Ben Berg is ready to unveil The Annie Café & Bar, his refreshed take on legendary Houston restaurant Café Annie. The new restaurant will open for dinner service starting Wednesday, September 25 (lunch begins Monday, September 30).
Berg, the owner of Berg Hospitality Group (B&B Butchers, B.B. Lemon, B.B. Italia), has given the space a comprehensive renovation that starts with relocating the entrance so that diners come in by the stairwell that leads directly to the second-floor space. That change provided the space for an expanded bar area that will be the heart of the restaurant.
“I think when you see it, it’s really sophisticated, urban, and a little relaxed,” Berg tells CultureMap. “The bar at Annie is going to be the most beautiful, kick-ass bar in the city. It’s gorgeous.”
Other changes designed to lighten and brighten the space include all-new wood floors, whitewashed brick walls, and floor-to-ceiling black steel windows. Berg recruited New York graffiti artist CES to paint a mural that could become a spot for selfies. As the photo above demonstrates, the restaurant’s patio provides a look at Post Oak and a view of the high-rises towards Memorial Park.
The new restaurant features a number of key personnel changes. While Robert Del Grande remains the restaurant’s executive chef — his veteran sous chef Elliot Kelly is also still in place — the front of house has new leadership, starting with operating partner Sam Governale, beverage director Kara Slife (Weights + Measures), and sommelier Bridget Paliwoda (Theodore Rex). Berg says that Governale will divide his time between the Annie and Emmaline, his stylish, European-inspired bistro.
“I’ve known Sam for a while. We get along well,” Berg says. Later, he adds, “The opportunity came up where he could share time between this and Emmaline. ... I feel the more good people, especially in this business where people are assets, [the better]. Sam’s been in the Houston community for a long time. He’s well known. I think it’ll be good for this.”
“I am so excited to join the Berg Hospitality team and be involved in reimagining a Houston institution where I grew up going with my family,” Governale added in a statement. “Everyone involved on the culinary and management side has a true passion for the hospitality business, and we plan to bring this same, service-oriented mindset to the restaurant.”
Café Annie regulars will be pleased to know that staples such as tortilla soup, Gulf crab tostada, and Del Grande’s signature coffee crusted filet mignon remain on the menu, but they’ve been plated differently for the Instagram era.
"Robert wanted to change things up, but we also know there’s that customer who’s going to be asking for ‘that’ dish," Berg says. "He wants to stay away from the old stuff, but the ones where everyone’s going to ask for anyway or were going to yell at me [if they disappeared]."
Del Grande and Kelly worked with Berg’s brother, chef Daniel Berg, to develop new dishes that bring an updated perspective to the chef’s classic American fare with a Texas twist, including Gulf red snapper with poblano pumpkin seed broth, red fish on the half shell for two, wood-grilled lamb chops with roasted hominy, ahi tuna crudo, and more. Daily specials, such as prime rib on Tuesday and chicken fried Texas wagyu on Thursday, help keep things fresh.
“Using the core ingredients, I think they’re done in a different way,” Berg says. “It’s a lot more fun. I would say the menu is a lot more approachable, especially with pricing.”
Berg made one other change that’s guaranteed to please anyone who’s ever dined at the restaurant.
“There’s bathrooms upstairs,” he says with a laugh. “That’s the winner.”