HOUSTON – As Frank and Mattie Jones walked down Andrews Street in Fourth Ward one day in 1959, Mattie turned to Frank and said “This is it.” Little did they know they legacy those three words would bring to Houston.
Frank Jones left school after third grade and despite not having traditional training or education, he and Mattie Jones knew that with hard work, community, loyalty, companionship, standards and true soul food cooking, no walls could be built up against them.
Frank Jones’ mother ran a boarding house in Houston’s Fourth Ward in the 20s and 30s where she served soul food to boarders, including Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway.
His mother inspired him to serve the food he grew up eating, so on that day in 1959 as Frank and Mattie walked, Houston This Is It Soul Food was born.
Good home cooking
Mattie and Frank Jones knew they wanted to give their community and all who passed through a taste and comfort that made them feel at home when they ate at their restaurant, where the motto is, “where every day gives you a Sunday feel.”
The couple opened their restaurant at 1003 Andrews Street in 1959 and in 1982 they relocated to 239 West Gray Street.
Now, 61 years later, their grandson Craig Joseph, a retired firefighter, is honoring his late grandparents’ names by continuing to serve the same home cooking at their restaurant -- now on Blodgett Street near Third Ward -- alongside his son, daughter and son-in-law.
According to his daughter and restaurant manager, Jessica Wesley, if you ask Joseph why he does what he does, he will say “If you cut open my veins, little This Is Its will start popping out.”
“Our restaurant is more than a trend, more than just a place to grab some good food and a daiquiri. We are history that is still in the making,” Wesley said. “Our customers have gotten to watch five generations grow up. Some people would say that is nothing to go on and on about, but what we have is a rarity in the restaurant business and especially in our black community.”
That history shines through in their cooking. On top of serving the cleanest chitterlings, Wesley said This Is It serves the best oxtails smothered in 40-weight gravy.
“People love our oxtails because the meat falls off the bone with just a slight pull of your fork and before each bite you get to swirl that meat into the most seasoned and addicting 40 weight gravy,” Wesley said. “It is perfection. Every bite. Every time.”
Wesley recommends having the oxtails over rice with more gravy, macaroni and cheese, and pinto beans or black-eyed peas.
Another favorite is the smothered pork chops, according to Wesley.
“When we ask our customers why the pork chops, they tell us because they don’t need a knife,” Wesley said. “It is something about the tenderness of meat that brings joy to the belly. Just like the oxtails, the smothered pork chops make a delicious gravy that goes amazingly over mashed potatoes with cabbage and macaroni and cheese.”
Try something new
When you think of meatloaf, you probably think of a grayish meat blob they give you in the school cafeteria, but Wesley said you need to kick those ideas to the curb and try their meatloaf made on Saturdays.
“(The) meatloaf at This Is It is out of this world,” Wesley said. “It is made from scratch, sauce and all, and is seasoned to perfection. It goes fast, so be sure to come early and pair it with sweet candied yams, green beans, and mashed potatoes.”
Wesley also said the beef short ribs served on Sundays is a can’t-miss dish.
“It is a lean cut of meat on a bone that makes the gravy so flavorful, similar to that of the oxtails,” Wesley said. “We highly recommend it for someone who is looking to cut calories and save a few bucks.”
What people are saying
People on Yelp! can’t get enough of Houston This Is It Soul Food’s home cooking.
“Yesterday was our first time going after hearing so many good things,” Tamika B. said. “Well, everyone was right, they did not disappoint. We ordered the famous oxtails because if you go, go big. They were tender and flavorful. The sides were just as good as the entree. To end with tea cakes for dessert made my day. Repeat customers coming soon.”
“This place is absolutely amazing,” said Sri S. “Clean and neat inside with A++ customer service. Now to the food!! Everything was seasoned just right. I had the short ribs (falling off the bone) yams, macaroni, and cabbage. I will be back.”
“Best soul food in Houston,” said Eduardo T. “I especially love the smothered pork chops and oxtails. So happy now that there is a pork chop special on Wednesdays. I know where I'll be every Wednesday from now on. They have really revamped the restaurant as well. Everything is updated and clean. Pop in and get some food. Oh, and they also have Delaware Punch in stock. My favorite drink.”
Wesley said her family loves Asian food. They love to get their fix at Nara Thai and Asian City Restaurant.
“Nara Thai is another family-owned restaurant,” Wesley said. “...Some of our favorite dishes are crab angels, fried spring rolls, combination fried rice, yellow curry, and Thai custard with sticky rice. It is nice to know we are supported by, and are able to support another family-owned business.”
Asian City Restaurant is also located in Humble and offers Hibachi, sushi and other Asian fares, but Wesley said her family likes the Hibachi tables.
“It’s usually enough of us to fill up one table, but we definitely enjoy meeting other families when we are sharing a table,” Wesley said. “Some of our favorite dishes are the spider sushi rolls, the fried rice, and the onion soup. Asian City is a fun place for the entire family even if it’s your 50th time going.”
Business dramatically slowed at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, so This Is It was forced to close its doors and switch to a carry-out and delivery-only model with limited staff. Now that things are getting back, the restaurant decided to get back to slowly get back to dine-in.
“We are now allowing dine in at 50% capacity with social distancing as our top priority, along with lots and lots of extra cleaning,” Wesley said. “Every day gets better and better.”
The menu is missing a few items, but Wesley said the majority of customer favorites are still available every day the restaurant is open.
“Typically, we are open every day, but with limited staff, we all agreed that we need a day off to be able to enjoy what COVID19 reminded us is most important—family time,” Wesley said. “As time goes on and social gatherings become normal again, we will extend our hours past 6 p.m. to have open-mic nights and other social hangouts at This Is It.”
Location: 2712 Blodgett St., Houston
Tues – Sun: 11 a.m. through 6 p.m.