UPDATE: Chef Jonathan Jones Departs Xuco Xicana, Soon to Be El Patio Once Again

Categories: Restaurant News

PapaBeav.jpg
A mock Texas Monthly cover made by Jones's fans several years ago.
UPDATE: Owner Jon Deal says that Xuco Xicana isn't going anywhere right away. "It's not closing, for sure right now," Deal said over the phone. "If it weren't for the staff I have on hand, I probably would close. For their sake, I've gotta give the location and them the opportunity to make the adjustments they think is necessary."

Deal continued: "We probably are going to bring some of the El Patio classics back. They certainly do not want to discard the menu. They want to make some changes and bring some familiar foods back to the Midtown."

As for the restaurant's famous ceviche, Deal said that's not going anywhere either: "[Sous chef] Brandon Wilhelm is passionate about ceviche."

***

Chef Jonathan Jones was let go from Xuco Xicana late last week, and cooked his last meal at the restaurant last night as a pre-planned pajama party on Xuco's upstairs patio became his farewell party.

Jones, who was the executive chef at Beaver's before moving to sister restaurant Xuco Xicana -- both owned by local restaurateur Jon Deal -- will not be returning to the line at Beaver's, either, although he will still be involved with the icehouse in some capacity.

Deal, who is also an owner/investor in El Patio and 13 Celsius, among other ventures, made the decision after Xuco Xicana's brand of modern interior Mexican cuisine with a Gulf Coast flair failed to catch on with the Midtown neighborhood.

For all its accolades, Xuco was never as busy as its former incarnation, the Midtown location of El Patio. Although the famous blue El Patio margaritas and queso remained on Jones's revamped menu when he took over the kitchen and reimagined the space as Xuco Xicana, it wasn't enough to retain its earlier audience.

In a parallel to what happened with Yelapa Playa Mexicana, which closed last year, it appears that Houston -- a city firmly in love with old-school Tex-Mex food -- isn't yet prepared to accept modern, often edgy interpretations of its central cuisine.

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Adios, Lady Xuco.
Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook joined a chorus of disappointed fans over the weekend when news of Jones's departure became public. "He'd made it one of the best Mexican restaurants in [Houston]," she wrote on Twitter. Cook further stated: "I would also argue that under Jonathan Jones, Xuco Xicana was one of the best restaurants in town, period."

The Houston Press gave Jones's spicy Jalisco-style wings a Best of Houston® award in 2011 for their complex vinegar-based hot sauce (a combination of chile de arbol, allspice, cloves, cumin, pepitas, garlic and toasted sesame seeds) and crumbled queso fresco topping -- all refreshing takes on an often-tired standard. We also named Jones's Peruvian-style ceviches made with fresh Gulf bycatch the No. 2 dish in Houston on our list of 100 Favorite Dishes.

For his part, Jones is supportive of Deal's decision, even if it means parting with a concept that Jones had been working toward for years. "This was a necessary move," wrote Jones on Saturday. "Tough year for restaurants all around," he added further.

When we last spoke on Friday, Jones told me that Xuco Xicana would be closing and returning to its former roots as El Patio. No word yet on when this transformation will take place, but expect it to occur swiftly.

On the bright side, Jones has already teamed up with another of Houston's brightest talents, sommelier Jonathan Honefenger. The two plan to host impromptu "pop-up" dinners of their own while Jones transitions to his next venture.

"Look for my pop-up brunches and dinner series late February - March with @JonSomm and many more!" Jones wrote on Saturday. "MY TURN!"



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50 comments
lupe tortilla
lupe tortilla

Tender and tasty flour tortillas can be used as a side bread for dipping, the main attraction to hold the contents of dinner, or just as a snack, warmed up and spread with soft creamy butter. I've even created spectacular tortilla desserts that my family clammers for! 

lupe tortilla
lupe tortilla

.flour, fat, water, salt, and that's it! However, when these humble ingredients are mixed together in the proper way, suddenly they are transformed into a delicious soft and tender wrap for savory chicken, spicy beef, tender pork, or any type of meat, fish, vegetable or even fruit that you can think of!

lupe tortilla
lupe tortilla

.flour, fat, water, salt, and that's it! However, when these humble ingredients are mixed together in the proper way, suddenly they are transformed into a delicious soft and tender wrap for savory chicken, spicy beef, tender pork, or any type of meat, fish, vegetable or even fruit that you can think of!

