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The vintage neon sign that has remained dark since Little Pappas Seafood House shuttered in June 2020 is illuminated once again. The newly transformed restaurant, still under the umbrella of the Pappas family of restaurants, reopened in May and has been reimagined with a fresh new look, a talented Californian chef at the helm, and a playful new moniker honoring its roots – Little’s Oyster Bar.
From warm and inviting barbecue joints to renowned steakhouses with white gloved service, Pappas Restaurants are tried and true in the Lone Star State, and have been drawing in diners for decades. The opening of Little’s, under the direction of chef Jason Ryczek, marks a new era for the trusted hospitality group, as it is the company’s first ever chef-driven restaurant. Christina Pappas, Director of Marketing for Pappas Restaurants, admits the decision to focus on seasonality, and fresh seafood offerings versus fried ones, came down to how the neighborhood has evolved in recent years. “It was originally going to be more casual – just a place you could get oysters – but then it morphed,” she explains. The team reevaluated and explored how they could differentiate themselves. “We saw a hole in the Montrose market for a place like this, so we changed our mindset and decided it had to be chef-driven.”
From the food to the decor, Houstonians returning to the storied space will note much has changed, but the iconic Pappas Seafood House sign continues to light the way. Here’s everything you need to know about Little’s Oyster Bar before you go.
1. Little’s received a hefty makeover.
Aside from the building’s vintage neon signage, the restaurant has had a full facelift and has come a long way since its Little Pappas Seafood House days. “It looked nothing like this before; everything is new,” says Pappas. She admits that before Covid hit, Little Pappas Seafood had some work done, including having the ceilings painted and adding new window treatments. When the decision was made to open as an entirely new restaurant, they relied on Pappas’ in-house architects and in-house interior decorators to handle the rest. The space was revamped with 80 indoor seats, 50 additional seats on a weatherproof patio, and an extended bar that serves as a central focus in the main dining room.
2. Oysters are an obvious choice, but considering the caviar service would be wise. Here’s why.
With the word “oysters” built right into the restaurant’s name, it’s only natural to want to start there. At Little’s, the spotlight is on East Coast oysters, and they’re available on the half shell with traditional accoutrements, or broiled with gruyere. But Little’s satisfies when it comes to caviar cravings as well. Ryczek honed his chops at the California Caviar Company and harvested six California white sturgeon specifically for Little’s. Beyond the restaurant’s killer service, which combines caviar with housemade fried potato dumplings, onion jam, creme fraiche, radish butter, and chives, Ryczek has controlled the salt ratio in the roe allowing for its natural flavor to shine.
3. Gems from the sea rule the menu.
With the exception of a dry-aged New York strip, and a handful of salads and sides, Little’s is wholly focused on seafood. The restaurant prominently showcases its bounty in a glass case at the main bar – from gorgeous bivalves to plump wild Gulf shrimp and stone crab claws. There is an entire menu of chilled offerings, featuring items like Atlantic yellowfin tuna crudo with pickled watermelon rind and mint, likely becoming a fast favorite during Houston’s dog days of summer.
Ryczek gets creative with dishes like the Creole bisque, incorporating scallops in lieu of shrimp or crab, and combining the delicate meat with cognac creme fraiche; and the grilled octopus, which appears with marble potatoes and a splash of tangy schug sauce. Alternatively, he takes a simple approach to the Texas redfish, presenting it only with a salty salsa verde made with Castelvetrano olives.
4. Be prepared for the menu to evolve with the seasons.
In an effort to showcase the freshest seafood possible, the menu at Little’s may vary between guests’ visits. “This is a very different approach for Pappas restaurants, but we want to change the menu weekly, along with offering at least one to two off-the-menu features,” says Pappas. She adds Ryczek will lean on bounty from the Gulf, sourcing locally as much as possible. At the moment, the grouper with caper radish brown butter and the chicken fried red snapper are both from Gulf waters.
5. Like other Pappas concepts, the wine list is extensive and well curated, but don’t overlook the cocktails.
Robert Smith, Pappas Restaurants Fine Spirits and Expanding Concepts Wine Director, curated a wine list, complete with European whites, Champagne, and high-dollar bottles, but Little’s bar manager Oliver Brooks has done a fine job in complementing the offerings with a fresh and interesting cocktail menu. He puts the spotlight on aperitivo spirits, creating light and bright cocktails suitable for pairing with fresh seafood. With the Garibaldi Spritz, he uses Cappelletti in lieu of Campari, with clarified and carbonated orange juice, curacao and vermouth, for a lighter finish on the palate. The Tropic Like It’s Hot is a boozier option, crafted with El Tesoro Blanco tequila, fresh lime juice, coconut, passionfruit, and spiced with habanero bitters.
Little’s is open Sunday, Wednesday & Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m.; and Friday & Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.