Heights Restaurant With Specialty Sandwiches Rebrands to Le Café Joséphine
The Heights is getting a refreshed specialty sandwich shop. Le Cafe Joséphine is replacing Neo Baguette at 201 East 20th, which opened in September 2018. The restaurant is still under the same ownership of the Chaabi family, which hails from Morocco, but is now being managed directly by daughter Noor. Le Café Joséphine’s menu, like Neo Baguette’s, still has a big focus on artisan baguette sandwiches, but it’s been updated, retooled and blends the Chaabi family’s Moroccan heritage with French cuisine. In addition, Le Cafe Joséphine offers several specialty coffee drinks.
As with many restaurants, the COVID-19 pandemic created problems for Neo Baguette (although the name was also ambiguous and sounded like it could be either a bakery or a banh mi shop). Now that business is picking back up, the Chaabi family is using the rebranding as a refresh button. The name Le Cafe Joséphine comes from the family’s nickname for Noor’s mother, who is also responsible for the recipes served in the restaurant. “Everything is literally from scratch,” says Noor. “Everybody says that, but we mean it. It’s all homemade and we work with local businesses as much as we possibly can, such as a produce company that only serves Houston or Kraftsman Baking for our bread.”
Despite being served on French baguettes, and some menu items having a heavy Moroccan influence, the cuisine focuses on global inspirations. “We debated on this, asking, “Are we French or are we Moroccan?” said Noor. “But what we are is a family that loves traveling together. All six of us go on these month-long trips, and you can see that on the menu. The food is from all over, and you can see that in our sandwiches.”
Some of the world-spanning options include the Maine Lobster, Italian-inspired Capri and the French-inspired Fig and Brie, topped with fig jam, fresh brie, arugula, and honey. There are also brunch-worthy dishes all day, such as pain perdu (brioche French toast), avocado toast and the terrific Breakfast Baguette with eggs, avocado, shallot cream cheese and the optional addition of either beef bacon or smoked salmon. While the restaurant isn’t currently opening until 10 a.m., there’s a possibility that it will open for breakfast hours in the future.
Houston Food Finder was invited to attend a friends and family event kicking off the new chapter for the restaurant, and many dishes were available to sample. A few standout sandwiches include the Spicy Moroccan Tuna, Philly Cheesesteak with ribeye, rich garlic butter, mushrooms, onions and red bell pepper topped with melted Swiss cheese, and the Moroccan-spiced meatball sandwich with marinara and thin strips of Parmesan cheese.
The Poulet Classique, named as a favorite sandwich by the Houston Press, has been held over from Neo Baguette and includes sliced marinated chicken breast, avocado, mushrooms, roasted bell pepper, manchego cheese and chipotle mayo. An intriguing new addition is the Moroccan Merguez, with traditional lamb sausage, sauteed mushrooms, olives, Parmesan cheese and an eggplant spread.
The restaurant excels at falafel. These deep-fried chickpea balls are made in-house and boast a crisp, browned exterior beautifully balanced against the vibrant green, almost fluffy and zesty interior. (The green color is from spinach, which is blended into the chickpea mix.) The housemade falafel are available both in a baguette sandwich and the falafel salad with cherry tomatoes, avocado, cucumber and red onions. The sirloin steak salad has enough meat to soothe people who eschew “rabbit food” thanks to a generous addition of chili-infused honey-glazed sirloin steak.
As mentioned, Le Café Joséphine’s specialty coffee selection is broader and more varied than its predecessor. Several specialty, dessert-inspired lattes were added, and all incorporate locally roasted Katz Coffee. “Before, we had a few, such as the Crème Brûlée and Nutella Lattes, and they were very popular.” Noor continued, “My brother loves making coffee, so he created the new menu. Now we have PB&J, Bananas Foster and Lavender Lattes — there is so much more now.”
For dessert and sweet snacks, the restaurant has plenty of options, such as Saffron Crème Brûlée, Walnut Medjool Dates, Salted Toffee Crackers and an assortment of locally made pastries.
At some point, there may be additional Le Café Josephines in Houston. For now, if you wish to visit the second location, you’ll have to wait and visit the one in the Sahara Desert in Morocco when it opens. According to the Chaabis, that’s the plan.
Le Café Joséphine is open daily from 10 a.m to 8 p.m., and online ordering is available through the company website, or through Ubereats and GrubHub.