The Marlboro Woman .
The Marlboro Woman .

This is so par-for-the-course in Houston and very reminiscent of the closing of Ciudad in Dallas.  Any time a restaurant enterprise deigns to venture outside the Tex-Mex box, the gooey cheese, bland chili sauce crowd turns up its nose.  Sadly, it's not just Mexican cuisine.  A recent trip to the newly-opened  Pizaro's Pizza found one lone couple dining at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. Although their authentic Napoletana-style pizza is a welcome departure from what Pizza Hut and Domino's try to pass off as Italian, unless business picks up, this inventive eatery is doomed. 

Houstonians for the most part aren't terribly adventuresome in the first place and moving out of their culinary comfort zones isn't in the genes. It's what keeps Cracker Barrel and Luby's in business.

Someoneelse
Someoneelse

The restaurant is still going to carry these dishes, the kitchen at EL XX had and still has a staff that cooks these dishes. Chef Jones came up with good food yes, but what most fail to realize is that with Chef Jones schedule he was spreading himself all over Houston that most of your meals came from his staff. Being a celebrity Chef is hard work keeping up with the media and also promoting your restaurant takes up most of your time. Just think of the staff that supported him and still continue to drive EL XX.

Texmex01
Texmex01

Bring back El Patio, then sit back and enjoy your profits.....

Scooter Pooter
Scooter Pooter

another dump that ms shrillkunk lavished praised on has bit the dust....ironic?  me thinks not!!!

Carla Soriano
Carla Soriano

I was sad to hear that Chef Jonathan Jones & XX were parting ways. While I only tried the fare at XX twice (the last time being this past Sunday), it was enough to realize that the quality of the food served at XX was superior. I certainly had not had the pleasure of experiencing true Mexican food here in Texas, or anywhere else for that matter, that was so well executed that it succeeded in making you forget that you were dining at a spot located north of the Rio Grande.

When I heard the news contained in the above article (via @eatingourwords:twitter ' twitter) - my first reaction was dismay. My next reaction was intrigue. "What happened? What's the explanation behind a seemingly successful restaurant, the recipient of countless accolades from the Houston food community, going its separate ways from its equally highly esteemed Executive Chef?" I tried to put the puzzle pieces together based on tweets by @eatingourwords, @alisoncook & @papabeav:disqus. Unsuccessful at connecting the dots in this culinary riddle, my interest was peaked by @eatingourwords:disqus' tweet concerning the subject: "We'll have more about it on the blog Monday, but for now I'll just say that the loss of @XucoXicana is a significant blow to Houston himself." From the moment I read that tweet, my anticipation rose - I couldn't wait to read some real insight via quality reporting about the whole situation. However, once I finished reading this article, I realized I gained little more insight into the situation than by readingthe tweets by the aforementioned tweeters.

I was disappointed to see that the article was more or less a wordy re-cap of the precise tweets that had planted many questions in my head. In order to answer some of those questions, I would have liked to read some substantial theories about the incongruity between the high amount of compliments & the unsubstantial amount of clientele that XX received. I guess I was expecting something meatier than "it appears that Houston -- a city firmly in love with old-school Tex-Mex food -- isn't yet prepared to accept modern, often edgy interpretations of its central cuisine." Additionally, I would have enjoyed reading a bit more about Chef J.J.'s thoughts on the situation - material garnered from, say, an interview with him. Finally, I would have loved to hear more RE: Chef Jonathan Jones' future endeavors. This article states that, apart from him not being employed at XX, he "will not be returning to the line at Beaver's, either, although he will still be involved with the icehouse in some capacity". This was a mere regurgitation of a tweet by the chef himself- not what i expected from the Houston Press. I was expecting a bit more prose about the celebrated chefs' future endeavors. What does it mean, anyway, for someone to be involved with a restaurant in "some capacity"? Beats me.

In short, all that I am trying to say is that I think that the journalistic merit of this article is uncharacteristically low for the @houstonpress's and @katherineshilcutt:twitter, whose articles I usually find to be fantastic - typically composed of interesting subjects and a lot of great insight; just overall inspired compositions worthy of praise. I wish that the same could be said of this article. I write these words not out of malice or disgrace, but rather for the sole purpose of providing constructive criticism, from an humble reader to an award-winning author.

