Food and Drink

How to Support and Celebrate the Black Community in Houston Right Now

Do your part.

Ray's Real Pit BBQ Shack
Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack
Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack

Houston’s Black community enriches all aspects of this city, from Third Ward jewels like the nearly 150-year-old Emancipation Park and empowering artistic hub, the Project Row Houses, to the food, music, art, and culture that have helped mold Houston into a diverse, world class place to be.

Black History Month is right around the corner, but Houston’s Black community should and will be celebrated all year round-and these are some of the best, safest ways to do that. Whether that means participating in community efforts, supporting local Black-owned businesses, or donating to Houston organizations that fight racial disparities, here’s how you can make a difference in Houston today.

Donate to local nonprofits and community efforts

The Houston branch of the NAACP strives to fight racial disparities on the local level, working to provide equality and focus on issues from voting rights and voter registration to racial profiling and economic inequality, and more. Donations are welcome online.

On a mission “to build a movement that transforms Houston into a city that allows Black Houston to grow and thrive,” Black Lives Matter Houston organizes local marches and programs to fight the racial injustice. Lead organizer Kandice Weber reached out to thank volunteers for their support, saying in a June 1 post, “Make sure the flame for Black lives continues to burn in you everyday. Solidarity.”

Lucille's
Lucille’s
Lucille’s

Support these Black-owned restaurants

Restaurants and bars across Houston have been devastated by the COVID-19 crisis, so spending your dollars at the businesses you care about is now more important than ever. Try using those dollars to support the vitality of the city’s Black-owned restaurants and bars.

In just a few short years, the Turkey Leg Hut has become a Third Ward staple. Owners Lynn and Nakia Price are big supporters of the community, organizing a virtual balloon release in honor of George Floyd (who grew up in the Tre and graduated from Yates High School) and donating their time and turkey legs to victims of Hurricanes Laura and Delta last year. Their work even earned them some well-deserved praise in our 2020 Local Hospitality Heros awards.

Lucille’s goes all the way back to Lucille B. Smith, educator, culinary innovator, and great-grandmother of brothers and restaurant owners Chris and Ben Williams. At their Museum District spot, the Williams brothers pay homage to their great grandmother via remakes and reinterpretations of some of her best, most soulful recipes. Midtown’s the breakfast klub is owned by native Houstonian Marcus Davis, who has built quite the community around his comfort food spot. Southwest Houston’s Cool Runnings Jamaican Bar & Grill, which has the “Triple D” seal of approval as well as a loyal local following, serves Caribbean fare. Also don’t forget the entire restaurant devoted to fried potatoes, The French Fry House, over in the Third Ward.

For Black-owned barbecue spots, look here: Greg Gatlin’s Gatlin’s BBQ; Ray’s BBQ Shack from Rayford “Ray” S. Busch, who learned his craft from a Third Ward legend; Burns Original BBQ, started by Roy Burns St. in 1973; and Boogie’s Chicago Style BBQ out in Missouri City.

Mico’s Hot Chicken was inspired by Nashville’s Prince’s Hot Chicken and recently went brick-and-mortar in the Heights. Co-owner Kimico Frydenlund recently shared her journey with the students of the local Baker Ripley Charter School during their Virtual Career Week, telling them, “I am living proof that no matter who you are or where you come from, your station in life, if you have a dream, you can make it come true with courage, perseverance, hard work. You can definitely change your life and those around you as well.”

While his Neo-soul restaurant Indigo will close its doors in July of 2021, chef Jonny Rhodes has also been focusing his efforts on sibling projects, Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries and the under-construction Food Fight Farms. The farm will eventually supply the grocery store, which sits over in local food desert Trinity Gardens and whose mission is to “combat food apartheid & food inequality while inspiring the community to cook at home.” And there are plant-based eateries Green Seed Vegan and Soul Food Vegan, plus Sunshine’s Health Food Store and Vegetarian Deli on Old Spanish Trail.

Houston Black Restaurant Week put together a comprehensive list of Black-owned area bars and restaurants that are offering delivery and takeout. And while, yes, takeout and social distanced dining are both welcome routes of support right now, donations are another. You’ll have to call and ask your favorites if they are accepting donations, and we’re sure they’ll appreciate your assistance at this time.

Project Row Houses
Project Row Houses
Project Row Houses

Support Black-owned galleries, arts organizations, and local retailers

You can help raise up Black culture by preserving it, supporting it, and amplifying it; and these local art houses, museums, and retailers are a great place to start.

