Diner's Notebook

Comings and Goings
Is there a strange new virus going around?
All of sudden, proprietors of quirky, one-of-a-kind Houston restaurants seem to be going corporate.

Item: Billy Landry, whose career in Cajun food has taken him from the original Don's and Willie G's to the late Teche and the feisty little Mom's Cookin', recently leaped over to the Ninfa Laurenzo family's Atchafalaya chain. Billy's mission: to spruce up the food, which -- judging by my first (and last) visit to the Gulf Freeway location, where I encountered a multi-dish crawfish platter so dispiriting I swore never to return -- can sorely use some sprucing up.

Still very much in action at Mom's, the Cajun plate-lunch spot next to the Taft Street Antone's, is Billy's founding partner David Cunningham. Still there, too, are all the soulful, Billy-esque recipes, including the garlic-injected rotisserie turkey and that wonderful throwback, the broccoli casserole.

Mom's Cookin', 905 Taft, 522-4500.

Mom's Cooking: Broccoli casserole, 99 cents.

Item: Carl Nixon, the big, amiable, teddy-bearish fellow who co-founded the Kaldi Cafe along with two other young alumni of the Brasil coffeehouse, has taken a position in Denver with Brothers, the major-league coffee roasters and distributors. Nixon leaves behind in Houston his delightfully archival dessert formulas -- including sweet-potato bread with an unusual browned-butter icing and an old-fashioned coconut layer cake that is as lush as it ever was.

His former partners, Kevin Johnson and Stephanie DeBroff, are still turning out what has to be the best caffe latte in town -- gorgeously layered, uncompromisingly strong -- along with breakfasts that have won a loyal following among Heights folks and visiting antiquers who come to browse the 19th Street strip. A recent Saturday noon found the place hopping, indoors and outside in the charming patio/alleyway, with eaters of mom-quality cinnamon toast, eggs scrambled with neo and retro add-ins, and funny little cupcake-shaped kolaches filled with such surprises as egg, bacon and feta cheese. They were scorched on the bottom, but they sure held promise.

-- Alison Cook

Kaldi Cafe, 250 West 19th Street, 802-2246.

Kaldi Cafe: Egg, bacon and feta kolaches, $1.

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