So much focaccia

MFAH’s new casual Italian cafe from Michelin-starred chef draws up opening date

MFAH’s new Italian cafe from Michelin-starred chef sets opening date

Cafe Leonelli focaccias
The menu includes a selection of focaccias. Photo by Evan Sung
Cafe Leonelli breakfast items
Cafe Leonelli serves pastries and coffee for breakfast. Photo by Evan Sung
Cafe Leonelli meatballs
Meatballs and other entrees are also available. Photo by Francesco Sapienza
Cafe Leonelli focaccias
Cafe Leonelli breakfast items
Cafe Leonelli meatballs

The first of two new restaurants opening at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will debut next month. Cafe Leonelli will begin service Friday, April 16, the restaurant announced.

Created by chef Jonathan Benno, Cafe Leonelli will serve as the museum’s all-day, casual dining space. An offshoot of chef Benno’s New York restaurants Leonelli Bakery and Leonelli Restaurant & Bar, the cafe will serve breakfast and lunch via a cafeteria-style serving line.

Open daily from 8 am-5 pm (8 pm on Thursday), Cafe Leonelli begins service with pastries and coffee in the morning. Lunch options consist of housemade focaccia served with a number of toppings, plus salads, sandwiches, and entrees that include lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, and chicken cacciatore. Both French and Italian-style sweets — everything from cookies and cannoli to eclairs and babka — round out the menu.  

In addition to the cafe, the space will also house an outpost of Frohzen, an ice cream shop from pastry chef Salvatore Martone. The menu includes scoops, shakes, popsicles, and elaborately decorated ice cream sandwiches.

Benno brings a Michelin-starred resume to the project. He worked for six years as the chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s three-star New York Per Se, and his New York restaurant currently holds one star. The restaurant is part of Bastion Collection, the hospitality group that operates La Table near the Galleria. 

"Houston is the perfect next step for the Leonelli brandand concept, which originated in New York,” Benno said in a statement. "The city’s culturally diverse community is bustling, and we are grateful for this opportunity to bring high-quality cuisine and hospitality to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.”

In addition to Cafe Leonelli, Bastion will also open Le Jardinier, a vegetable-forward fine dining restaurant from chef Alain Verzeroli. That restaurant will open later this year.