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The First of Two Much-Anticipated Museum District Restaurants Will Arrive in Mid-April

At Cafe Leonelli, find classic Italian dishes from a chef with a seriously impressive culinary background

A selection of focaccia breads topped with vegetables and herbs
Brightly topped focaccia and so much more awaits at Cafe Leonelli
Evan Sung for Cafe Leonelli
Amy McCarthy is a staff writer at, focusing on pop culture, policy and labor, and only the weirdest online trends.

Cafe Leonelli, the first of two much-anticipated restaurants set to open at the recently revamped Museum of Fine Arts Houston, has officially set an opening date.

A rep for the restaurant tells Eater that Cafe Leonelli is set to make its debut inside the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at MFAH on Friday, April 16. As previously reported, Cafe Leonelli is an offshoot of New York City’s famed Leonelli Bakery, known for its selection of Italian pastries and homey Italian dishes, that’s led by chef Jonathan Benno. Benno brings a seriously impressive culinary pedigree to Cafe Leonelli, having spent time in the kitchens of top chefs like Michael Mina, Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller.

At Cafe Leonelli, Benno will focus on two key Italian carbs — pillowy focaccia and freshly made pasta. Expect focaccia topped eggplant parm-style with mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, porchetta sandwiches, and baked pastas like lasagna. Soups, salads, and entrees including chicken cacciatore and roasted salmon with Castelvetrano olives, capers, white wine, and parsley, will also be on offer.

Pastries will have a prominent spot on the menu, along with ice cream, popsicles, and milkshakes from pastry chef Salvatore Martone’s ice cream shop Frohzen, which is located inside Cafe Leonelli. Look forward to eclairs stuffed with strawberry mascarpone and raspberry bomboloni, among other sweet options.

Flaky, golden brown cornetto pastries on white parchment paper
Pastry chef Salvatore Martone’s cornettos
Evan Sung for Cafe Leonelli

And of course, because this restaurant is located at an art museum, there will be stunning installations inside and outside the space. Inside the dining room, a lighting installation from American sculptor Spencer Finch that involves 150 fixtures and 417 incandescent bulbs will hang from the ceiling. Cafe Leonelli’s patio will boast views of the museum’s Cullen Sculpture Garden.

The restaurant will share a kitchen with its sister spot Le Jardinier, the French-inflected eatery helmed by chef Alain Verzeroli. Its debut is expected to follow sometime later this spring, complete with a menu of dishes prepared with locally sourced vegetables and proteins.

When Cafe Leonelli debuts, the restaurant will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thursdays, when the doors stay open until 8 p.m.