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At Pastore, Muns and executive chef Jeff Potts created a seafood-forward menu.

Houston-based Underbelly Hospitality opens first Italian restaurant

Pastore opened June 30 and the hospitality group has more restaurant openings in the works

Pastore is the latest restaurant from Houston-based restaurant group, Underbelly Hospitality (Georgia James, Wild Oats and Underbelly Burger). The new restaurant opened June 30 in Houston’s Regent Square neighborhood.

Founding chef Chris Shepherd left Underbelly Hospitality last year, but the group was positioned to keep moving forward under the leadership of director of operations Nina Quincy, who has been with the company for two and a half years.

Quincy said that Shepherd was instrumental in establishing the foundation for Underbelly Hospitality, but she stresses that an incredible team — both front of house and back of house —deserves credit for the success of the restaurants.

 “If it weren’t for them and their collective hard work and passion, our restaurants would not be where they are today,” she said.

Earlier this year, Underbelly named Scott Muns its new culinary director. Muns is the former head chef of the Michelin-starred Pineapple and Pearls in Washington, D.C., and also worked at Rose’s Luxury in D.C. and Volt in Frederick, Maryland.

The group also brought in executive chef Jeff Potts to helm the kitchen at Pastore. Before joining Pastore, Potts worked at multiple Underbelly concepts before taking roles as the executive sous chef at Guard and Grace and, most recently, as the head chef at 93 Til.

Together, Potts and Muns created a seafood-forward menu broken into sections including cold, small, pasta, flatbread, large and contorni. Cold appetizers include lightly cured gulf snapper, mussels scapece (likely a version of the Spanish dish, mussels in escabeche), scallop crudo, oysters on the half shell, and a rotating seafood tower.

Handmade pastas incorporate seafood in dishes like swordfish amatriciana and squid ink linguine, but there’s also a chicken sausage ravioli for diners who want to switch up their protein. The flatbreads come in five varieties including Bianca, topped with clams, another topped with Italian sausage, and a third that’s topped with mission figs, lemon ricotta, lardo, and herbs.

Larger plates are currently focused to just three offerings: hearth-roasted branzino puttanesca, porchetta with gigante bean ragout and a crispy Milanese chicken. All those dishes are cooked in the open kitchen, which gives guests a view of the action.

Pastore was designed by Montgomery Roth, a local architecture and interior design firm, with the goal of bringing the Italian coast aesthetic to Houston. The dining room measures 2,611-square-feet and evokes a garden scene with large floral murals, a soft color palette, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Eventually, the restaurant will unveil its spacious rooftop, which will add another 3,700-square-feet of dining and drinking real estate to the concept.

Pastore is a significant departure from Underbelly’s other projects. Georgia James is a steakhouse, Underbelly Burger serves burgers made with locally raised beef, while Wild Oats is an homage to Texas cuisine. But Pastore has roots in the group’s “One Fifth” series, in which Underbelly debuted five temporary concepts over five years.

“Pastore was originally intended to be a permanent version of the final One Fifth installment: One Fifth Red Sauce,” explained Quincy. “As we developed the Pastore brand, we wanted to create a concept and menu that contrasted with the masculinity that is Georgia James. In doing so, the original red sauce concept morphed into a lighter, fresher menu that transports you to the Italian coast.”

Quincy describes the décor as feminine and garden-like, noting that it exudes peace and tranquility.

“Those details are woven throughout every facet of the restaurant – from the hand pressed flowers on our menus to the hand painted tiles and the coastal-inspired color palette,” he said.   

Pastore’s debut was followed by the early July departure of GJ Tavern, which Underbelly opened in 2021. In a statement at the time, Quincy said that operating a 40-seat restaurant in downtown Houston was financially unsustainable. But Underbelly is in expansion mode and preparing to open new locations of Wild Oats and Underbelly Burger in Houston’s Spring Branch neighborhood this fall.

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