A new chef, trained in Michelin-starred kitchens, revamps the Texas restaurant menu


Back Table Kitchen & Bar at Woodlands Resort has hired star chef Jonathan Lestingi as its latest head chef – and he brings his experience in award-winning destinations across the country to the table.

The Johnson and Wales University alum spent years as party leader under Patrick O’Connell at Little Washington Inn – the only three-star Michelin restaurant in the Washington metro area – and about a decade in New Orleans, working in top places like by BrennanJames Beard award-winning soul restaurant Willa Johnand its own gastropub and whiskey bar, Oxalis.

But in recent years, Lestingi said the good times in New Orleans were coming to an end. “I was ready to make a change,” he said. “…I think maybe I was ready to do a bit of adulting.”

And now Lestingi has taken his talents to Texas.

The chef arrived at the Back Table Kitchen & Bar at the Woodlands complex early last summer. Tucked away in the suburbs just 45 minutes north of Houston, it’s clear its new stomping ground isn’t quite as bustling as New Orleans’ French Quarter, but it hopes to make its mark – starting with the Back Table menu.

Lestingi caused a stir in 2022, bringing brunch — an alleged New Orleans creation — at Back Table, with an international twist on its Southern cuisine. “I just want to use different Southern products and showcase them as much as possible, but I try not to let fusion become conmerger,” Lestingi said.

Chef Jonathan Lestingi, former sous chef to New Orleans’ James Beard Award-winning Willa Jean, is now head chef at Woodlands’ Back Table Kitchen & Bar.
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This desire comes true with creative dishes like blackened redfish, garnished with leek ash and served with cucumbers and fingerling potatoes on a cream cheese tzatziki sauce; and the six-hour bordelaise braised chuck short ribs with black-eyed peas, pecan gremolata and fresh horseradish. In the vegetable polenta, the sweet potato, cooked in a cast iron, sinks into a bed of creamy polenta and candied lemon butter.

Other big stars on the menu include the Hickory Smoked Fried Chicken Wings; a smoked onion béarnaise, which, although paired with steak frites, could be bottled and poured over almost anything, and tres leches cake. Dressed like an old-school cocktail, Lestingi’s Latin dessert uses bourbon instead of rum, combines orange bitters into whipped cream, and tops it with a whiskey-soaked cherry.

steak and chips with duck fat fries on a wooden board.

Back Table Kitchen & Bar serves its steak and fries accompanied by duck fat fries and a béarnaise sauce with smoked onions.
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Brunch now includes fried chicken and waffles, ricotta pancakes served with homemade honeycomb butter and shakshuka, a typical Middle Eastern brunch dish consisting of poached eggs, tomato sauce roasted over the fire, merguez sausage, feta cheese and avocado.

As for his move to the Woodlands, Lestingi sees it as a challenge full of promise.

“I think Texas has a lot of opportunity. The population is exploding. There are tons of people moving here,” Lestingi said. “It’s always going to be different when you move to a new place. It’s going to be hectic here , but I accept the challenge. … I’m excited to be here and make the change.

Back Table Kitchen & Bar, at 2301 N. Millbend Drive, is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends, and happy hour specials are available daily from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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