Cavatore Italian Restaurant: a Houston fixture where Texan hospitality meets Old World Italy.
Much like the famous Sergio Leone “spaghetti western” films of the 1970s, Cavatore Italian Restaurant in Houston is both classic and unexpected.
You might wonder how authentic (ahem, autentico) could an Italian restaurant, situated in a renovated barn, in the hip and offbeat Houston Heights, deep in the heart of Texas, really be.
The answer is a simple and confident moltissimo. Absolutely. No questions asked. The food is fantastic, the service is impeccable, and the decor is something you’ll never forget.
The eclectic interior runs the gamut from traditional barn rafters and wooden plank floors, to walls adorned with newspaper clippings from the Corriere della Sera and giant vintage posters from Federico Fellini films.
Did I mention the deer head? Yeah, there’s a deer head.
Cavatore Italian Restaurant first set up shop in the Houston Heights in 1983, spearheaded by Giancarlo Cavatore, a steel-worker-turned-restaurateur. After experiencing the economic boom and bust at his steel company, Giancarlo used his wits and ingenuity to carve a niche in the Italian restaurant world. He owned and operated a successful French fine dining establishment, La Tour d’Argent, open until 2006 across the street from Cavatore’s location, though it is at Cavatore Italian Restaurant that Giancarlo’s roots, his family, and his unique spirit truly continue to reside.
Mr. Cavatore took a Bastrop, Texas barn and had it relocated, piece by piece, to construct the mainframe of the restaurant. Thirty percent of the building, including the landmark windmill outside, is comprised of that original barn structure. Corrugated metal roofing and shadowy rafters complete the western look of the place, but it is the interior decoration that makes Cavatore Italian Restaurant a true adventure. Local businesses soon took notice, and wooden plaques with hand-painted business names lent themselves to the sense of community Cavatore was keen on building with his restaurant. There are between 500 and 1,000 of these plaques adorning the walls of this Houston Heights community fixture–which is pretty darned impressive!
Giancarlo’s son, Federico Cavatore–named after Fellini–explains that his father was an antique dealer who collected scores of Italian memorabilia from abroad. The Italian movie posters, the Italian sports pennants, and the newspaper articles line the walls, while stickers from Giancarlo’s world travels are pasted onto interior windows. Pictures inlaid into the large wooden bar surface reflect the history of the Cavatore family, placed under the clear shellac surface with care, along with check copies from the barn’s original owner–a true amalgamation of the people who came together to create this home-spun and family-oriented Italian restaurant.
And family-oriented it truly is–Federico Cavatore, along with his mother Ana Cavatore and his sister Dolores Tobola, are here every day to make sure their patrons are welcomed like family. Though Giancarlo has passed on, his family and his character are a strong presence at Cavatore Italian Restaurant. Staff are equally dedicated, and often more than one generation will stay on to work with the Cavatores. Head Chef Raul Garcia has been working at the restaurant for 22 years, where he and Sous Chef Nikolas Duque have been serving up recipes directly descended from the northern Italian traditions of Federico’s grandparents.
Cavatore Italian Restaurant hasn’t been without its own adventures through the years. Hurricane Ike shut the restaurant down for two weeks in 2008, and a brief flood once threatened the building’s historic wooden interior. But the Cavatore family kept on keeping on, serving up their famous Caesar salad (an absolute must!), chicken fettuccine alfredo, and lasagna with bechamel. Live music plays here regularly, classic tunes hammered out on a baby grand piano. It really is like stepping back in time.
What’s the best part of Cavatore Italian Restaurant, according to Federico?
“The history of it,” he says earnestly. The family. The trials and tribulations. The adventures they have been through, and still, Cavatore Italian Restaurant is going strong. It’s full of character, nostalgia, new friends and old fixtures. Give it a visit, try their fantastic selection of Italian foods and wines (don’t miss that Caesar salad!), and remember that adventures can sometimes be found just down the street.
Cavatore Italian Restaurant is located at 2120 Ella Blvd Houston, Texas 77008.
More Information: Cavatore Italian Restaurant
Cavatore’s Menu – Happy Hour Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 7:30PM CST