Eat, drink, shop.
by Marene Gustin
Urban Eats Bistro + Bar + Market is the kind of place where you can hang out most of the morning downstairs drinking coffee and noshing fresh baked pastries before heading upstairs for a lunch of meaty Cowboy Sliders on a yeasty roll with a side of Napa Black and Blue Shoestring Fries coated in blue cheese and truffle oil, and a local brew. After lunch, head back downstairs to shop for artisanal groceries for dinner.
Oh, and maybe pick up a painting or come back for a late supper and listen to some live tunes.
Yep, Urban Eats is that kind of place—a little something for everyone at most any time of the day. “I always wanted to open a coffee shop and bar,” says Levi Lucky Rollins, “and the concept just grew.”
Lucky isn’t a nickname, it’s a family name. “We’re a very lucky family,” Rollins says. “Both my father and grandfather are named Lucky.” And so far, Rollins has been very lucky indeed since opening Urban Eats on trendy Washington Avenue late last year. The place has stayed packed with locals, many of whom come back day after day.
Rollins, who is the co-owner and culinary director, didn’t start out in the culinary world, although both his grandmothers did have restaurants and he learned to cook at an early age. “I was born in Oregon and raised in Northern California,” he says. “My mother still lives in Folsom—the city, not the prison!”
He came to Houston in 2000 as vice president of sales for makeup artist Laura Mercier. Ten years ago, he decided to start saving 30 percent of his salary to fund his dream restaurant, and it’s taken him that long to build Urban Eats.
It was also 10 years ago this month that he met the man he married. “My mom came to visit, and she wanted to go to JR’s,” he recalls. “She insisted I go talk to this cute guy, so I did. That lasted two dates, but it was through him I met Eric Muñoz.”
Muñoz is now co-owner and vice president of operations at Urban Eats, and the couple spends six days a week there. Rollins is hoping they’ll have kids one day who will come to the restaurant and market to hang out and help.
The third principal is chef de cuisine Jason Grigar, a Houston chef with a very impressive handlebar moustache. He was working as a bond writer when Rollins approached him to be part of the team. “I thought he was wasting his talent, and I was right,” Rollins says. “He’s the perfect fit to take the foods I love and bring them to the table.”
Rollins and Grigar first met through Grigar’s husband, since they both worked for Laura Mercier. “We always used to double-date and hang out,” Rollins says. “But since we opened Urban Eats, there’s no time. Sometimes I think we’ll invite them over for dinner on a Sunday, but then I think that the last thing Jason wants to do is see me on our only day off.”
Rollins credits their success to the neighborhood. It took him about a year to renovate the abandoned auto repair shop (his father owned an auto shop, which is what drew him to the property). Neighbors were always stopping by and asking about the progress and what kinds of food they would have when they opened, “so we had a fan base waiting,” he says.
But it is the food, the drinks, and the company that keeps the regulars coming back. If you’re popping in to shop, do check out the pastas, pâté, sauces, olives, and prepared casseroles and side dishes. The Truffled 3 Pig Mac & Cheese (bacon, ham, and pancetta) is a good bet for an easy dinner—and don’t forget to pick up some monkey bread (Muñoz’s nickname is Monkey) and an addictive lemony tart for the next morning’s breakfast.
Diners feast on salads, soups, and sliders, along with artisan cheese and charcuterie plates and the popular braised Brussels sprouts pan-seared with bacon and onion.
There’s live music after 9 p.m., and vivid paintings by local artist Cheryl Burgess liven up the space. Rollins and Muñoz plan to rotate the art every few months to showcase local artists.
The couple currently lives in Missouri City with their three cats, but they plan to move closer to the restaurant soon. “The commute is a real killer,” Rollins says. “I do love the space, but I don’t have time to do any gardening or enjoy the house.”
He pauses for a moment before adding, “Frankly, our Christmas tree is still up.”
Such are the drawbacks of owning a successful restaurant.
Urban Eats Bistro + Bar + Market
3414 Washington Ave.
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.