Francesco Orodinapoli
Francesco Orodinapoli

The food at XX was excellent. I never had a bad meal there. I was concerned about the name from the start, though. This is a town where the more successful Mexican restaurants carry a person's name or an easily pronounceable Spanish word. I am concerned too about such names as Underbelly, etc. much preferring if the restaurant would have been called Shepherd's (on Westheimer) for example. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

Sorry, I went with a friend to try this place out and neither one of us were impressed with the food; and we were trying the things that Alison raved about.  I like to think I know good food in this town, and I didn't feel this place was one of them.  Apparently, Houston diners agreed.  But I haven't been too happy with the meals at Yelapa and Hugo's, either.

Matthew
Matthew

it's a shame ITL folks can't appreciate good food when it's right there in front of them. maybe if they'd offered ranch dressing and skee-ball?

ec
ec

it appears that Houston -- a city firmly in love with old-school Tex-Mex food -- isn't yet prepared to accept modern, often edgy interpretations of its central cuisine.------------------------------------------------------Too bad you actually believe the above statement.  Houston will accept any GOOD food.  Both Yelapa and Xuco Xicana didn't meet the criteria.  Foodies hailed both restaurants but when you actually ate there, the food was bad.  Critics raved about Yelapa and the "homemade tortillas" but they were clearly out of a package just like the sauces were out of a bottle.  The only good thing I had at Xuco Xicana were the refried beans.  Rice was dried out. 

Mama Juice
Mama Juice

What a disappointment!  We dined there Sunday for a late lunch and have always been impressed with the food. It saddens me that yesterday I unknowingly ate my last JJ Choriburger.  I will miss you Hot Wangs.

Fletch89
Fletch89

Sad. I ate at El Tiempo on Sunday, and was reminded just how bad a popular place that rings big numbers can be. I wish I'd tried JJ's stuff more.

Guest
Guest

I'm sad I didn't get a chance to try it.  I also enjoyed Yelapa, but the service was just too bad to want to return. I get the impression that the same happened at Xuco Xicana

Jonathan R. Cohen
Jonathan R. Cohen

One of these days, more people will realize the talent Chef Jones has. If I had the cash, I'd open a restaurant with him. Looking forward to the next step in his career. 

Bobby K
Bobby K

Shame. Spotty service but good food. Maybe it was the name that nobody could pronounce.

Shitty McCockpoop
Shitty McCockpoop

Even when I was the only one there, I still had terrible service.  The waiters at this place basically dared diners to stay.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

It's a shame. This really was probably my favorite restaurant in Houston at the moment. But we had a habit of going on Sunday nights and were usually the only ones there.

Nony
Nony

 There are PLENTY of real Mexican restaurants in Houston -- just not in affluent neighborhoods like the Heights, Midtown, or Montrose. Go try the 5th ward. I recommend El Jalapeno.

Nony
Nony

 Talk about wordy recaps ^^^^^^^

Winelush
Winelush

Omg, you so need to get laid.  That was exhausting. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

I'll also point out that when I let folks know that El Patio was returning, the general consensus was optimistic.  Like it or not, the concept wasn't working.

Mins
Mins

May I please remind you that YOU ARE NOT READING THE NEW YORK TIMES OR THE WASHINGTON POST! This is the Houston Press. It's an alternative weekly newspaper. Just be glad you weren't reading the Free Press Houston. Now, get back to work! 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm sorry the article sounded like simple regurgitation to you, but everything I knew about JJ leaving got out - on Twitter - over the weekend. And since it did, which I obviously have no control over, I linked back to public Tweets that substantiated the same things JJ told me on Friday so that people could see the public conversation around his departure (which I thought was equally interesting as the departure itself).

I don't know if you were expecting some juicy dirt or directions to where the bodies are buried, but sometimes this is just how the news works. :)

Houstess
Houstess

I agree that local restauranteurs pay too little (or is it too much?) attention to their place names.  The name was unwieldy, and difficult to conjure up when discussing where to eat.  Hence easy to pass on.  The same principle applies to so many other cleverly named Houston places that I have forgotten.  The place name IS important, chef.  Witness, Feast, Reef, Hugo's, Phillipe.   Roll right off the tongue.

Wuwu
Wuwu

I'm sorry I will call a spade a spade but seems like every other month there was a different chef arrving at the front door of this place and another leaving off the loading dock.  Tweet this and tweet that on who was coming and who was going, really do we care???? People, so so many choices in this town and this places lands in the "average food" catagory!

