Restaurateur Benjamin Berg is a hospitality history nerd. He can go on for hours about old New York haunts, his hunts for dining room relics, and he has a special love of matchbooks.
So when the Berg Hospitality founder (B&B Butchers, B.B. Lemon) paired up with Robert Del Grande to re-envision Café Annie, arguably Houston's most historically celebrated restaurant, one could expect some magic to happen—that maybe this project was exactly the kind of work Berg was born to undertake. And, at least after a month or so, that's exactly the case. Berg and Del Grande have something special going on.
Cafe Annie is now The Annie Cafe and Bar. Walk upstairs to a commanding ovular bar in front of a backdrop of whitewashed brick and gleaming sea-foam green tile. A classic banquette running along the side of the bar area provides a casual seating experience. Nearby, the patio with raised seating areas now emphasizes the Post Oak view it offers.The redone dining room also has whitewashed brick walls, plus industrial brass lighting fixtures, and a few choice palm trees.
The Annie is trying to be a place for everyone to dine, not just every five years for a major life milestone. The menu reflects this change: It now includes affordable shareables like Gulf crab meat tostadas—with beautiful creaminess from a guacamole-like salsa—and bacon-wrapped quail, plus lunch items perfect for one, like kale salad with fennel, crispy walnuts, apples, and bacon.
Entrees aren't your large-format dishes on boards, but instead, Annie sticks with smaller portions, tougher-to-find ingredients, bigger flavors, and artful presentations. I love the sufficient serving of tender roasted duck breast paired with a fatty cousin in duck leg confit crêpe, along with a rich and bittersweet chocolate mole. Plus, the Annie has one of my favorite renditions of Gulf red snapper, laid atop a gently spicy poblano pumpkin seed broth with blue crab and zucchini. It's light, texturally marvelous, and so smartly designed.
Del Grande is known for twisting tradition just a bit. The snapper, the duck—these all speak to it, as does his unreal, crunchy yet oh-so comforting cornbread dressing spiked with jalapeños. I'm really looking forward to returning for some of his specials, like Sunday's fried chicken and biscuits or Thursday's prime rib.
I'm a young diner who often wonders what it would've been like to eat at a revered restaurant in the 1970s and '80s—the peerless service, the Continental fare executed perfectly, the heightened ambiance, and FOMO-inducing dining room scene. While all that may be in the past with Cafe Annie, The Cafe Annie proves you can bring a lot of that old magic into a fresh, still vital setting.