For prolific Houston restaurateur Benjamin Berg, it’s not a question of to be or not to be. It’s really to B.B. or not to B.B.
He’s decided to do it again. Get ready for B.B. Italia and B.B. Pizza opening in the former Carmelo’s space, coming this April.
It’s not so much of a surprise. Ben Berg’s been making moves for awhile. B.B. Lemon opened back in November, nestled on Washington Ave across from B&B Butchers, the restaurant that started it all.
And after shutting down Carmelo’s in January, Berg did promise a re-envisioned concept for the space. It’s just Houston foodies weren’t banking on the two for one angle.
After Carmelo’s 37 years as a beloved Italian institution in the Energy Corridor, it’s getting a serious upgrade, two times over. B.B. Italia will carry the pasta and parmesan torch, but with a Houston, Texas spin.
B.B. Pizza will also sit inside the recently revamped space — think contemporary, clean lines and a brand new horseshoe-shaped bar — but will work in a purely pick-up or delivery format.
There’s one obvious question. Why pull pizza pies from the Italian menu? Well, he isn’t, not exactly. More refined pizza will be available at B.B. Italia, while you can satisfy your classic New York-style pizza cravings from B.B. Pizza.
“I think we didn’t want the pizza component to take over what we want to do at B.B. Italia and what we want it to be,” Berg tells PaperCity.
But pizza had to play a pivotal role in the reimagined restaurant. “Pizza was absolutely food that’s Northeasterner kind of comfort food, you know. Kind of like our go-to thing was a slice of pizza. I remember when pizza was 75 cents,” Berg says.
Is that the going price for B.B. Pizza slices? “No,” he laughs.
A Creative Spin Toward Houston
Neither menu, developed by his brother Daniel, who trained in Italy and oversees B&B Butcher and B.B. Lemon’s kitchens, has been finalized yet.
But Berg did let one dish slip. And it epitomizes the chef’s new approach. “We’re doing more American-Italian. My brother’s come up with some cool dishes that kind of make a nod toward Houston but in an Italian style,” Berg says.
“We’re trying to use some more ingredients that are more Texas or Houston, locally sourced, at least proteins.”
That’ll look like his favorite of his brother’s latest creations. “My brother did this great twist. It’s an Italian-style fried chicken over polenta. It’s really good. It’s kind of changing me,” Berg chuckles.
He also mentioned his personal Italian favorites in general are veal parmesan and penne alla vodka, so it wouldn’t be a shock if those landed on the menu.
The cocktail and wine programs will make for an excellent pairing. For the vino, Berg envisions a lot of Italian wines, 20 to 24 by the glass and roughly 80 bottles, to start.
“I think really fun Italian wines that are approachable. You can kind of like go through all different regions of Italy, too, without being an Italian wine expert,” he notes.
Expect some during happy hour at the sophisticated bar, which will feature an array of simple, straightforward takes on classic Italian drinks — with more local spirits.
Brunch will roll out soon, best enjoyed on the expansive new 50 to 58 seat patio.
Above all, the idea is for a welcoming, comfortable place where diners would be just as eager to have a night out with their spouse as they would an early dinner on the patio with their kids, getting out of the house to grab a drink or picking up a pizza for movie night.
It’ll stand out from the many corporate chains in the area. “It’s a real restaurant that I think people from all over can enjoy. People can feel really good and don’t have to go inside the Loop for a great environment,” Berg says.
As far as his inside-the-Loop ambitions go, Berg is still plotting his Downtown restaurant Benjamin.
But could there also B.B. more Space City restaurants from Berg on the horizon?
“Possibly,” the restaurant king laughs. “I’m tired right now.”