Restaurants / Openings

Houston’s New Restaurant King Takes Over Pax Americana’s Prime Montrose Restaurant Space, Moves on From Downtown High-Rise

Welcome to Ben Berg World

BY // 05.21.19

Life has given Houstonians lemons — but it’s actually a good thing. There’s no need to make lemonade when you have two B.B. Lemons. An all-new B.B. Lemon is set to open mid-to-late June in the old Pax Americana space in Montrose.

To be fair, Benjamin Berg’s latest is more of a riff on the original B.B. Lemon on Washington Avenue than a replica. But then, Berg isn’t really known for cookie-cutter.

The restaurateur wouldn’t have opened this new spot just anywhere. He believes places with character pay, and 4319 Montrose definitely fit the bill.

“I love the ambience and the character of the neighborhood, and that actual Pax space. It fits in perfectly. It’s older, it’s not perfect inside. It has outdoor and street seating. It’s more New York-ish,” Berg tells PaperCity.

His team is only making cosmetic changes to the structure: coats of paint, wallpaper, new floors.

And that unique vibe is just one aspect that’ll set this B.B. Lemon apart from the existing one. Think of them as fraternal twins.

  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
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  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY
  • River Oaks District - MAY

“I feel like the new B.B. Lemon is a little bit more like — I think that section of Montrose, that street there, I love it because it seems more cosmopolitan in a way, with tables on the sidewalk, big French steel doors that open up. It’s a different vibe. The other one is a little oasis on Washington, with the grass and the garden,” Berg notes.

The bar is sure to make B.B. Lemon stand out. “It’s a smaller bar, but the antique bar is so cool. I think it’s called a Wells Fargo bar. I think it’s like over a hundred years old,” Berg says.

“I found out that when Wells Fargo would open up banks out in the west, they were pretty smart. They’d put a little cafe and a bar, so when you got your money you’d spend it at their own bar. The bar’s fantastic.” Berg laughs.

Beverage director Monique Cioffi-Hernandez will head up the booze at this new Montrose B.B. Lemon, too. The classics will remain, like the ever-popular “Belle of the Ball” with gin, lemon, lavender and bubbles.

“The one I like — what’s that one? It has ‘soldier’ in it. They come up with all these names. I can’t remember all the names they come up with,” Berg says.

bb lemon spread
B.B. Lemon is open til 2 am on weekends.

He named this new concept for its similar premise to the original, but it looks keeping it to one name is super convenient, too. And that drink? “All the King’s Soldiers,” with bourbon, Turbinado, lemon, egg white and red wine.

The deviations continue on down to the eats. Many of the favorites from the first B.B. Lemon menu will make their mark, but this spinoff gives executive chef Emily Trusler the chance to experiment.

“I like it when they have a little autonomy on what to do. I’ve got a direction, where I want it to go. But the chefs can have some fun or try some stuff, it keeps them a lot more excited about the project,” Berg says.

So while lobster rolls, shepherd’s pie and pork schnitzel are the OG B.B. Lemon’s bread and butter, you’ll find some newfangled fare in Montrose.

“I want to do some more seafood at this one. Definitely more fish. We’ll also make the menu a little lighter in some places,” Berg says.

Berg’s pleased that the original B.B. Lemon, even with its small footprint, has been so successful in its short time. “I think it’s just straightforward, it’s got a good mood, I think it’s got a good ambience. It’s relaxed, but you can still go to the bar and have a burger or make a night out of it,” he adds.

“It just works so well. And this space, it just feels like a B.B. Lemon to me.”

The Ben Berg Empire

It wouldn’t be wrong to say Berg is on fire. But it could be because he’s got so many irons in the fire — B&B Butchers, B.B. Lemon and B.B. Lemon 2.0, B.B. Italia, B.B. Pizza in the old Carmelo’s space, and now his new vision for Robert del Grande’s Cafe Annie.

It’s a lot, considering he just made his Houston debut four years ago. He’ll admit it can be a lot to juggle — things are super busy, “a little too good right now” at B.B. Italia and B.B. Pizza.

Does he get a little nervous? “Oh, that my wife is going to leave me because of no summer vacation,” Berg laughs. “But if you’re never nervous, that’s not a good thing.”

He’s scrapped one item on his list, the plans for a restaurant inside the downtown high-rise The Star. “We couldn’t come to an agreement on some parts of the deal,” Berg says.

It’s freed him up to focus on the Cafe Annie revamp, which is actually two different concepts, one upstairs and a separate one downstairs.

Downstairs is still a bit of a question mark, but upstairs will be a fresh take on Cafe Annie, with a streamlined menu, a roughly 50-seater grand bar and a new philosophy. “Annie became a place that was like a celebration place. They way we look at it, it could be a great place all the time,” Berg says.

That restaurant retooling’s underway, 10 months in, with Berg and Del Grande collaborating on the vision for the menu these last two or three months.

But for now, Berg’s just as happy as can B.B.

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