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On my second visit to Branch Water Tavern, I was eager to introduce the fabulous food to my spouse. I ordered some pork "scratchin's," which were sort of halfway between cracklins and fried pork rinds. I forgot that she finds eating pure fat odious.
The waiter brought a plate of biscuits and a butter dish to the table when we ordered — it's Branch Water's version of a bread basket. "Buttering these biscuits is redundant," she declared as she ate one of the unctuous, flaky bread squares.
Houston, TX 77007
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Duck fat popcorn: $3
Squash soup: $7
Crab cake: $12
Short ribs: $28
To appease her appetite for light and healthy food, I ordered the quasi-vegetarian butternut squash soup. But she said it was too rich and shoved it over to me. I loved the stuff. Okay, maybe there was a little cream and butter in the squash, and granted, it had a very large duck confit ravioli and some oily pesto floating in it, but it still qualified as health food in my book.
The pan-roasted chicken was brined and cooked slowly with the skin on until it became very moist and tenderized by the slowly melting chicken fat. She wanted to cut the skin off and throw it away before she even considered eating any of the meat. I put my head in my hands. The roasted black drum with basil broth was the only dish she really liked, and she wouldn't eat the ricotta dumplings that came with it.
"Is the theme of this restaurant 'fatty foods for lean times'?" she asked with a smile.
To my mind, fatty short ribs or duck confit, braised in a flavorful sauce until the fat tenderizes the meat and the whole thing falls apart, is the ultimate winter comfort food. I also tend to think that squash soup needs lots of cream, that bone marrow is the perfect topping for a strip steak and that bacon-wrapped shrimp feels most at home on a bed of cheddar grits with a slow-poached egg on top. And it's hard for me to remember that everybody doesn't like that sort of cooking.
There are a few other things about Branch Water Tavern that won't please everyone. So I better temper my enthusiasm for the place with some caveats. First of all, let me warn you about the idiotic parking situation.
On my last visit to Branch Water Tavern, I ran over an orange cone and parked my car in the empty parking lot in front of the restaurant. "You can't park here, it's valet parking only," the thug at the stand told me.
"Call a tow truck, I'm going in the restaurant," I replied. He didn't, of course. You aren't breaking any laws by parking in a restaurant parking lot while you are eating there, and the valet service has no authority to tell you where to park. My tablemate on that visit told me the valet at a nearby wine bar stole his iPod out of the center console. "How much did you tip him?" I had to ask.
I predict 2010 will be the year of the valet revolt. I am not paying these people to park my car in an empty parking lot, steal my valuables, switch my headlights on so I run down my battery, or otherwise harass me anymore. I suggest that Branch Water Tavern and every other restaurant in town with a perfectly adequate parking lot fire the valet service.
Some people have complained that the restaurant is noisy. I haven't been there on a weekend when it's packed, so I haven't noticed that problem. I have noticed that the bar gets noisy, but that doesn't bother me.
As for the food, the shy but brilliant David Grossman cooks the kind of rich, straightforward meat and seafood dishes I love to eat on a cold night. But be forewarned. You shouldn't take a vegetarian or a salad fancier to this place and expect them to get all excited about the duck fat popcorn.
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