On a recent Friday morning, I walked into Coffee Louie, a new Second Ward restaurant at 3401 Harrisburg. The barista already knew my favorite coffee, a flat white, which I had ordered on my previous visit. Although it has only been officially open since May 11 (after a silent and smooth opening), the café already looks like a friendly neighborhood restaurant that residents will regularly frequent for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner. .
The warm and modern space, designed by root lab, is punctuated with wood tones, pink stools and shelves, and pastel green accent walls that transformed the former industrial space into a welcoming bistro. But being a successful all-day community gathering spot takes more than pretty light fixtures; there must also be good food. Houston Siblings and Natives Angelo Emiliani and Lucianna “Louie” Emiliani, the restaurant’s namesake, provide just that. The duo combine their culinary prowess to create a targeted selection of pastries, sandwiches, bowls and more.
Angelo cut his culinary teeth in renowned establishments such as Uchi, Thomas Keller‘ad hoc and legendary San Francisco bakery, winner of the James Beard award, Toast. He also worked with award-winning pizza maestro James Beard Chris Blancowhose Pizzeria Blanco in Phoenix is considered one of the best pizzerias in the country. In fact, pizza is how some Houstonians might know Angelo’s cooking. Back in Houston during the pandemic, he launched Angie’s pizzaand online pre-orders for its much-loved pop-ups have often sold out within minutes.
Louie, who runs the baking program, began his career at Houston’s Tiny’s milk & Cookies. She eventually joined her brother in California, where she worked at such renowned bakeries as Tartine in San Francisco and a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award. Bread Lodge Company in Los Angeles.
Shortly after Cafe Louie opened, my daughter and I stopped in for lunch. As you do at many casual restaurants in Houston, we ordered at the counter. As we waited in line, we browsed one of the colorful menus, divided into four sections: baking, beer and wine, coffee and tea, and plates. We ordered, took our number and sat down. Even though the restaurant is new and the tables were full, the Chicken with candied lemon with salad of dried carrots and poached egg served in a bowl on vadouvan rice, Samitch Ham (not a typo) and flat white we ordered arrived quickly.
The egg was perfectly cooked, with soft but firm whites and a golden, runny yolk. The chicken was tender and the sides were flavorful which made for a delicious light lunch. The ham sandwich was a revelation. The cafe team turned the mundane combo of bread and ham into a minor work of art. Crispy yet soft foccachio style bread helped elevate the sandwich, but the real stroke of genius was adding crispy fried potato strings. I found myself picking up the fallen potato slivers and tossing them over the chicken for extra crunch. These should be a complementary option for every dish. I’ve even made it at home to add texture to salads, green beans, and roasted vegetables.
Since lunch was such a hit, I came back for breakfast. I opted for the McLouie. Its cheeky name is inspired by the famous breakfast sandwich of a certain fast food restaurant. Like its inspiration, it combines a sausage patty with an egg, cheese, and bread. Contrary to its inspiration, it combines high-quality ingredients into one of Houston’s best breakfast sandwiches. The galette is a maple pork sausage that expresses maple notes without being sweet. The egg isn’t a bland yolk puck, but a perfectly cooked sunny egg (from Swift Hill Farms in Nacogdoches) with a bright orange yolk that turns into a lush sauce when you take your first bite. Instead of a sad, soggy looking English muffin, the team at Cafe Louie layers these elements into a Redneck Cheddar gougère, a savory French-style pastry made with cheese produced in Dublin, Texas. It is grilled until it resembles a perfectly charred Neapolitan pizza crust. As they did with the ham sandwich, the Emilians have turned the simple into the sublime.
If the food continues to be executed at this level, the bistro will likely become as much of a dining destination as it is a neighborhood cafe. I can’t wait to go back to try other dishes like Braised green vegetables with garlic with Mashed Chickpeas, Whipped Tahini, and Dill-Flavoured Rice. Plus, there’s a rotating selection of pastries like the Morning bread with dates and sesamea coffee program powered by local roaster Amaya Coffee (the Black sesame latte sounds intriguing), a bespoke wine list and local craft beers on tap. There’s something else to cheer about: a full dinner menu is coming soon.
Adding to the establishment’s usefulness as a neighborhood hub, the restaurant shares space with Little Red Box Grocery, a bodega-style shop selling produce, locally raised meats, locally made goods such as Market Salsa Machis from Cochinita and some mainstream groceries. It should be a welcome addition in an area with few grocery stores. Plus, it joins a growing number of establishments like Kickin’ Kombucha/Cochinita & co., Henderson & Kane, and Local Foods in Rice Village that combine sit-down dining with local food markets.
My only complaint: Cafe Louie isn’t closer to my house. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be checking out Waze for traffic hacks and shortcuts to this neighborhood that’s on track to become one of Houston’s best new restaurants in 2022. Until dinner service begins, Cafe Louie is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.