First Look at Ruggles 11th Street Cafe

Categories: Restaurant News

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Do you remember the old 11th Street Cafe? I do. My father and I tried to eat there a few times while he was still living in Norhill, just down the street. Every single visit was increasingly abysmal, to the point where I wondered just how long it would be until the old girl gave it up.

I also wondered with interest exactly what would take its place when this eventuality occurred: The intersection of 11th Street and Studewood is prime real estate in the Heights, with Zelko Bistro in one direction, Stella Sola and Glass Wall in the other, Someburger across Studewood and the still-to-come Liberty Kitchen (from the same guys as Glass Wall and BRC) across 11th.

Bruce Molzan, chef and owner of the popular and long-lived Ruggles restaurants across the city, saw that location as prime real estate, too, and snapped it up this past June. Molzan graciously retained all of the old staff from 11th Street Cafe -- according to CultureMap -- and set about giving the old place a facelift.

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The turkey burger started out promisingly enough...
Although I was worried about the retained staff from 11th Street Cafe (after all, the poor food and service has been coming from them...), the facelift of their restaurant seems to have invigorated the waitstaff and cooks. The menu has been given an overhaul, too, distinctly different from all of the other Ruggles locations in its accessibility and homeyness.

A recent brunch there showed that this new Ruggles still has a few kinks to work out, but that it should wildly outpace its predecessor if all goes well. I was delighted to find the place open on Labor Day -- my other brunch choices that morning had all been closed -- although I expected the service to suffer. It was a holiday, after all, and the place was packed.

The service was excellent. Quick, responsive, kind and warm -- all of the things I hadn't been expecting from a staff slammed by a holiday brunch crowd. Although the restaurant and its beautifully re-landscaped patio were packed, our waitress and busser never missed a beat. The stereo was tuned to a '70s yacht rock station, Air Supply and Exile streaming over the speakers, and the music along with the happy chatter and glorious weather lent the revamped restaurant a jovial spirit. It was hard not to feel comfortable and happy in the freshly painted space, new art hung from the walls and a Chopped marathon on TV.

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French toast and runny eggs don't really belong on the same plate, but both were excellent.
The food had several stumbles, however, from the three little empanadas that were still frozen in the middle to a turkey burger that was dry beyond even the resuscitative powers of cheese or mayonnaise. It wasn't what I expected from our Best of Houston® award-winning empanadas, to be sure.

But the warm ends of the empanadas were as excellent as usual, seasoned beef mixed with nutty hemp seed and raisins (just regular raisins here, no golden raisins) and dipped into a creamy mango-chipotle sauce, and my brunch -- although sloppy -- was wonderful. French toast squares in a vanilla-spiked batter, overeasy eggs and strips of curly bacon cooked to my favorite texture: crispy in places, soft and still fatty in others.

I was interested to see, however, that despite Molzan's intention of keeping the prices here down, that the food is still a little expensive for what it is. 11th Street Cafe or Ruggles 11th Street: It's still a casual place that should bear casual prices. $14 for my plate of French toast and eggs was excessive, as was the $8 price tag on the still-frozen empanada appetizer, to say nothing of the $9 turkey burger that was too dry to eat.

But the place still seems to be a work in progress, and one that will likely serve happy Heights residents for years to come. After all, if there's one thing that Molzan knows how to do, it's stay in business through the good and the bad.



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13 comments
Kaleidos
Kaleidos

seriously?  $14 for french toast and eggs?  i could get that for around $10 at the "old' 11th street and, while maybe not the most spectacular food i'd ever eaten, they welcomed my dog on the patio and that means more than ruggles on the facade or some hanging ferns on the porch.  for shame!

rgwalt
rgwalt

For a tasty and reasonable breakfast in the Heights, go down 11th street towards shepard and stop in at Java Java!

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

$14 bucks for French toast and eggs?  You sure you were not at NOLA?  Great, another amazingly over-priced "cafe".  Just what the Heights needs. 

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

I haven't been to 11th Street Cafe in years even though I live just down the street. This based on several visits way back when and pizzas that were burned and nasty on the bottom and a "that's the way our pizza ovens make it" attitude from the staff. (Qualification: I understand and like the char on a typical coal fired New York style oven pizza...this wasn't that) 

Maybe the Ruggles staff have already addressed this but if not, some constructive and friendly criticism from me is that they should assess the whole pizza thing and be sure that the pizzas they are turning out meet their criteria for tastiness. If they're doing pizzas and are satisfied with the quality, that's all that matters.

As Peter Reinhart told me once, "It's possible for anyone to bake a good loaf of bread. What needs to be done is to know the processes well enough that you bake a spectacular loaf of bread."

Susannah
Susannah

Love the new decor and atmosphere, but the food needs a lot of improvement. The medium-rare Kobe burger I ordered came out as a bone dry well done bison burger. And considering the prices are nearly comparable to the far superior Stella Sola a couple blocks away, they're going to need to do a whole lot better than that.

Also, I can't believe you neglected to mention DaCapo's in the list of restaurants in the immediate vicinity. I'll take their sandwiches and salads over anything on the Ruggles menu (or the abysmal Someburger) any day.

WhsikeyR
WhsikeyR

What are you talking about when you say face lift?

I had an excellent Kobe burger there about a week ago, loved it. But the menu is incredibly weak (basically only burgers and salads) and they've changed nothing inside at all. The quality of food is improved, but its no face lift.

Marty
Marty

We want 11th st Cafe Back , miss the Pizzas and Breakfeast...

Littlemstrendy
Littlemstrendy

and get the worst service of your life.  teenage douchebags.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I was wondering when this NOLA place had opened up... LOL

Yeah, Lola commits the exact same sin. I can't stomach the prices there.

Info
Info

OMG...D and I are cracking up!!! Love the videoJZ

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