Kylejack
Kylejack

An obscure burn, to be sure. Well-played.

bfisch
bfisch

as the former chef of yelapa i can assure that the 4'8" lady in the back slaving away with masa was hand pressing every tortilla and also made the table sauces. I dont know where to even buy bagged tortillas of that thickness. you really need to work on your taste buds and commenting as well. both chef jones and I spilled our hearts into our food at our establishments and we appreciate the criticism however neither place was using bottled sauces and yelapa most definately never ever used store bought tortillas

Clumsy Plumsy
Clumsy Plumsy

Uh-oh, someone must've said the magic word: "Yelapa"! And in a complete non-surprise, ec emerges from his/her troll cave with the same bogus complaints and vaguely anti-foodie rants about restaurants that critics like. Ignore.

Canton
Canton

I ate at Yelapa several times and always had good food and good service. I ate at XX a couple of times and enjoyed it too. I do have to say however that not a lot of people are open to the kind of food XX and Yelapa were creating. A damn shame because it was good. Shame that places like this go down the pipe while mediocre "old school" Tex Mex like El Real continue to exist.

Florida63
Florida63

If you thought he sauces were out of a bottle you never went there. Good thing Lupe Tortilla is still open for you.  Now THERE'S some tex-mex we can get behind!

Wyatt
Wyatt

I'm no foodie, but I'm not an uncritical rube, either, and the couple times I went there it was very good.

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

I ate at XX last Thursday and it was excellent.

ShitThrowingMonkey
ShitThrowingMonkey

If you order something at El Tiempo that is not called a fajita or a parillada, well, you get what you deserve.

Maggie_Mae
Maggie_Mae

Since you were "reminded" how bad El Tiempo is, you were obviously paying a return visit.  

Are you a graduate of Texas A&M?

Kylejack
Kylejack

Yeah, some of the waiters were just awful. Sometimes I finished my meal and waited over half an hour for the waiter to re-appear with the tab.

Additionally, I think they never fully let go of the old El Patio atmosphere. On at least two weekend night visits there were people at nearby tables competing to see who could drink a whole pitcher of blue margaritas first (table saying "Go! Go! Go!"), bumping my chair, spilling, etc. I was willing to put up with this crap for great food, but it's not the type of place I was going to bring family or out of town guests on Friday or Saturday night.

Still, I'm really going to miss the food. I first met Jones' pozole as a special at Beaver's and it blew me away. When it re-appeared at XX it had somehow gotten even better. It's going to be hard not being able to get that fix.

Sconklin3
Sconklin3

They aren't closing!! They are too good to close.  Somebody should do some research before writing about business closings.  I got the inside scoop from someone who still works there.  So continue your Sundays as usual!!

Kylejack
Kylejack

There's an El Patio elsewhere. This is the only XX.

Wagyu
Wagyu

Honestly, JJ was the only chef I knew of at XX. Brandon Fisch came and went but as far as others, I'm not sure. Anyone got a scorecard on chef's at XX?

CG
CG

If I could like this 100 times I would

ec
ec

Interesting response because when I complained about the tortillas, the manager came out and apologized that they in fact were using packaged tortillas.  Xuco Xicana used packaged crispy taco shells for their tacos.  My taste buds know the difference between good and bad food.  It only took one trip to recognize failure.

ec
ec

Interesting response because when I complained about the tortillas, the manager came out and apologized that they in fact were using packaged tortillas.  Xuco Xicana used packaged crispy taco shells for their tacos.  My taste buds know the difference between good and bad food.  It only took one trip to recognize failure.

Fletch89
Fletch89

things can change over the years and actually, maggie_mae...or are you a Republican

Sconklin3
Sconklin3

They aren't closing - you'll still be able to eat that good food!

Sconklin3
Sconklin3

Just because JJ is leaving doesn't mean El XX is done!

Sconklin3
Sconklin3

Brandon Wilhelm is at El XX and his ceviche has been in the Houston press recently.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

JJ was the executive chef at Xuco Xicana for its entire duration. He had a few different sous chefs in and out, but that's par for the course at any restaurant.

Fletch89
Fletch89

...actually impove....actually get better....was my full thought

Kylejack
Kylejack

The pozole was not quite as good on Saturday. Hopefully not a sign of things to come.

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