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I walked into Canopy, Shade owner Claire Smith's new restaurant in the Montrose, to have lunch with a friend. When I sat down at the table, the first thing I did was spill a margarita down the front of my shirt, right in front of the waiter. Embarrassing. So I ordered another cocktail and half the appetizers on the menu.
It was hard to choose just one app because they all looked so good. The creamy asparagus with mushrooms on toast was so tantalizing, I could have just ordered a double portion and been content.
It was pretty hot outside, and melon gazpacho sounded like a good way to cool down before devouring some of the hot dishes. But the chilled melon soup was just stock. Neither I nor my lunch partner tasted any melon — it was just tomato soup with lots of onion, carrot and celery. Oh well; we weren't going to let that slow us down.
Houston, TX 77006
Grilled asparagus and creamy wild mushrooms: $11
Crab remoulade and tomato salad: $15
Canopy Burger: $12
Buttermilk-fried pork loin: $14
Canopy Eggs Benedict: $14
Crab cake and fried green tomatoes: $14
Green Eggs and Ham: $15
Pan roasted duck breast: $27
Sautéed Gulf red snapper: $25
Chocolate hazelnut tart: $8
3939 Montrose, 713-528-6848.
We also tried the crab rémoulade salad. I am not a big salad eater, but crab and mayonnaise sounded good. Turns out it was more than good, it was transporting. The blue crab salad was really fresh and plentiful, but the show stealer was the tomatoes and feta with pumpkin seeds on the side. It had been a while since I'd had heirloom tomatoes, and these little nightshades were ripe and juicy. I wish all tomatoes could be this way, not gassed, waxed or stored in a refrigerator for weeks. Ground control to major tomatoes...
It was even harder to choose what to eat next because, again, everything on the list of entrées sounded really good. BLT, Croque Monsieur, or spaghetti with shrimp and bacon? My lunch partner wanted to try the buttermilk-fried pork loin, I think because it came with mac and cheese. The buttermilk-fried loin chop was down-home and damn good. The crust on the pork looked like a chicken-fried steak. It was crunchy and encased the loin on the inside, keeping all the juices inside. The mac and cheese was creamy and reason enough to order this dish.
I got the Canopy Burger. The house-made challah bun and hand-cut fries made for burger greatness. I asked our waiter for a side of the Harissa mayo for my fries. The spicy mayo that came with the burger was good, but Harissa mayo sounded intriguing. Harissa is a spicy African condiment made with red peppers and spices like cardamom. We both tried the Harissa mayo; it was good, but the cardamom was overbearing. I like cardamom, but it goes best when in balance with other flavors like curries, green teas or even sweet cream.
My lunch experience that day reminded me of the non-pretentious restaurants that used to fill the Montrose years ago, like the original Daily Review Cafe (when it was owned by Canopy's own Claire Smith) and Monica Pope's now-closed Boulevard Bistrot (where I used to work). These places offered fresh, creative food featuring local ingredients along with seasonal creative menus that were affordable enough to make them regular destinations for people in the neighborhood.
While many of these restaurants seem to have abandoned the 'Trose for more fertile grounds at Midtown or on Washington Avenue, it appears that some chefs and restaurateurs are bringing them back. There are still plenty of great restaurants in Montrose, but they are high-end and have been around for years — i.e., Mark's, Da Marco and Hugo's.
Canopy's spot is a snake-bitten location if there ever was one. I can't even count the number of restaurants that have tried to make it in this location. But by the look of things, Canopy is going to break this urban curse and provide Montrosians with a colorful neighborhood eatery for years to come.
My next visit to Canopy was for brunch, Mother's Day brunch. The industry nightmare. I bet every chef or restaurant owner in town has a Mother's Day nightmare story to tell. What is it with this tradition? Do mothers really love brunch that much? I don't know, but I have seen some craziness myself: microwaving steaks, grilling frozen chicken and putting snow crab legs in the dishwasher just to keep up with the demands from the dining room.
I sat at the bar at Canopy drinking a spicy Bloody Mary with Tito's vodka and a house-made mix, awaiting a group of mothers and children. There is one Mother's Day tradition that I do appreciate: Bloody Marys, mimosas and bellinis. Canopy has a nice selection of these "nip your hangover in the butt" cocktails. When my group arrived, we were promptly seated, and the dining room was calm, ambient and relaxing. What was this? On this holiday, the kitchen is supposed to be backed up, waiters should be pulling at each other's aprons, drinks should be M.I.A. and, of course, it should take 45 minutes for a table. Nope, it was pure serenity.
In fact, the only commotion came from my table when I knocked a champagne flute filled with a sparkling pear mimosa onto the floor and it broke into a million pieces. "Woohoo," I yelled. "Mother's Day!"