Inside the Ranch Saloon and Steakhouse, Houston Rodeo’s first full-service restaurant and bar

The pianist inside the hottest new restaurant and bar in town chirped a tune as familiar to Houstonians as a humid Gulf breeze.

This place has a lot of whiskey. But no black tie. If you’re showing up in boots (or almost, for that matter), slip into the oasis that’s only open 21 days at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. welcome to The Ranch Saloon + Steakhousethe very first sit down restaurant and bar in RodeoHouston’s 90 year history.

Both casual and fine-dining, the massive new full-service restaurant made its debut Monday on the first day of the rodeo. Open until March 20, when the rodeo concludes, the site east of NRG Stadium is a project of Berg Hospitality Group, known for its collection of upscale restaurants including B&B Butchers & Restaurant, The Annie Cafe & Bar, Turner’s and BB. Lemon.

RODEO GUIDE: PreviewHouston’s insider guide to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

And it’s unlike anything rodeo-goers have ever encountered: a first-come/first-serve dual bar and restaurant and a true gourmet steakhouse where tables can be secured by reservation. Already there are peak meal times throughout the rodeo’s run that are sold out at the steakhouse, proof that there are rodeo patrons who are willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for caviar, oysters and a selection of expensive, premium cuts of beef as well as king crab legs and lobster tails.

“You can go up and have a beer and a burger, but you can also come in for a wagyu steak,” said Benjamin Berg, owner of Berg Hospitality, who has worked on the project for two years. “We offer something for everyone – a multiple rodeo experience.”

So what awaits visitors to the Ranch Saloon + Steakhouse? Here is your cheat sheet:

Space: At nearly 16,000 square feet, the tent site offers a variety of distinct areas. Guests enter through the living room, anchored by a massive bar. The saloon is open to all, no reservations are required and can accommodate 140 people. There are dining tables, evening shows, and a cozy boutique bar, the Veneno Tequila Bar serving liquor from a brand co-owned by Houstonian Javier Loya. To the right of the living room, guests will find a hallway – two private dining rooms to the left and right – which open to the full-service steakhouse that seats 240 people. 100. The venue has its own bathrooms and even a shoe shine station.

The decor: The setup is grand – lantern chandeliers; wallcoverings with majestic scenes of desert sunsets, cowboys, horses and buffaloes, cattle ranching romance and dreamy western views; illuminated paintings and photographs; cowboy patterns and blankets and serapes. Overhead, the steel frame beams of the tent were clad in real wood to suggest a roughly hewn reality. Houston-based catering and event planning Swift + Company is responsible for the look of the venue. Even the servers and bartenders look the part in cowboy scarves.

The food: Expect two distinct menus of dishes drawn from Berg’s restaurants. The rustic side of the Saloon offers entrees including campechana, blue crab cakes, chili, thick bacon, calamari and peppers, tuna tartare, oysters, shrimp cocktail, crab tostadas, bacon-wrapped quail and tortilla soup from The Annie. There are also salads and sandwiches, including burgers, a club sandwich, a barbecue chicken sandwich, and a quarter-pound wagyu hot dog. Steaks? Yes: Filet mignon, sirloin and prime rib grilled. Other entrees include blackened salmon, steak tips served over mashed potatoes, steak fries, barbecue ribs, pork chop, bone-in chicken shank, and rigatoni with mushrooms.

The Steakhouse menu is an upscale indulgence. Entrees include sizzling thick bacon, bagged oysters, raw oysters, king crab cocktail, shrimp cocktail and caviar service at four price points – with the most expensive Petrossian royal sevruga for $245. Caviar at the rodeo? Oh, it’s better. The beef lineup includes Prime Steaks (Sirloin, Porterhouse, Bone-in Rib Eye, Bone-in New York Striploin, Bone-In Tenderloin, T-bone and Long-bone); American wagyu (tenderloin, flank steak and rib eye); and A-5 Japanese wagyu and kobe cuts between $260 and $285. Other entrees include wasabi-crusted tuna, seared salmon, crab cakes, pork chop, chicken, roasted Alaskan king crab legs, and market-priced lobster tails.

The drinks: Wine by the glass selections include bubbly and a selection of white and red wines, priced at $14 to $28. Beer? Of course, including a bucket of canned beer (six for $45). Signature cocktails include the B&B Manhattan based on Maker’s Mark and the B&B Martini based on Bombay Sapphire Gin. The big fun is in the cocktails on the tap list which includes Ranch Water (Maestro Dobel Tequila and Topo Chico), the French Diplomat (Hendrick’s Gin, Effen Cucumber Vodka and Elderberry Liqueur), a Mint Julep made with Angel’s Envy Bourbon and the Strait Margarita featuring George Strait’s Codigo silver tequila.

The scene: Berg, who said he worked on the project even before the pandemic, left nothing to chance. Its state-of-the-art kitchen (which happens to be the largest of its catering operations) comes from a vendor that has established high-end food operations at events such as the Kentucky Derby, Bonnaroo, and Coachella.

“For two years we imagined this,” he said. “We hope this is the gathering place.”

While there really is a “if you build it, they’ll come” scenario at play, there’s a lot going on about this first full-service restaurant experience. Rodeo obviously has high expectations. But Berg asks a lot of himself and his team. The steakhouse was created to be a bustling affair, just like its other high-end canteens – a place for air-embracing glamor and powerful meals to see and be seen destined to leave an impression long after the last heads poster twirled at NRG The stadium and the last cow droppings were picked up on the sidewalk of NRG Park. Berg’s personal mantra was simple: “Let’s blow this up and make a big splash.”

The details: The Ranch Saloon + Steakhouse, 3 NRG Pkwy., will be open 4pm-11pm Monday-Thursday, 4pm-midnight (last seating at 11pm) Friday, 11am-midnight Saturday and 11am-11pm Sunday with brunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Live music in the Saloon is 5-8pm Monday-Friday; DJ music at other times. For more information and steakhouse reservations, see theranchatrodeo.com.

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