New Wine Lounge in Old Benjy’s Digs Dishes Creative Bites

Bar bites and generous pours at Lees Den

SAY HELLO TO Lees Den, the intimate new wine bar bowing on Thursday on the top floor of Local Foods.

A Rice Village restaurant pioneer, owner Benjy Levit’s eponymous restaurant was the It Spot years before myriad bars and restaurants infiltrated the charming shopping mecca. Lees Den — a name inspired by Benjy’s mother’s name and the family’s favorite Chinese restaurant — is slated as a cool tropical treetop getaway in the city, with small plates and wines by the glass. (And, as is the trend lately, a speakeasy-style entrance.)

During the pandemic, Local Foods expanded to absorb the next-door Benjy's space, and offered grocer, counter-service meals and a second-floor wine shop dedicated to natural, organic, hard-to-find wines at below retail price. Now, boasting updated interiors by Brittany Vaughan of Garnish Designs — she blends modern comfort with vintage undertones, a la pale wood highlights and chartreuse velvet booths — the revamped upstairs lounge touts seating for about 60 guests inside and on the covered patio, which is, as always, a great spot for catching a sunset.

At the helm of Lees Den is general manager and wine director Chrisanna Shewbart, and executive chef Maria Gonzalez. Native Houstonian Shewbart is a certified sommelier with an adventurous palate and a passion for natural wines. Red, white and sparkling vino will be offered by the glass and rotated on a weekly basis (select signature cocktails also grace the menu). All other wines are available by the bottle at the bottle shop price with no corkage fee — and Shewbart promises some unique wines you can’t find elsewhere in the Houston area.

Chef Maria’s small plates and entrees will change with the season. Dig into Benjy’s Hurricane Popcorn featuring Korean red pepper salt, chocolate covered peanuts and other artisanal snacks from Local Foods Market. Decadent bites like pistachio-whipped goat cheese with date jam and flat bread share menu space with caviar-butter milk bread crafted with smoked trout roe; sesame-ginger meatballs; “Crudo of the Moment,” and Lees Salad. The “Midnight Pasta” or wood-roasted 44 Farms sirloin with potato puree and red-wine reduction are entrée options.

“Just as we created Local Foods to feature all the great purveyors we knew, we created Lees Den to highlight the unique skills of Chrissana and Maria, and their expertise clearly shines through this new concept,” said Levit in a statement.

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