their eyes sparkle and makes them laugh.
It might be a bit of a stretch, but there were happy people at the Loro pop-up that was held on December 11 in the parking lot of the next Houston location. The Asian smokehouse at Hai Hospitality, a partnership between Franklin and Chef Tyson Cole, is slated to open in the first quarter of 2022. The building is still under construction, but members of the media have been given a tour ahead of the public event ahead. – registration required and was complete within hours of posting.
Not only was Franklin bustling with the attendees, but James Beard Award-winning Chef Chris Shepherd was also on hand to offer his support to his friend. Franklin’s appearance at the Shepherd’s Southern Smoke Festival always draws huge crowds, and the two friends have worked together for years to raise funds for hospitality workers in crisis situations. Loro’s regional chef Mike Perez and Loro Houston’s chief Marcos Leal was also present. Needless to say, there were a few guests with stars in their eyes as the men moved around.
For the tour, we were guided by members of Hai Hospitality, Ellen Saathoff, Design Director, Chelsea Fanning, Interior Designer, and Amber Quist, Brand Director. After discussing the exterior and patio plans, they led us to the smokers where Franklin and Shepherd were also checking out.
We were told smokers will be located outside but will be accessible from the indoor kitchen, allowing staff to escape the Houston heat. The kitchen itself is huge and when we commented on the size we were told this was due to the volume expected when the Houston site opened.
We were then shown the interior of the old church which was built in the 1940s. The renovation of the space is in keeping with the history of the structure, although the facade is now more glass than it is. brick, allowing light to enter the dark sanctuary. Some of the original windows have been retained, but the stained glass has been replaced with transparent glass and skylights have also been added. With the high ceilings, the space always evokes a sense of divinity and many people have the impression that Franklin, an award-winning chef James Beard, and Cole, a best chef in the southwest award-winning James Beard, could be embraced. with a bit of paradise. to favor.
Loro Houston will be counter service and more casual than some of Hai’s other hospitality concepts such as Cole’s Uchi and Uchiko. A look at its menus in Dallas and Austin shows reasonable prices for the quality dishes served. We asked if Houston’s menu would contain items unique to our city, but for now it looks like the Houston menu will be more on par with the Dallas menu. There was a few rolling eyes at this response which turned into a thumbs-up when we were told there were plans to increase the happy hour offers.
The menu combines Cole’s fine dining style with Franklin’s barbecue prowess. Because this is an Asian smokehouse, diners shouldn’t expect a three-meat plate with coleslaw and potato salad. Instead, there are entrees such as Texas Sweet Corn served with yuzu kosho aioli, sunburst tomato, cotija cheese, sriracha powder and lime, a blend of Mexican and Asian flavors. Oak-grilled zucchini are served with cashews sambal, Walnut bagna cauda and lemon.
The smoked beef brisket, which according to the Dallas menu isn’t available until after 4 p.m., is flavored with chili gastric and Thai herbs. Those same flavors appear in the Oak Smoked Brisket Sandwich, which we were fortunate enough to sample later. It is served on a brioche bun topped with papaya and peanut salad. While there is a sweetness in the sandwich it doesn’t overpower the smoked brisket and I had a nicely charred piece on mine which was divine. This is the last time we’ll use that word, I promise.
Beef brisket isn’t the only protein on the menu, of course. Oak-smoked salmon offers an option for Pescatarians. While cucumber is a natural accompaniment to salmon, at Loro, cucumber is paired with yuzu for a tasty broth. There are also rice bowls such as Sichuan Crispy Tofu and Char Siu Pork Belly. Loro Cheeseburger receives rave reviews from food critics and restaurant enthusiasts. It is served with red onion breast jam, Muenster cheese, lettuce and chili aioli. Lauren Drewes Daniels at The Dallas Observer especially like breast jam.
While most Texans expect a peach cobbler on any menu with smoked meats, in Loro he also gets the yuzu treat with the addition of five-spice whipped Chinese mascarpone.
After the hard hat tour, we lingered outside, enjoying our breast sandwich and one of Loro’s Gin & Tonic slushies. I hate gin and I hate tonic but I love slushes. This one was smooth and icy and I liked it despite the cold and windy weather. We were also given a portion of the candied kettle corn topped with togarishi and sea salt. Local food and drink blogger Jamie Alvear, The Drunken Diva, loved his kick.
Right before audiences were admitted to the event, Houston rap legend Bun B arrived. He dipped his own toes in the restaurant pool with his Trill Burger pop-ups. As he tried to savor his chest sandwich with photographers taking every bite, I smiled as the young lady next to me was schooled by her friend on Bun B and the late Pimp C.
Shepherd said his farewell to Franklin with an “I love you, my brother,” then the revered young Pitbender mingled with the crowd, happily taking photos, answering questions and sharing laughs.
Despite the wind and the cold, there was a feeling of heat.