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Foodie Events / Real Estate

Houston’s Best Italian Restaurant

H-Town’s Original Celebrity Chef Takes On Huge Expectations In the Astros’ Giant Shadow

BY // 01.18.16

Baseball and great food are about as lovey-dovey a couple as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. No one has ever mistaken a soggy ballpark hot dog for haute cuisine. And even the recent attempts at making stadium food more upscale often come across as forced as a Mel Gibson smile at Ricky Gervais.

But Marvy Finger‘s ambitious new downtown mid-rise could be changing all that. The legendary Houston developer’s 500 Crawford is close enough to Minute Maid Park to hear the roar (or it would be, if Finger wasn’t so obsessed with soundproofing), but it’s the world inside the building that could change the neighborhood forever.

As PaperCity first reported back in September, 500 Crawford is set to be home to two new restaurants, including what Finger predicts will be “the finest Italian restaurant in Houston.” Bryan Caswell — Houston’s first real celebrity chef, thanks to his long-ago run on the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef — will be the executive chef for that restaurant.

The new ultra-high-end spot will be called Brocca and will be open for dinner only. It’s clearly the most ambitious restaurant that Caswell and his longtime business partner, Bill Floyd, have done since Reef.

Now, Caswell, Floyd and the chef de cuisine they hire only have to turn it into one of the very best restaurants in the city. And you thought young ballplayers who are compared to Mickey Mantle have it tough?

In an area with few fine-dining options besides Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse, Brocca could be a game changer. Its restaurant sibling — the much more casual Panchina — will be the “upscale diner” that Finger first told PaperCity about. This cafe restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, giving residents of 500 Crawford — and the neighborhood — a very utilitarian place perfect for pop-ins.

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In the race to stand out amid a wave of fancy new high-rises and mid-rises, these two new restaurants with major chef cred give 500 Crawford a huge advantage. In some ways, it’s like waking up standing on third base.

While 500 Crawford still had some construction fences around it this weekend, the mid-rise will soon be open. The restaurants are expected to follow in early June, right in the heart of a season of great expectations for the Houston Astros. Of course, even though it’s just down the street, Brocca will likely feel like it’s a world away from all that.

This is a high-end shrine to Italian food that brings its own supersized expectations. Everyone will soon know if Caswell can still hit a grand slam. Reef seemingly opened in another generation of Houston food. The city’s restaurant scene has never been more competitive — and expectations for an ambitious new spot have never been higher.

You’re at the plate, Mr. Caswell.

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