Popular pizza pop-up Angie’s returns as trendy East End Italian restaurant rebrands once again

In less than a year since opening in Houston’s East End, a popular destination for Italian fare is rebranding — for the third time.

The brother-and-sister team of Angelo and Lucianna “Louie” Emiliani debuted Cafe Louie at 3401 Harrisburg in May 2022. Houstonians came for the crowd-pleasing menu, which included pastries, kolaches, sandwiches and house-made breads. Within months, the restaurant landed in the Top 25 when the Houston Chronicle brought back its Top 100 restaurants guide after a two-year pandemic pause. By December, however, the siblings rebranded as Louie’s Italian American to focus on a dinner-service-only restaurant serving handmade pastas and red sauce-favorites like chicken parm and frutti di mare.

Tonight is the last dinner service for Louie’s Italian American. The siblings recently severed ties with their business partners, Angelo Emiliani said, and now they plan to open a pizza-centric restaurant called Angie’s in the same space sometime in May. They’re also searching for a space in the neighborhood to open Little Louie’s, which will serve as a dedicated space for Louie Emiliani’s breads and baked goods.

“It’s a funny little merry-go-round we’ve been through since opening,” Angelo Emiliani said. “We’ve gotten support from so many different people in our short time. We hope that continues.”

RED SAUCE ALERT : Popular Café Louie rebrands as Louie’s Italian American

Angie’s is not an entirely new concept for the Emilianis, who grew up in Southwest Houston. Angelo, 30, said he moved back to the area on Nov. 14, 2020, with his wood-fired pizza oven in tow, and the next day, he opened Angie’s as a pop-up.

The business was a hit during the early days of the pandemic. Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook raved about it on a visit: “And that trippy crust, made with flour from the great Texas Barton Springs Mill, splashed with a little olive oil in spots, was impossible to stop eating.”

Angelo Emiliani described opening Cafe Louie as a pivot of sorts that allowed the siblings to open a full-fledged business. The all-day cafe’s hours, on top of staffing issues, proved challenging, and diners bee-lined to their Red Sauce Sunday series, which pushed them to focus on opening Louie’s Italian American.

“When Louie’s Italian American opened its doors, Houston — once again — showed us nothing but love and an overwhelming amount of support,” Angelo posted over the weekend on the restaurant’s Instagram account. “And for that, we are eternally grateful, but I still found myself missing the days of slinging pizzas in the parking lot and being one with my community.”

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Angelo said he hopes the third time's a charm as he revives his original goal of opening Angie’s.

The current restaurant will undergo some light cosmetic changes and a pizza oven will sit near the center of the dining room. He’s taking a page from James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Bianco, whom he worked for in Los Angeles.

The 12-inch, wood-fired pizzas — which he describes as a cross between New York and Neapolitan-style pies, with fermented dough and crisp bottoms — will anchor the menu. Six or seven varieties will likely always be on the menu, with other pies changing seasonally. Sides of market salads and antipasti will also rely on local ingredients, from apples and peppers to cheese and garlic. Angie’s will also eventually offer pizza by the slice.

This latest iteration of the business will hopefully be less jarring for customers, Angelo said. He adds that some dishes from Louie’s Italian American will appear on the new menu.

“It was never a plan to run three different restaurants in a year,” Angelo Emiliani said. “But I’ve never been afraid of change. I usually embrace change.”