After Raising Eyebrows, Benny Chows Gives Cantonese Cuisine a ‘Texas Touch’ in Houston

Ben Berg, the restaurateur behind Hospitality Berg, has brought nearly a dozen restaurants to Houston, some of which are deeply embedded in the local dining scene. Among them is Sofia Trattoria and Italia B.B., Which serves Chinese cuisine and pasta and pizzas, and Havana Emilia’s, a late-night spot with live entertainment and rooftop views of New York City. For those seeking steak, Butchers B&B is a popular choice, while Cafe Annie offers an Instagrammable brunch experience.

The marketing of Houston’s existing Chinese and American food scene was dismissive of Chinese food, as expressed by some members of the AAPI community who told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year. The initial presentation of the Chinese faux establishment’s name and marketing seemed problematic — however, the restaurant has drawn criticism from the community. In the area, it is common for Chinese celebrations to be hosted at fancier Chinese restaurants, where the food is seen as comforting. Berg, who grew up in New York City, says his personal experiences there, such as eating Chinese food and hot dogs on the street, inspired the restaurant. According to a release, the restaurant on Washington Avenue incorporates elements of Texas cuisine and is a swanky Cantonese “New York-style” establishment called Benny’s Chows.

According to Mr. Chow, adding the name “Chow” to my food is a playful way to acknowledge the famous location of New York. However, Berg says that he doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable with the name. Although we continue to build restaurants for everyone, we have recently abandoned the term “elevated” in our marketing materials for Benny Chows.

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The restaurant, which serves Impossible meat as a substitute for tofu in mapo tofu and half-fried tempura chicken, also offers a reinterpretation of General Tso’s chicken, made in-house with Chinese sausage and brisket smoked in Houston and Brenham. To pay homage to Texas barbecue culture, the Holy Trinity fried rice combines Chinese sausage, smoked brisket from the BBQ Truth, and rolls it all into smoked brisket egg rolls. The menu features 55 items that include dim sum and dumplings, showcasing the chef’s 30 years of experience in Cantonese restaurants throughout Asia. Executive chef Mei Shirong, who is nicknamed “White Berg,” will oversee the kitchen, bringing his expertise and culinary skills to the Chinese-born restaurant.

Benny Chow’s dining room, which features red and gold wallpaper with Chinese landscaping scenes, and banquettes.
Ben Berg considers Benny Chows an ode to New York-style Chinese restaraunts.
Jenn Duncan

Benny Chows offers a variety of dishes on their menu, including whole lobster, foie gras, white sturgeon caviar, and seafood-filled XO fried rice. Additionally, they will be serving a 7-pound Jurgielewicz duck over a span of three days, their unique take on Beijing duck.

The tropical drink is served in a large crystal decanter, meant to be shared. It is also an outlier on Mr. K’s Scorpion menu, and most intriguing. The cocktail Mamma’s Garden China is a nod to the late owner of Houston’s Garden China restaurant, Marian Jue, also known as “Mamma.” The menu of Garden China points to some history too: Some of the cocktails are named after the seven Chinese restaurants that Berg grew up in New York, which offers eight tea-infused cocktails at the bar.

Japanese whiskey, which includes spirits from bottles that hold towers, is protected by a horseshoe-shaped bar. At the entrance of the “moon” wall, there are often Chinese Foo lions guarding the popular feng shui symbol. The overall effect of the restaurant’s design can be described as an amorphously kitschy, mid-century American aesthetic with hand-painted Chinese wallpaper depicting Chinese “landscapes”. Berg, the CEO, says that the design incorporates antiques and decor from the Chinese culture, dating back to 200 years ago. Sensitori firm’s vice president of design, Gail McCleese, teamed up with Berg to bring their expertise and attempt to replicate a New York-style Cantonese restaurant. Berg says that the design process has been the most layered and complex out of all his restaurant ventures.

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Berg Hospitality owner Ben Berg and chef Shirong Mei pose for a photo in the dining room of Benny Chows.
Ben Berg teamed up with chef Shirong Mei to make his dreams of bringing New York-style Chinese cuisine to Houston, but with a Texas touch.
Jenn Duncan

Resonate believes that Benny Chows will contribute to the greater community dining experience in New York-style Cantonese restaurants. It remains to be seen how Asiatown, particularly the Katy and Bellaire areas in Houston, will be filled with Asian-owned restaurants.

Berg states, “This is something I’m enthusiastic about,” emphasizing that the eatery has been his fervent endeavor for two years. “It originates from a positive source.”

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