One of this fall’s most eagerly anticipated restaurants will move forward without its original chef. Reef chef-owner Bryan Caswell tells CultureMap that he’s no longer affiliated with Kristalla and Osso, the two Italian restaurants Astros owner Jim Crane is opening across from Minute Maid Park in the luxury apartment building 500 Crawford.
“It was a mutual decision,” Caswell tells CultureMap. “The Italian places have been going for a little bit, and I have the utmost respect for Mr. Crane. That place is bigger than me, for sure. I was a cog in a machine, because I love the Astros. Mr. Crane is a great guy. It just made sense, because there are other things I want to do.”
Reached for comment, Crane's representative provided the following statement about his plans for the restaurants in the wake of Caswell's departure.
"Mr. Crane is committed to opening a world-class Italian restaurant in downtown Houston and wants an executive chef that is able to dedicate most of his time to creating the most exceptional culinary experience. Bryan is a wonderful chef and currently has many projects going on with his new brand that would not allow him to devote the amount of time desired for this project. Bill Floyd remains involved as the restaurant management partner. Jim and Bill are in discussions with a few executive chefs and will make their announcement soon."
Those new projects are centered around a new company Caswell has created called Bryan Caswell Concepts. Although he’s not quite ready to announce specifics yet, the chef is working on new concepts under the BCC banner. Surprisingly, Caswell's longtime business partner Bill Floyd will not be involved with BCC, but he is still a partner in Reef.
Before he moves forward with anything new, Caswell has turned his attention to making significant changes to Reef — both to the menu with new chef de cuisine Micah Rideout (formerly of Tarakaan) and to its appearance. No matter what he does moving forward, Caswell says the Gulf seafood restaurant he opened with partner Bill Floyd in 2007 still has a special place in his heart.
“Reef is my baby. You’re going to have to blast me out of this place,” Caswell says, but the time has come to make some changes. “It’s been almost 10 years, now. It’s time for a new coat of paint. It’s time for a new thought and a new idea. In the past three-and-a-half to four years, I’ve been so preoccupied with the things we’re expanding and opening . . . Now I’m refocused on what I want to do and making this place what I want it to be.”
The Midtown restaurant led the way in its use of Gulf seafood — trading Chilean sea bass and Dover sole for Amberjack and Drum was a revolutionary idea in 2007 — but now lots of other restaurants have joined Caswell in that movement. Reef will remain a market-driven Gulf seafood restaurant, but Caswell says he intends to shift its focus.
“When we started, we were the first ones to do bycatch. It didn’t exist. For me, I didn’t call it bycatch. We called it trash fish when I was growing up,” Caswell says. “Nowadays, you can’t get bycatch, because everyone is using it, which means to me that work is kind of finished. The whole point was to take this thing that was coming from the Gulf that I love, that was tasty and just as good as snapper or redfish. Now, everyone is used to eating it.”
Even as he contemplates changes to Reef, Caswell says he also remains committed to his slider joint Little Bigs and Tex-Mex restaurant El Real. Since Little Bigs relocated from its cramped site on Montrose (now the home of The Burger Joint) to a more spacious location in Chelsea Market, the restaurant's menu has tripled in size. The restaurant could even add a few more locations.
"I’ve always seen the potential for Little Bigs that it’s never realized. Mainly because of the hiccup we had at Hermann Park," Caswell says. "I’ve always thought that was the perfect spot for West U, Bellaire, and The Villages. It’s great for Little League teams. I also think it would be great for colleges. I love that concept."
While dreams of a reincarnation of Stella Sola, Caswell's Gulf-Italian restaurant in The Heights that closed after a two-year run, may be dashed with today's announcement, the chef is optimistic about what the future will bring. Houstonians will certainly benefit from a reinvigorated Reef. Caswell's knack for knowing what people want before they do should lead to other exciting additions.