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With a Grain of Salt

BRC Gastropub could be great.

 See Dr. Pepper-friend quail in the making in our slideshow.

I don't really know where to begin with BRC Gastropub, the latest restaurant collaboration between Lance Fegen and Shepard Ross — who also created Glass Wall in the Heights — with chef Jeff Axline at the helm.

I really want to like this place with its expansive menu of American craft beers, its emphasis on serving local products like Pola cheese and My Dee Dee's pies, and its tongue-in-cheek playfulness, evident everywhere you look, from the name (BRC stands for "Big Red Cock") to the joyous jumble of colors and textures inside that look like a diorama created from several random issues of Southern Living. And sometimes I do like it.

Done right: Dr Pepper-fried quail.
Troy Fields
Done right: Dr Pepper-fried quail.

Location Info

Map

BRC Gastropub

519 Shepherd
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Gastro Pub

Region: Heights

Details

Lunch hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Dinner hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Brunch hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Soup of the day: $4.75

Boudain balls: $7.75

Mac and cheese of the day: $8.50

Mussels of the day: $11

The Leghorn salad: $11.50

State Fair Griddled Cheese: $12.50

Hand-cut french fries: $3

Roasted chicken: $13

My Dee Dee's pie of the day: $5.50

Rice Crispy ice cream sandwiches: $7

BRC Gastropub

519 Shepherd, 713-861-2233.

Other times, however, the food simply falls flat. I find myself frustrated and confused with what should be, by all rights, every bit as consistently wonderful as its comrade-in-arms across the street, Branch Water Tavern. But consistency is where BRC struggles, and it's a damn shame.

I don't believe it's for a lack of trying, however, which gives me hope that BRC might yet improve. The restaurant has clearly listened to patrons' concerns in the six months that it's been open. An initial complaint with the restaurant when it first started up was that the front door and hostess stand were confusingly located. BRC has cleared that issue up, with the front door now clearly marked and the hostess stand in a more sensible location. But they've also changed other things that didn't need to be altered, like abandoning the gorgeous, leather-bound booklets that held the cleverly written beer list in favor of paper inserts in the same cheap plastic folders that hold the regular menu.

And that's not the only thing that's changed. The first time I dined at BRC, back in May, I loved nearly everything my dining companion and I ordered: the Dr Pepper-fried quail, the blue cheese potato salad served with it, the Maryland crabcake sliders, smoked cheddar-studded buttermilk biscuits served with bacon jam that reminded me of the pig candy my mother always made when I was a kid.

In particular, the Dr Pepper-fried quail and the potato salad blew me away. The fowl was fresh and sweet, the dark meat just barely infused with the plummy soda and lightly fried to perfection. The tangy potato salad underneath it left me wondering why more places don't serve this concoction: Soft potatoes, sharply sour blue cheese, crunchy celery and bites of cucumber all blurred together into a dish that makes the argument between mustard-based potato salad and mayo-based potato salad entirely irrelevant.

Only the frozen Snicker beignets and the much-touted macaroni and cheese disappointed. And since that visit, the mac and cheese has significantly improved, to the point that we gave BRC an award for Best Mac and Cheese in our most recent Best of Houston® issue (as well as a richly deserved award for Best Beer Selection). But the rest of the food seems to have gone downhill.
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On my second visit to BRC this past week, my dining companion and I found ourselves battling one another for the saltshaker on the table. She, a well-known pastry chef, despaired aloud, her voice strained with frustration: "I never salt anything, Katharine. Do you understand that? I never salt things. This is ridiculous."

And it was starting to verge on ridiculous, almost comical. In a city where so many restaurants usually serve their dishes criminally oversalted, BRC has swung to the opposite side of the salt spectrum; nearly everything was undersalted. Even my companion's salad. Yes, salad.

That salad, The Leghorn, sounded promising on the menu: roasted chicken with mixed greens, a nine-minute egg, smoked bacon, Blue Heron Farm cheese and an apple cider-mustard dressing. The roasted chicken had no seasoning, however, and tasted as bland as a defrosted chicken breast. The dressing had no hint of either cider or mustard. "I can't taste anything," my companion groused as she shoved a forkful of greens at me. And, to add insult to injury, the egg was not to her specifications, either. "Randy Rucker does a nine-minute egg at Bootsie's that really is a nine-minute egg," she grumbled. "It's still slightly runny, just barely verging on cooked all the way through. This is not a nine-minute egg."

My dish was better, but it's difficult to truly screw up mussels. The hand-cut fries, on the other hand, were soggy and required hefty amounts of salt. And while the mussels themselves were disconcertingly puny, the fennel-thickened broth was silken, cloudy ambrosia. It was expertly seasoned and was the one thing that didn't require any salting. Our cheerful, on-point waitress had been quick to recommend bringing out a couple of pieces of Slow Dough Bread Co.'s buttery sourdough to sop it up with. (Beware, though: Those two pieces of bread cost an extra $2, which the waitress failed to mention during her upsell.) Dabbing those thick, crusty pieces of bread into the rich broth was one of the better dining experiences I've had lately. So why can't BRC replicate this with all of its dishes?

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