Chris Shepherd never really thought it would get that popular. A tasting menu’s worth of meat and sides—a porterhouse, some NY strip, maybe a whole chicken cooked in the hearth, and more—served to an entire table at once on a giant wooden slab. The Baller Board was a carnivore’s fantasy that grew a cult following at the James Beard Award-winning chef’s steakhouse One Fifth. “We never put it on the menu, we never really talked about it,” Shepherd told Robb Report. “But once we did it a couple times, and photos started happening, people would come in and say, ‘I just want the Baller Board.’ It’s overwhelming. It’s shock and awe. After, people say, ‘What just happened to me?'”
It was communal, fun, and a massive hit. But in a matter of months, the Baller Board—like the restaurant that served it—was gone. Shepherd had committed himself to opening five restaurants in five years in the same space, with the first being his take on the steakhouse. So when One Fifth Steak had to make way for One Fifth Romance Languages last August, the meatopia sadly went away.
Fortunately, a Chris Shepherd-style steakhouse wasn’t gone for long. With the success of One Fifth Steak, the chef closed Underbelly, the restaurant that put him on the map, to create Georgia James, which opens for service tonight.
In the land of steakhouses, what drew people to One Fifth was how Shepherd approached the food. “It’s like coming into my home. How would I cook for you there?” he says. “Steakhouses use broilers and put them in these 9-million-degree fire boxes, but I cooked things like how I wanted to eat them.” That ethos continues at Georgia James (Named after his parents Georgia and James Shepherd), where steaks will be seared in cast iron or wood-fire grilled. Just as importantly, the Baller Board has returned and this time maybe you’ll get some wood roasted king crab lays splayed over the top of it.
Shepherd also wants to serve sides than the standard steakhouse fare. “I don’t need creamed spinach, a big thing of truffle fries, or gratin potatoes,” he says. “I like a really good whipped potato, creamed collard greens, and some Lamburger Helper.” Some Lamburger what? “It’s exactly what it sounds like. I grew up on Hamburger Helper. We went to a grocery store across the street, bought every single one and tried them all. Then decided we should make our own because it would be so much better.” What emerged ground lamb and pasta dish that’s heavy on nostalgia and even heavier on white cheddar.
As he has long been a proponent of Houston—at Underbelly the chef would recommend other restaurants in the city for people to eat at before they visit him again—he couldn’t help but give a nod to H-Town with one dish in particular. He’s transformed the classic iceberg wedge salad into what he calls “The Slab,” which is a reference to Houston’s hip hop car culture (Anthony Bourdain explored it during an episode of Parts Unknown), where tricked-out rides are called ‘slabs.’ Shepherd replaces the wedge with a thick disc of iceberg lettuce topped by Shropshire blue cheese, buttermilk peppercorn dressing, Benton’s bacon, tomato, and a little shaved red onion.
The dirty little secret of Georgia James is you’re more likely to see Shepherd with a slab than a steak. “I don’t really eat a lot of meat. I’m a seafood tower and a wedge salad type of guy,” he admits. “The Baller Board is perfect for me where I get to try a bunch of little things—a bite of ribeye, a bite of strip. The commitment of a giant steak really freaks me out.”