Cafe Annie is changing again. Last year, the iconic Houston restaurant embraced its past by dropping the RDG + Bar Annie moniker and returning to its former name, but chef-owner Robert Del Grande, Houston’s first James Beard Award winner, continues to evolve.
Towards that end, he has decided to focus the Galleria-area restaurant on two dishes he describes as personal favorites and tweaked the name to reflect the new direction. Effective immediately, the restaurant is now known as Cafe Annie: Wood Grilled Steaks and Oyster Bar.
“Oysters, I still use that as the paradigm in cooking,” Del Grande said at an event Tuesday night to introduce the changes. “You open it, and then just try to figure out how best not to ruin it.”
The new names comes with structural changes to the restaurant. The little utilized downstairs is in the process of being converted into the Prime Room, which will serve a rotating series of prix fixe menus based around classic dishes. Upstairs, a portion of the spacious dining room has been divided into a private space called Annie Hall that can seat up to 120 diners.
Cafe Annie’s front door will be relocated slightly in order to close off the Prime Room. That work should be completed by mid-November.
When it does, the space will begin serving its first menu, which will focus on prime rib, a dish Del Grande serves every New Year’s Eve. On Tuesday night, the chef paired the dry-aged beef with other dishes he described as equally classic: shrimp remoulade, potatoes aligot, and a Baked Alaska-style dessert of chocolate pudding and meringue.
“When I say the words ‘prime rib,’ I can see every Christmas going all the way back,” Del Grande said. “It’s homecoming kind of dish. My perfect meal would start with oysters and end with prime rib.”
Upstairs, the restaurant will focus on steaks but won’t be a pure steakhouse. Cafe Annie will continue to serve dishes like pheasant, quail, and Gulf seafood. Of course, Del Grande’s signature items like coffee roasted tenderloin of beef and rabbit enchiladas will remain available, too.
“Since the beginning Cafe Annie has strived to be a restaurant with a sense of place – where you know and feel like you’re in Houston and nowhere else,” Del Grande added in a statement. “While Cafe Annie can rival any steakhouse in terms of quality of beef and cooking methods, the other signature dishes make Cafe Annie stylish, unique, and local.”
As the response to new steakhouses like Steak 48, One Fifth Steak, and Killen’s STQ demonstrates, Houstonians’ appetite for prime beef seemingly knows no bounds. Del Grande’s culinary skill combined with Cafe Annie’s status as a Houston classic could prove to be a winning combination for the new direction.
The writers and restaurateurs who joined Del Grande Tuesday night left raving. If customers respond similarly, Del Grande will have another hit.