Third Ward community staple the Project Row Houses has currently closed its art houses and community gallery until further notice due to COVID-19, but you can still support its efforts to spotlight cultural identity and its impact on the urban landscape by giving in the meantime. The Ensemble Theatre has been helping to preserve African American artistic expression and provide diverse roles for Black artists since the late George W. Hawkins​ founded it in 1976. The ensemble is ramping up its digital and live performances, as well as hosting weekly videos to share updates, personal stories, and words of encouragement for everyone. Any donations will help keep this important theater company and its mission afloat during this time.

Houston funk singer Kam Franklin and her group The Suffers have taken to live streaming performances, most recently adding activism into the mix and highlighting various social causes. The Chron put together an excellent playlist of other local Black artists to listen to and support.

Art enthusiasts can support Black-owned galleries like the Bisong Art Gallery, the Gite Gallery, and D&B African Village Arts. Or further preserve the exploration of history and culture via donations to museums including the Houston Museum of African American Culture and Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, both of which offer events and programming for the community.

There are ways to #BuyBlack, as well. African Imports in the Greenspoint Mall is currently offering a virtual shopping experience on its Facebook page that includes artwork from black creatives, Black History tees, books, masks, and more. Feel-good Houston-based eyewear brand 3rdEyeView recently partnered with the St. Hope Foundation to give glasses to patients in need; you can show your support of them by shopping them online. Luxe skincare and facial bar Swanky Beauty Bar owner Felice Simmons wants to debunk common myths surrounding beauty treatments for clients with darker skin tones. “There is really a science to what we are doing, and there is not a one size fits all. We are excited to offer customized procedures to our clients of all skin tones.” Visit for treatments from deep pore cleansing and men’s beard facials to waxes, brows, and lashes.

Need help in the kitchen? Chef Michelle Morris, who owns and runs the popular Well Done Cooking Classes in the Heights with her husband Darrell, has both virtual and limited in-person cooking classes available (buy a gift certificate for yourself or a friend if you prefer to stay home). Stay tuned for future events and virtual happenings from ChòpnBlọk, a pop-up dinner experience that connects local communities with West African culinary traditions; and the cool weekly lineup of sips, tastings, and live music at artsy wine bar & kitchen, Trez Art and Wine Bar.

Continue seeking out Black-owned businesses and services with this colossal directory from local site Houston Buy Black.

More ways to help?

Check out a list of national organizations we’ve compiled to help support the Black community and further the National Movement here. If you have thoughts on other businesses you’d like to see included in our local stories, please email feedback@thrillist.com.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who encourages you to take action in solidarity with the Black community in any way you can. Find her on Twitter @brookeviggiano.

Food and Drink

What We Learned About Fish From Spending An Afternoon With Josh Niland

It’s time to stop putting your fish in water, you’re killing the flavour

fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“How do you want your fish,” says a fishmonger dressed head to toe in black, to a customer ordering a kilo of Greenback Flounder from Coorong, SA. The customer is unsure of how he wants the fish but asks the fishmonger for advice after telling him what he plans to do with the fish. Immediately the fishmonger knows how to cut the flounder, wraps it in paper, and hands it off to the customer—but not before giving a tip or two on how to cook it. 

“This is how we sell trust and instil confidence,” says Josh Niland who appeared from around the counter, donning his chef whites and a crisp white apron. We’re in Fish Butchery, Niland’s fish shop in Paddington, 20-metres down the road from his two-hatted seafood restaurant, Saint Peter. It’s a humble fish shop that feels luxurious when you walk in. Perhaps, it’s the cased sausages hanging in the front window, or the glass cabinet with one of everything they’re selling that day on display. You won’t find piles of fish or large blue trays of ice with fish lying on top. Everything is in controlled cabinets, including the oysters.

The shop is long and narrow with exposed brick walls, which Niland explains had a previous life as a hair salon. “I never wanted the shop to be uptight, but I did want it to be beautiful, a place you could walk in, order fish and chips, or a piece of fish to cook at home,” says Niland. In the middle of the room, there is a slab of white-marble serving as the backbone. This is where the fish is descaled with what Niland likes to call a ‘beartrap on a stick’. Although some fishmongers wield the beartrap, flinging scales up their arms, others use a knife, slicing the scales in one long strip, resembling snakeskin. 

“The fish here will be used for sushi and sashimi,” Niland explains pointing at the fish being scaled by a knife. “What we’re trying to do here is to get between the scale and the fish, so we can control the texture of the fish and remove moisture from the fish.” 

