Industry veterans reunite at restaurant serving Southern comfort
Larry Bates has more than 300 original recipes for cocktails and has won many awards for his creations. Just don’t call him a mixologist and don’t ask him to make you a Moscow mule.
“It makes me laugh when bartenders who’ve only been working for three months call themselves mixologists,” Bates said. “I’m more of a renegade. I don’t have a curly mustache and go on about the shapes I cut my ice into, but I do have more than 20 years’ experience and more than 300 original recipes. I call myself a craft cocktail specialist because I know I can always make a drink that people will love.”
Bates, who lives in Dickinson, first started working as a bartender when he was a “19 year-old-punk from Pasadena” at one of the Pappas Seafood restaurants. He got hooked on the “OMG” moment when customers take their first sip of one of his drinks and comment on how much they love the flavor, he said.
These days, you’ll find him at the newly opened Texas Pit Stop Prime in Webster, the latest restaurant concept by Arnold Garza and family, who own Texas Pit Stop BBQ restaurants in Galveston and the mainland.
Texas Pit Stop Prime, 20794 Gulf Freeway, is a more upscale concept for the Garza family. Along with the award-winning barbecue, menu items include prime steak, prime brisket and Southern dishes such as smoked meatloaf, chicken-fried steak, beef tips and rice and more.
Bates specializes in infusions, such as his Bloody Mary mix steeped for up to 10 days in garlic, cucumber and seven different peppers, and which won an inaugural Yellow Rose Distilling award.
“I just love combining different flavors to make something delicious like my Southern Belle, which has peaches, ginger and elderflower and is a perfect ladies’ martini.”
While Moscow mules have been long popular, Bates doesn’t like to make them, he said.
“I just think mint is not an inspiring ingredient, and I got sick of people stealing the copper mugs,” he said.
Bates’ flair for sales and the comprehensive training he received at Pappas inspired a life-long career in hospitality in a variety of roles, including bartender, front of house manager, general manager and restaurant consultant.
“Right now, I could be working for a big restaurant group in downtown Houston, but I really believe in what the Garzas are doing with their new Webster location,” he said. “I wanted to work with Chef Jose Salgado again, and I love opening restaurants.”
Bates describes Salgado as his brother.
“We have each other’s backs,” he said. “He knows I’ll have the front of house running perfectly and I know he will have the kitchen running perfectly.”
The Garza family’s award-winning barbecue and elevated Southern comfort food is a winning combination at the new Webster restaurant, Bates said.
Other Texas Pit Stop concepts offer counter service, while the Webster restaurant is full-service.
The menu is a labor of love for Chef Jose Salgado, reflecting his 24 years as a professional cook. It took him three months of development and refinement to meet his own high standards in preparing for the new restaurant’s opening.
“It is my passion and my heart on the plate,” said Salgado, who lives in League City.
Salgado, originally from Mexico, got his first break cooking for steakhouses in Dallas. Moving south, he studied at Galveston College’s Culinary Arts Academy, worked for Houston steakhouses, and at Shearn’s Seafood & Prime Steaks on the island.
One of his biggest influences is Galveston’s venerable Paco Vargas, whose family owns Rudy & Paco Restaurant and the newer Vargas Cut & Catch in the island’s downtown. Salgado worked at Rudy & Paco for 13 years, an experience that refined his expert sauce-making, and also saw him cook for many celebrities, he said.
“I cooked for so many stars, including Julio Iglesias, B.B. King and Tommy Lee Jones,” Salgado said. “Willie Nelson loved medium steak and the first one I made for him he sent back. He loved the second one I made and gave me a good tip.”
His menu for Texas Pit Stop Prime features signature barbecue as well as Salgado’s take on comfort food starring local steak and seafood. He plans to elevate much-loved dishes such as meatloaf, bread pudding and macaroni and cheese to fine-dining quality. Sauces and breads are made from scratch and salads are made with fresh produce.
“I want to make something special for people who live in Webster, so they don’t have to drive to downtown to enjoy good food,” he said.