First Look at Biba's Kitbar
The good: A very respectable breakfast sandwich on rye.
No, none of those words above are typos. That's how the "new" Bibas is styling itself these days: Biba's Kitbar. Kitbar is apparently a portmanteau of the words "kitchen" and "bar," and thankfully does not refer to the Urban Dictionary definition of the word.
If the name is a bit of a mess, that's just because it's an accurate reflection of the mess that Biba's itself currently is. Long story short: Haritos Bibas purchased One's a Meal in 1978. He changed its name slightly to Bibas' One's A Meal, then sold it in 2000. That Bibas' moved to its current Westheimer location a few years ago, where it's currently under the stewardship of John Katsimikis, a fellow Greek, and has since changed its name to Theo's.
Meanwhile, Haritos Bibas still ran Bibas' Greek Pizza on Memorial until it was demolished a year ago and had plans to "reopen" the original Bibas' One's a Meal on West Gray in its "original" location at 607 West Gray (the real original location of One's a Meal was at 2019 West Gray; confused yet?).
That was last May.
The stained glass lamps are gone now, but the diner side of Biba's Kitbar is still the same as it was when it was Bibas Diner.
When I toured the new Bibas Diner on a hot day in early summer, it was clear that Bibas himself had put the diner together with spit and bailing wire. (That's Texan for "on a really tight budget.") Although the space itself had a lot of promise, Bibas seemed to have scrounged together building materials from past projects to construct the restaurant's interior, nothing really matching and rooms feeling oddly disconnected from one another in the cavernous house. It was like the restaurant equivalent of the Winchester Mansion.
Haritos Bibas finally opened the diner late last year with no fanfare and to limited crowds. I heard no tales out of the place from patrons, which is often worse than bad tales. Business wasn't great, and Bibas ended up quietly selling his restaurant less than a year after he'd reopened it. The new owners -- Joe Issac, Anna Sites and E.I. Thomas -- haven't spiffed the place up beyond what Bibas did (in fact, it seems a little worse for the wear, as with the large hole in the ladies' room door), but they have changed the menu.
There's a strong Cajun flair to the breakfast side of things, seen in dishes like a crawfish eggs Benedict topped with jumbo lump crab and a bananas Foster-influenced French toast. The lunch/dinner side of the menu gets a little more mixed up, with plantains and avocado showing up in a couple of dishes. But I didn't delve too far into that side of the menu this past Sunday morning for breakfast.
The new Biba's Kitbar -- like its predecessor -- is open 24 hours a day, and serves breakfast all the way through. So it was breakfast that I focused on, and what a mixed bag it was.
The bad: Rubbery crawfish tails under a roux made mostly of salt.
The crawfish eggs Benedict sounded promising, and looked even better when it arrived. In place of hollandaise sauce was a creamy roux thick with crawfish tails and bell peppers. It looked wonderful -- from a distance.
Upon closer inspection, the crawfish tails were mealy and tasteless, while the roux itself was mostly butter and salt. (This might sound wonderful in theory, like a bacon buttie, but it's actually horrible.) My tongue felt swollen and sodium-numbed after a few bites. The potatoes and onions served on the side were similarly oversalted. It was all for the best, really, as one of the poached eggs was overcooked and the lump crab tasted of aluminum can.
My friend's breakfast sandwich fared far better, two beautifully fried eggs on rye with melty Cheddar and bright red tomatoes. Ditto his cup of sliced strawberries, a far better fruit option than a miserable fruit cup full of mealy cantaloupe. He threw them onto the stack of pancakes he'd ordered on the side, which were fluffy and buttery and all-around great -- until topped with the "maple syrup" served on the side.
The syrup had the consistency of rubber cement and an odd, orange flavor. Had the ultra-sticky syrup been mixed with orange blossom honey? It clung stubbornly to the tines of my fork and the plate below, gumming up each bite of pancake with its weird, orange-scented adhesiveness.
The ugly: That's not maple syrup lurking back there...
I finally asked the waitress about the provenance of the stuff, but she just shrugged. "They just keep it in a warmer back there," she said. Yes, but is it maple syrup? "I don't know; it's whatever's in that warmer."
And while the breakfast had some bright spots -- the stainless steel with black-and-white diner vibe of the smaller dining area itself is one of them -- I'm reluctant to return until Biba's figures out what's in that warmer back there and until they fix that hole in the ladies' room door. It's not like the neighborhood is hurting for good breakfast or 24-hour dining spots, after all.
The place can't trade on the Bibas name to keep business up anymore, either. Bibas himself is gone, as are the glory days of the old Bibas' One's a Meal -- not that history means much here. In Houston, time always marches on.
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