Removing moisture from the fish is something we don’t see often, but as Niland explains, it is the most important step in preparing the fish. “You know that fishy fish smell you get a waft of walking into a fish market or other fish shop,” Niland asks. I briefly pause to remember smelling nothing when I walked into Fish Butchery, except the faint smell of fries sizzling in the fryer. “Well that’s because moisture gets into the skin, and when that happens water rapidly breaks down into ammonia, resulting in a fishy smell.” It’s another reason Niland often gets lost when a customer asks for a fish that’s not too fishy.

As he explains, fishy fish are only “fishy” because of the way it’s stored and handled. Which explains why the fish scaled with the bear claw are immediately hung, away from moisture. 

descaling fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“When the scaler rips up the scale, it leaves an open pocket where the scale used to be. This pocket is quite deep and what usually happens is the fish is washed down then dipped in water. The water sits in that pocket, and after some time creates a fishy smell,” explains Niland. 

This is the core of Niland’s philosophy. Removing moisture from the fish opens up a realm of opportunities that exists beyond the conventional method, according to Niland.

Our next step takes us to the cool room, where rows of gutted fish are hung up on silver hooks as butchers do to meat. They’re not swimming in buckets of ice or water, instead, they are dangling a safe distance from each other, careful not to touch one another. The coolroom is set to an optimal temperature, there is no fan blowing in the room, and only when the fish is ready to be served, then it will be unhooked and dealt with accordingly. 

“Every step from the catching, killing, and preparing is important in achieving flavour,” says Niland who points out a row of garfish in a dry tray. “If you kill a fish properly, there shouldn’t be any lactic acid, which you can tell by the flesh—it looks cooked.” 

So what’s the best way to humanely and effectively kill a fish? According to Niland, brain spike or bleeding the fish keeps the fish from flopping around, building up chemicals that can affect the flavour later on. 

Bringing the attention back to the garfish, Niland explains there are moments when fish tastes better. This tray of Garfish is ready to go, but then Niland points to a hanging coral trout which has until Friday before it’s served on someone’s plate. 

chef showing fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“This fish arrived today, it’s been scaled and gutted, but it won’t be ready until the end of the week. That’s not the case for all fish though, this tuna I would serve on day 8 or 9,” says Niland. “There’s a point where a fish’s fat is more prominent, which again comes back to removing as much moisture as we can and controlling the handling and environment from day one.”

Niland sources produce from fisherman around Australia and he takes only whatever he can get. 

“I go to the airport to pick up fish once or twice a week from my sources, and I’ll visit the Sydney Fish Market daily to see what they have, but at my shop, I serve whatever I can get my hands on,” explains Niland. “Our customers ask for recommendations so we tell them, King George Whiting is excellent today, and we might offer tips on storing it at home, how to cook it, and if I have a recipe card, I’m more than happy to share.”

As Niland explains it, not everyone knows how to cook a certain fish, and he wants more people to choose an unfamiliar fish, something they haven’t had before or cooked before. The best way to do so is by helping his customers understand the product. “The bottom line is we want people to have a better experience with fish,” says Niland. 

This stays true to his sustainable approach to fishing and his pioneering nose-to-tail eating method for fish. “The global standard is that half goes in the bin, which breaks down to about a 45% fillet yield,” says Niland who remains unaffected after 10-minutes of chatting in the cool room. “For every two fish, we only need one. I use about 95% of the fish.”

We finally leave the coolroom, to approach a small fridge, where fish are being dry-aged, but in a different control to the dry ageing fish in the coolroom. “It’s just another way to experiment with the flavour and natural method of prolonging shelf life,” says Niland. 

“I’m always thinking, how can I articulate the flavour of fish differences between coral trout and snapper.”

cuts of fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

Niland’s experimentation finds him continually exploring low-temperature storage, probing which fish works best for it, and noting when a fish reaches its sweet spot. More like a mad scientist, Niland is far from a conventional fishmonger, as he dives deep to push boundaries on how seafood is caught, shopped, and cooked whether at home or at Saint Peter. 

One look at his book, The Whole Fish Cookbook, is enough to convince you of his outrageous, funny, and loopy suggestions on what to cook, including coaxing delicious dishes from fish eyeballs. liver and even fish blood. 

If there is anything we can take away from spending an afternoon with Josh Niland, it would be his pioneering penchant for demystifying fish, his care and attention to preparing fish, and his sustainable seafood philosophy, that we hope catches on around the world. 

Niland enjoys the complexity of fish, yet breaks it down for us so that we can enjoy and achieve a perfectly cooked piece of fish at home. His humble approach to seafood is nothing short of inspiring. He wants to change the world, but it’s not going to be easy and you get the sense he knows that, but he continues, one fish at a time, to change how we cook, eat, and look at fish.

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