Smile and say, ‘Cheese!’ at new macaroni restaurant
Unpretentious food in a relaxing, fun and comfortable atmosphere. And unexpected takes on that grand comfort food — macaroni and cheese — that play off the many cultures in the Houston area.
Those core ideas inspired Erik Janszen when he was developing the concept of the new niche restaurant, The Backyard Seabrook, which recently opened at 1401 Fourth St. in Seabrook.
“I had been in the industry for a little over a decade, most recently managing the back of house operations at Nobi Public House, and I was actually looking for another option careerwise,” said Janszen, who is the chef and co-owner of The Backyard. “I was going back to school for a degree in business at (the University of Houston) for nonprofit work and was planning on leaving the industry when my friend enticed me with co-ownership of the Backyard.”
Tasked by the friend, co-owner Jared Klein, with creating a concept, developing a menu and writing the business plan, Janszen found the offer too good to pass up.
“This business is almost all I had ever known, and I knew I was good at it; so I developed a menu with a theme we both loved and here we are, about a year later.”
The Backyard, whose menu focuses on gourmet macaroni and cheese recipes, recently had a grand opening Jan. 19.
“We killed it,” Janszen said. “The turnout was massive, the support for us has been fantastic — better than we could have ever dreamed — and we really love this community. They come out and support local businesses here, and that’s exactly what we want. A community we can give back to.”
Atmosphere, sustainability and, of course, good food are what Janszen feels will draw people to The Backyard.
“I love mac and cheese,” he said, “and I love Houston; so I wanted to try to develop a menu that both reflected and honored the diversity we have in the city. It’s eclectic, it’s multicultural, it’s friendly — I wanted to pay respects to all of those aspects of the city.”
Janszen’s menu pays homage to some of the cultures he feels help drive the diverse cuisine in the area.
“Traditional Mexican food, Vietnamese food, Thai, Cajun, Caribbean cuisine,” he said, “these are all some of the exciting flavors that Houston has to offer; so I created dishes that honored those cultures.”
From Nola mac, made with white cheddar, mozzarella, andouille sausage and blackened shrimp ($13), to Viet Mac, which boasts fresh ginger, garlic, basil and marinated flank steak ($13), Janszen tried to include something on the menu for anyone addicted to the popular comfort food. He even included a dish for the mac-and-cheese purist: OG Mac, which is made with sharp cheddar and parmesan cheeses and costs $9.75.
“It was absolutely critical to me that people come here and feel like they’re in a familiar comfortable place — a friend’s or family member’s house,” he said. “From the food to the atmosphere.”
This task was made a little easier by way of the already existing architecture of the restaurant, he said.
“It had been a house; so it already has that homey, comfortable feel,” he said.
There’s also a large “backyard” area complete with fire pits, places for dogs to play and a small area for live music.
“We don’t have regular bands lined up yet, but as we settle in we have plans to make live music a regular thing, maybe once a week or so,” Janszen said.
The concept for The Backyard included practicing ecological sustainability. Some of those plans — such as using as little plastic as possible and utilizing compostable to-go boxes and bags — are already in place. In the future, Janszen plans to do even more to lessen their footprint in the area and bring the community local, sustainable food.
“We have plans to start a compost pit on site,” he said. “We’ll also plant our own herb wall so that the herbs we use in our recipes will be as fresh as you could possibly get them. Down the road a little bit we’d also like to look into maybe starting a community garden. We already get all our beef from 44 Farms, which is just down the way, and our produce comes from Lone Star Produce, which sources all of their produce from within a 100-mile radius of Houston. Our goal is to do the most for our community and the environment that we can, to the best of our ability while also giving the community a place to relax and have fun.”
So far, Janszen said the staff has been pleased with the results of his enterprise.
“It’s been so overwhelming in the best possible way,” he said. “Seabrook is the type of community that’s so inclusive and welcoming of you that you can’t wait to find ways to give back to them.”