Houston’s best delicatessen is almost ready to reintroduce itself to diners. Kenny & Ziggy’s will open in its new home this Wednesday, February 2.
Located less than half a mile from its recently shuttered original outpost, the new Kenny & Ziggy’s will occupy a former Luby’s location at 1743 Post Oak Blvd. Moving provides the restaurant with an opportunity to reconnect with its many fans while also making changes designed to attract the next generation of diners who will sustain it for another 20 years.
In addition to being considerably larger in both its main dining room and adjacent private dining room, the new location features Kenny & Ziggy’s first-ever bar that will serve cocktails (for adults) and an old-fashioned soda fountain that will serve milkshakes and sundaes (for children of all ages).
“I think it’s Kenny & Ziggy’s plus,” chef-owner Ziggy Gruber tells CultureMap. “I think people will come in here and feel like they’re putting on an old pair of slippers.”
Or maybe a new pair of very comfortable, very stylish slippers. The new space is certainly more polished than the old, complete with significant upgrades in lighting and sound. Still, the look will feel familiar to anyone who has been to Kenny & Ziggy’s before — and is completely unrecognizable from its time as a cafeteria.
That starts with signature items like red booths, white subway tile behind the deli counter, and Broadway posters and Playbills decorating the dining room. Framed photographs show the Gruber family’s history in the deli business, which dates back to the early 1900s.
“I didn’t want to make it too foreign,” Gruber says. “When you come in, you’re transported to someplace in New York and maybe to an earlier time.”
At opening, the restaurant will serve all of its familiar Jewish deli favorites from Roumanian steak and chicken fricassee to sky high sandwiches and smoked fish platters. The extensive menu offers something for almost every taste. As CultureMap columnist Ken Hoffman has written, if he could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of his life, he’d choose Kenny & Ziggy’s for its variety and quality.
Similarly, the new location will serve all of the familiar cakes, cookies, and other sweets that are a Kenny & Ziggy’s staple. Having more room will allow Gruber to bring his commercial bakery into the restaurant and expand the number of items he sells for retail.
Most importantly, the food will be prepared by the same cooks as the former location. Gruber says many of them have worked for him for 20 years.
While he’s always open to customer suggestions, Gruber says he’s resisted adding Italian pastas or American-style Chinese food to the menu — and not just because the Post Oak Plaza shopping center will soon welcome a new Italian restaurant called Il Bracco and Japanese concept Marugame Udon.
“We are what we are. Everything I do always has an Eastern European-Jewish slant to it,” he says. “Can I make it look a little more hip and modern? Yes, we can reinvent what’s there.”
As part of that reinvention, Gruber hired Julep owner Alba Huerta to create a cocktail menu that will appeal to younger diners. The menu features drinks like an Old Fashioned made with pastrami-washed bourbon, the Hammeredtaschen spritz that blends tequila and Champagne with prune, apricot, and raspberry, and a boozy egg cream that, as is traditional, is made without eggs or cream.
Huerta also created a menu of a dozen or so classics such as the martini, Moscow mule, and Cosmopolitan. Gruber even invested in an ice machine to make large, clear cubes that won’t dilute the drinks.
“The idea is to make the deli the center of family get togethers,” he says. “The kids can get an Old Fashioned. Grandma can get a piece of kishke. The parents can have a corned beef sandwich or kreplach, whatever.”
In addition to cocktails, the restaurant will stay true to its Eastern European roots with an extensive selection of vodkas and slivovitz (fruit brandy). Taking inspiration from legendary New York restaurant Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, Gruber plans to serve vodka tableside from large ice blocks.
Younger diners will want to avail themselves of selections from an old-fashioned soda fountain. Stocked with jars of penny candy, it will serve milkshakes, banana splits, and sundaes. Ultimately, Gruber plans to introduce meshugganah shakes topped with slices of cheesecake and other over the top additions.
Gruber’s looking even further into the future. Maxine, his five-year-old daughter, has expressed interest in entering the family business.
“We already have her in cooking classes,” he says. “She’s informed me that she’s taking over and this is her store . . . I said at eight years old we’ll start your training.”