Who knew Avenida De Las Americas cleaned up so well? With just 17 days until Super Bowl LI, the once-meager downtown avenue breathes new life, now fully stocked with show-stopping art installations, a plethora of outdoor seating, and myriad restaurants and bars.
The revamped corridor by the George R. Brown Convention Center, coined Avenida Houston, will eventually anchor a bevy of locales perfect for gazing and grazing, but for now, Landry’s newly-minted Grotto Ristorante takes center stage as one of the first restaurants to make its Avenida debut.
Grotto is best known for its chic Westheimer digs, which tout old country trattoria surrounds alongside a conventional Italian menu, but the brand’s new Downtown installment, stationed at 1001 Avenida De Las Americas, is ditching all things traditional for a more contemporary dining experience. From the ultra-modern decor to the diverse menu and cocktails, Grotto Downtown is giving Billion Dollar Buyer and Landry’s tycoon Tilman Fertti- ta‘s restaurant portfolio a fresh upgrade.
Warehouse-style interiors welcome guests, a stark contrast from the Grotto flagship’s old-world dining room. Clean lines echo throughout the space, which at 7 pm attracts a full-house of diverse diners. Scan the room, and you’ll find co-workers meeting for a drink; girlfriends gathering for a gab fest; or single patrons relaxing at the bar, where a duo of flatscreen televisions are on full display.
The bustling dining room rivals Grotto’s expansive outdoor patio, which features sleek fire pits, sprawling TVs, and a front seat view to the electric downtown scene.
The contemporary orientation extends to Grotto’s newly expanded menu, which features nearly 20 small plates (a first for the brand), as well as Ital- ian-inspired entrees, Neapolitan pizzas, soups, salads, pastas, and the largest Grappa collection in Downtown Houston.
Start your visit with petite standouts such as butternut squash tortellini coated in a sage brown butter; mini meatballs accompanied by shots of sweet marinara sauce; Caesar flatbread sure to make you abandon the traditional salad; carciofi — fried artichokes with parmesan aioli; and the crisp arancini, which is stuffed with grappa risotto, creamy mozzarella, and salty pancetta.
Other menu highlights include the Nero, comprised of house-made squid ink pasta, pork belly, baby shrimp, and English peas; Grotto’s signature Neapoli- tan thin-crust pizzas; and more traditional Italian fare like the whole branzino laced with a warm pancetta vinaigrette and served with pickled raisin and celery slaw. A high-tech craft cocktail program complements the refreshed menu.
It’s worth noting that the restaurant’s diverse small plate options and new, whimsical drink program cement Grotto’s place as much more than just a dining destination. We predict that Grotto will soon evolve into the Down- town convention district’s long-awaited, go-to haunt.
But of all the upgrades, one of Grotto’s best assets is its location; and we aren’t just talking Super Bowl. Sure the eatery is stationed at the nucleus of Super Bowl LI’s main events, but long after the big game has left the city, Grotto’s digs will still reign supreme — just steps from the new Marriot Marquis, the revamped George R. Brown Convention Center, the Hilton Americas-Hous- ton hotel, Discovery Green, and more.
“Whether heading to a game at Minute Maid Park or a business meeting at Toyota Center or George R. Brown,” Grotto executive Brandon Busch says, “Grotto will be one of the most comfortable and welcoming dining experienc- es in the area, offering first-class service and unmatched views of Downtown.”