By Brooke Viggiano
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Joanna O'Leary
By Francisco Montes
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Katharine Shilcutt
Unfortunately, the entrées didn't live up to the promise of the gumbo. My dining companion's fish was utterly soaked in butter to the point of being unrecognizable as "fresh" or "fish," while the oysters that accompanied it were, like the turtle soup, unpalatably gritty (although the jasmine rice beneath it was fragrant and lovely, a welcome change from standard white rice). As for my entrée of soft-shell crab with tomatoes and cucumber, it was inedible.
Inedible. That's not a word I use to describe food very often. I'm an avowed omnivore with the stomach of a billy goat. But I couldn't eat more than five bites of the soft-shell crab, which tasted as if it had sat in the corner of some dark, dank refrigerator for two days before being fried up. The crab was mushy inside the batter, while the batter itself seemed to be the culprit behind the awful, humid taste, tinged with multiple layers of unidentified "food." You know the taste. Refrigerator taste. It's horrifying.
Houston, TX 77006
Turtle soup: $9
Peach salad: $9
Chef's playground: $20
Soft-shell crab: $44
Pecan-crusted hake: $25
Shrimp and grits: $24
Bananas Foster: $8
Creole bread pudding: $9
3300 Smith, 713-522-9711.
Thankfully, the ruby-red tomatoes beneath the crab were ripe, thick and juicy. I ate them with abandon and tried to forget the crab. It helped when the Bananas Foster were flambéed, tableside, and delivered to my eager mouth. I will never tire of watching the Brennan's waiters send flames shooting into the air as they gently lean the tip of the rum-laden pan into the bright-blue fire below. The Bananas Foster were a success on both visits: gently seasoned with cinnamon and sugar, doused liberally with high-quality rum and served alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream that brought vivid childhood memories to mind with each bite.
On my second visit, the food wasn't the only thing to improve dramatically. The service, which had been distracted at best and curt at worst on the first visit, was now friendly and professional. We sat in the same butter-colored dining room on the main floor as before, but the sunshine streaming through the tall windows seemed to have changed the entire demeanor of the place, waitstaff included.
My peach and blue cheese salad seemed to reflect the sunny atmosphere, with bright wedges of Texas peaches lazing on a bed of summery greens in a bright balsamic vinaigrette. The sharp, creamy blue cheese seemed to sing out against the salad, accentuated with occasional bites of the sweetly spicy Tabasco praline on the side.
Pecan-crusted hake, too, was buoyant and lively despite the fulsome application of butter. "We're known for butter," our waiter laughed when he heard me mention the sheer amount of it to my dining companion. The thick crust of sweet pecan and the pert haricots verts beneath the hake were exactly what the dish needed to save it from being too fatty, too rich.
But my dining companion's dish — a simple yet succulent bowl of shrimp and grits — was the crowning glory of our meal. Brennan's simply has the best shrimp and grits in town, no questions asked. It's even better than the head-on shrimp and grits at Alex Brennan-Martin's Bistro Alex on the far west side, and it far surpasses any other establishments in town. The stone-ground grits were thick and knotty, yet somehow still creamy at the same time. Morsels of corn studded the rustic mound of grits, adding a pleasant sugary snap to the salty coarseness. And, unlike the fish, they weren't overly buttery. It was a triumph of a meal, all crowned by plump, pink shrimp and shreds of sweet, earthy parsnip.
Bread pudding and a 25-cent gin martini for dessert capped off the lunch as a total success. Unlike most tough, overly thick bread puddings served in Houston restaurants, Brennan's dishes up the real thing: moist and sumptuous, gloppy in all its eggy, milky, sugary glory.
And those martinis? May be the best-kept secret in town.
With a delicate, lunch-size martini glass full of gin in hand, it was easy to forget the sins of dinner a few nights prior. But will stalwart patrons be as forgiving of the old lady? With new chef Danny Trace in the kitchen and a long, glorious road behind it, Brennan's has even more to live up to after reopening. Inconsistency is forgivable in a younger restaurant. At Brennan's, we've all come to expect more.