First bite: Pitmaster’s highly acclaimed new restaurant in Houston serves up Gulf Coast comfort

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Pit Master Greg Gatlinowner of Gatlin’s Barbecue, opened his new restaurant Fins and feathers at 302 West Crosstimbers in July. The menu is a collaborative effort between Gatlin, Executive Chef Michael Wallace and chef Darius King. Staples include a variety of fried foods and Cajun favorites, as well as dishes influenced by barbecue, Asian, and Mexican cuisines. The result is a shift from a barbecue to a broader celebration of Gulf Coast cuisine. Houston Food Finder recently accepted an invitation to try the new menu, and while there are new restaurant wheels to grease, the overall experience has been positive.

Entries include the F&F Clucker, a charcuterie board from head to toe “sort of”, and by far the most intriguing plate on the menu. It features Southern classics like cracklins and fried gizzards in a transformative way‚ – in fact, the gizzards steal the show. Typically hard and dry, Fins & Feathers gizzards have a creamy texture. Also on the plate are fries made from chicken feet (yes, you read that right), chicken crackers with a soft texture and Sichuan spices, and smoked chicken liver pate with a sauce of old-style mustard. There’s also the quail sprinkled with Berber spices, which is delicious and spicy on the palate, but feels out of place on a platter full of chicken.

Grilled jerk chicken at Fins and Feathers.
Grilled jerk chicken at Fins and Feathers. Photo by Ryan Baker.

The gJerk Chicken is another of the restaurant’s curve balls. While the chicken is succulent and falls off the bone, the seasoning is surprisingly mild. Served over a bed of cilantro-lime rice, this traditionally spiced dish turned out to be refreshing. The Nola BBQ Shrimps with Toast was served with the nearly overcooked prawns, but the dish still served as a handy container for the buttery garlicky Worcestershire broth with a scent that could be detected throughout the restaurant. It was frustrating that the shrimp was slightly chewy and the cilantro lime rice was still slightly dry and chewy.

No Gulf Coast meal is complete without fried seafood. Fins and Feathers performs its beaten cornmeal catfish and oysters perfectly. An impressive detail was the custom pasta seasonings. The one for the oysters had a strong acid sting not present in the catfish batter. Other menu items include fresh oysters, Okra, smoked chicken enchiladas, blackened catfish and F&F Fried Chicken.

The restaurant also offers more than half a dozen side dishes including green cabbage with smoked turkey, Red beans and rice, creamed corn, potato saladand a heavy smoked gouda macaroni and cheese.

The dessert menu offers pecan nuts and apple pies, New York Cheesecakeand Big D’s Donut Dreamsicle. It’s easy to overlook the beer and wine selections as these are not on the food menu nor did we receive a second drinks list.

Cornmeal Breaded Catfish and Oysters at Fins and Feathers.
Cornmeal Breaded Catfish and Oysters at Fins and Feathers. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Right now, at least, Fins & Feathers’ Achilles’ heel is service and organization. There was no record of our reservation. Most of the staff seemed inexperienced and the entrance was crowded leaving little room for guests to check in. The main dining room was spacious, however, and comfortably housed the twenty or so tables. We were seated next to the hostess booth and at one point a pile of menus fell on me. While it’s good for waiters to check on customers, we had a helicopter waitress who stopped so often we barely had time to enjoy the experience.

As for overcooked and undercooked dishes, this can be normal in newly opened places, as restaurants are full of variables that are discovered and smoothed out in the first few weeks. Guests planning to visit soon should understand this fact and exercise patience.

Fins and Feathers is open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Reservations are available at open table.


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