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When Matt Smith retired as Food and Beverage Director from Lakewood Yacht Club last year, the furthest thing from his mind was re-entering the restaurant business. After all, he had spent his entire life putting in countless hours at topnotch eateries in Houston, starting as a dishwasher and working his way up to bus boy before he whipped up his first main course.
So, Matt’s plan was to kick back, enjoy his family and spend leisurely time at his favorite pastime – fishing.
But long-time friend Tommy Tipton had other plans for Smith. Tipton started talking to Smith about opening a restaurant just a few short months after Smith’s retirement, but Smith kept telling him he was not interested. Yet, Tipton pursued the matter until Smith gave in. “I’m still angry at him,” Smith chuckles.
With 23 employees, Smith now oversees his Matt’s Restaurant & Lounge located at 3202 Marina Bay Drive. A 2,800-sqare-foot banquet facility is forthcoming next door and will seat between 120 and 144. Available for weddings, parties and other special events, Smith is excited to offer this venue.
Smith calls his atmosphere homey, yet to the average eye, you might want to tack on “with a pinch of elegance” because the interior is stylish with its dark leather sofas, lacquered cherry wood tabletops, high ceilings, and inviting bar. Outdoor dining is also available.
Smith’s menu is 100 percent his own recipes and any item is always available. If you want lamb chops or rib eye for lunch and it’s not on the menu, no problem. They do a lot of night specials as well: Lobster, chateaubriand, crab cakes, fresh catch of the day (Friday and Saturday nights). “I work very closely with Javier who is an excellent chef,” says Smith. Freshness is top priority here and Smith goes to the Farmer’s Market in Houston every morning to buy his produce.
“I’m proud of all our menu items,” says Smith, “but our two biggest sellers are fried chicken (secret family recipe) and my special liver and onions. We also do a lot of great lunch specials, and I’m getting ready to start a salad bar with oysters on the half shell.”
Lunch specials are savory and affordable (starting at $7.95) and they include: Red beans and rice with link sausage (Mondays), ham steak with red-eye gravy (Tuesdays), meatloaf (Wednesdesdays), turkey and homemade dressing (Thursdays), and fried catfish (Fridays). Monday night is the seafood buffet; Tuesday night is the comfort food buffet (pot roast, meatloaf, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables and salad). But you will always find steaks, lamb, fresh seafood and a variety of menu items for all palates. Pies are made from scratch (coconut a house fave), and the dreamy bread pudding is ultra moist with a rich bourbon vanilla sauce.
Second to providing a top quality menu, Smith is adamant about service. “I go to every single table every day, and if there is a problem, I correct it right then and there,” he says, adding that he also asks guests for suggestions.
After being at Lakewood for eight-and-a-half years, Smith’s biggest following is Lakewood patrons. “Out of all the jobs I have ever had in my entire life, Lakewood was the best,” says Smith. “It wasn’t really a job — it was a place I went to have fun — and it was a pleasure to work there.”
Growing up in Bay City, Smith (who played clarinet, alto sax and other reed instruments) wanted to be a musician. He performed with greats like Arnett Cobb, however, that didn’t pay much money, so he ventured into the food business, working at some of Houston’s finest restaurants, including the Confederate House, Elans, and the Sky Terrace at Sakowitz.
The father of five and grandfather of 10, Smith says he has no regrets about coming out of his short retirement. “It was good for me,” he says, “however being here sometimes 16 hours a day can get stressful.”
When he dines out, he likes to eat at Tommy’s, but also Perry’s (and admits he is addicted to those pork chops).
Open six days a week (closed on Sunday), Matt’s serves American cuisine which has something for everyone. With little time left for fishing, Smith is running a business that fills him with the same kind of natural high after “catching the big one,” and loyal followers are quite pleased that his retirement was short lived. “There’s nothing else I’d rather do right now,” says Smith, “absolutely nothing.”