By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
Six fried chicken wings encircle the round "Belgian" waffle dusted with powdered sugar. The Breakfast Klub's chicken is hot and crusty, and so are the waffles. Individually they each taste just fine. I pull the meat off a wing with my front teeth, slice a big wedge of waffle and try the two together. Sorry, no fireworks. It's my first encounter with the legendary chicken and waffles concept, and I don't get it. Maybe I'm taking it too seriously.
My dining companion is fairly happy with her French toast, which is made with that double-thickness white bread called Texas toast. The eggs are nice and fluffy, but the ham is an oval slice of some pressed product. The cooking is first-rate, but I wish The Breakfast Klub bought better bread and real ham. I have come to expect a lot from this modest restaurant, which opened a little more than a month ago at the corner of Travis and Alabama. That's because most of what I've had here has been outstanding.
The first time I visited, I wandered in by myself and ate breakfast for lunch. It looks like a shoestring operation, with bare concrete floors and rough tables. The menu of African-American breakfast foods has some real surprises, though, starting with the coffee section. I expected Folgers or Maryland Club, or maybe some Louisiana-style café au lait with chicory. Instead, there is Costa Rican and Kenyan coffee in big help-yourself thermos dispensers, plus a full menu of espresso, cappuccino, latte and the rest.
Houston, TX 77002
Region: Downtown/ Midtown
Catfish and grits: $8
Chicken and waffles: $6
Breakfast special (before 9 a.m.): $4.50, (after 9 a.m.): $6
French toast with eggs and sausage: $5.50
Meaty 3 omelet: $6
Bottomless cup of coffee: $1.50
Cappuccino: $2.50, (large) $3
Also on the menu were "Katfish & Grits," a dish I'd never heard of, and "Wings & Waffles," a combination I'd always wanted to try. And then there were country sausages, breakfast chops, biscuits and gravy, and all kinds of other morning delights. I didn't even read the sandwich and salad menu. I figured they don't call it The Breakfast Klub for nothing. So I started at the beginning, with a "Breakfast Special": two eggs, choice of ham, bacon or sausage, with hash browns or grits and toast or biscuits.
I went for the patty-style sausage, in which the ground pork mixture is formed into a thick puck and cooked until well done but still juicy. The meat was spicy, although not too piquant; it had a nice herbal tang, probably from ground sage. Both the patty and link sausages come from Burt's Meat Market (5910 Lyons), one of the city's most serious sausage makers. The fried eggs were perfect, and the biscuits, though not made on the premises, were fresh and flaky. I had fluffy white grits on the side, with plenty of butter. It was a terrific breakfast. But when I was through, I found myself staring at the next table. The woman there was eating catfish and grits with fried eggs, and it looked awfully good. "The eggs are always greener ," I guess.
One of the downsides to the food critic business is that you don't always get to order what you want. On my second visit, I want to try the catfish and grits. But so does my dining partner. And he won't budge. So I reluctantly switch to the "Meaty 3" omelet after reminding him several times that he has to let me taste the catfish and grits. He orders the dish with scrambled eggs instead of the over-easy ones I had in mind, but that's okay. I can already taste the crisp fried catfish and grits drowned in butter.
When our food arrives, he promptly dumps pancake syrup all over the grits. "You've got to be kidding," I stutter in complete shock.
"What? I love syrup on my grits!" he says.
"With catfish?" I moan.
"Sure, why not!" he says with a smile. I taste the fish with some grits that haven't been sweetened yet. It's a great combination, but in my mind, it would taste even better with some egg yolk and butter flavors mixed in.
The Meaty 3 omelet is rolled up in a tight cylinder, like a burrito with the fillings in the skin. Little bits of finely diced ham, bacon and sausage sparkle in the egg suspension like bits of stained glass in a church window. This cooking technique makes the eggs drier than I like them, but it's a nice presentation.
Catfish and grits is a very popular dish in the Southeast, particularly in Georgia and the Carolinas, owner and head chef Marcus Davis says when he strolls over to our table to check on us. In fact, Clemson University's agricultural department hosts an annual gathering called Catfish and Grits. Judging by the photos on their Web site, I'd guess that the traditional combination is actually catfish and cheese grits, but The Breakfast Klub version is close enough. "It's been our most popular dish," says Davis. The chicken and waffles is popular too. That's a West Coast invention, the chef says. He's referring to Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, the L.A. chain that made the kooky combination famous.
I end up going back to The Breakfast Klub just to try the catfish and grits again. This time I get them with fried eggs, over easy, and butter in the grits. The yolks, buttery grits and crisp fried fish are as sensational together as I guessed they would be, and even better with a dash of Tabasco on each bite. This is the one meal that shouldn't be missed at The Breakfast Klub -- even if you put syrup on your grits.