What’s up with Anthony Calleo? It’s a question that’s been circulating in Houston’s culinary community for a few months — ever since the talented chef stopped appearing on the social media feeds of Pi Pizza.
That is the sort of thing that will get people talking. After all, Calleo founded Pi Pizza as a food truck and partnered with local restaurant group Cherry Pie Hospitality in 2016 to give the concept a brick-and-mortar home. Although it all seemed promising, even the best laid plans can go awry in Houston’s tumultuous restaurant industry. Calleo tells CultureMap that he departed Pi back in January.
“How things worked out and what happened was mostly a matter of, not even me being superbly political, just directional differences,” Calleo says. “Where the company should go, what it should do, what I was interested in seeing happen versus other ideas. We couldn’t come to an agreement on that, so I decided that if that’s the case then I would politely bow out.”
A Cherry Pie representative confirmed Calleo’s departure in response to CultureMap’s request for comment. The statement also noted that the restaurant has recently added wings to its menu and switched to counter service.
Despite the setback, Calleo is looking on the bright side. He’s already started working on opening a new restaurant — more on that in a bit. In the meantime, he’s got a couple of side hustles working that should appeal to fans of his cuisine.
The first is the Hipster Ass Concession Stand, which Calleo serves on Friday nights at Johnny’s Gold Brick in the Heights, for Sunday brunch at The New Potato in the East End, and on Monday at Neil’s Bahr in EaDo. Essentially, it’s Calleo going back to his food truck roots and making creative food that, in his words, doesn’t suck. Expect a quesadilla and a hot dog or two, which Calleo sees as similar to pizza in that they’re a blank canvas for creative flavors. During Sunday brunch, the menu included riffs on chilaquiles, avocado toast, and pasta with short rib and pine nuts.
“Same theory Pi was, kind of, but not involving pizza,” Calleo says about the dishes he’s creating for the project. “Tries to be better than it should be. That’s my goal with everything I do. When people eat it, what I want them to say on the first round is ‘Holy shit, this is better than I thought it was going to be.’”
In addition to the concession stand, Calleo has partnered up with chef Adam Dorris and his business partner Taylor Lee to improve the food at Ladybirds, the bar near Washington Avenue that Lee has owned since 2014. Calleo has spent the last week observing the truck’s operations and is currently evaluating which dishes to keep, what to tweak, and which to remove. Next week, he’ll begin rolling out some new dishes that will be both appropriate for a casual, neighborhood bar and also made to his usual standards. Or, as he says, “super trashy food but make it delicious and awesome and do something weird with it.”
Both of those projects should keep Calleo busy until he can talk about his next restaurant. He’s not ready to share too many specifics but notes that it involves taking over an existing establishment that’s getting ready to close. After a couple of months of renovations, the establishment will reopen with a new name under Calleo’s direction. Those looking for a hint as to its culinary direction may look to his recent pop-up at Glitter Karaoke, which included takes on classic dishes like pasta carbonara and a wedge salad.
Still, it’s worth noting that neither of these ventures includes pizza, which is the medium by which Calleo developed a devoted local following. Is it safe to assume that he hasn’t served his last pie?
“Fuck no,” Calleo says. “You can quote me of that. That is a capital F ‘fuck no.’”