When it comes to new, interesting restaurants, The Heights continues to lead other parts of Houston. While area residents are probably still lining up for Calle Onze or eagerly awaiting the arrival of Superica and La Lucha, a new cafe that deserves attention is quietly preparing to open this week.
Meet Neo Baguette and its owner Karim Kasri. A native of Morocco, Kasri went to culinary school in France before moving to New York, where he served as the general manager for several restaurants. He moved to Houston to open his new cafe in a former auto parts warehouse at 201 East 20th St.
“I spent 10 days checking out Texas,” Kasri tells CultureMap. “Houston is the right place for me and my family. It’s a family town with parks for the kids. Something about Houston kept me [here].”
That “something” could be the building. Kasri has restored the brick walls and added wood paneling on the walls. A couple of chandeliers in the middle of the dining room and orange leather banquettes along the walls add an elegant touch. The building even inspired a change in the menu.
“Neo Baguette, it was supposed to be a sandwich place with salads,” Kasri says. “Then, once we have this place, it’s such a nice building. We said, let’s make it more interesting.”
Kasri blended his heritage with his training to create recipes that are built around French and Italian classics with a little Moroccan spice. Billed as an all-day cafe, the menu features sandwiches and salads at lunch with a few larger plates at dinner. Breakfast is on the table but won’t be available at launch.
The menu still starts with sandwiches and salads. Kasri will get his baguettes from Kraftsmen Baking. They provide a platform for sandwiches such as the Poulet Classique (sliced chicken breast with avocado, portabello mushroom, roasted bell pepper, manchego) and the Moroccan-inspired merguez sausage with sauteed mushrooms, olives, eggplant spread, and parmesan. Salad options include a quinoa with avocado and baby zucchini and candied beets with cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.
Since every menu in 2018 needs a toast or two, Neo Baguette offers an avocado option with a poached egg and cherry tomatoes as well as a smoked salmon toast with goat cheese, fried capers, and a sunny-side-up egg.
Kasri brings more of his Moroccan heritage to the dinner menu. A classic Cornish game hen gets cooked in a tagine and is served with preserved lemon. Similarly, Moroccan spices season both a salmon filet and its bed of sauteed spinach. Even a bowl of tagliatelle pasta with smoked salmon gets a little saffron for added flavor.
Diners are welcome to BYOB, or they can opt for a selection of drinks from a grab-and-go cooler. The restaurant also features its own blend of coffee that Kasri developed with Katz Coffee.
Almost all of the menu items are in the $10-15 range, which should make Neo Baguette the kind of spot people can come to once or twice a week. A kids’ menu adds to the restaurant’s utility.
Heights diners have been quick to embrace affordable restaurants that serve a wide variety of needs. If Kasri and his team can execute consistently, they should have a hit on their hands.