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Cheap and Good Eats

The top five budget lunch spots in Montrose.

But there it was, plate after plate of chicken-fried lobster with home fries and collard greens sailing past me on the upturned palms of servers to tables throughout Max's Wine Dive during brunch.

When my waiter arrived and asked what I'd be eating, I just pointed.

"That," I said, gesturing to the shiny red tail beneath a mound of fried pinkish meat on the table next to me. "I want that."

Po-boys from BB's taste like they're straight out of New Orleans.
Katharine Shilcutt
Po-boys from BB's taste like they're straight out of New Orleans.
These pecan alfajores are Belen Bailey's most popular item.
Molly Dunn
These pecan alfajores are Belen Bailey's most popular item.

"Good choice," he replied. "That's what all the rappers are getting."

Come again now? I followed his eyes down the length of the restaurant, and sure enough, there were Slim Thug at a table and Bun B at the counter.

"Oh yeah," my waiter said when he saw the surprise on my face. "They brunch here all the time. And they got the lobster, too."

After I'd had a few bites of the surprisingly balanced chicken-fried lobster, I spotted the chef at Max's, Michael Pellegrino, strolling through the restaurant. I stopped him as he passed my table.

"Okay, I have to ask," I said. "Chicken-fried lobster? What gives?"

"I know, I know!" Pellegrino said, laughing. "I refused to eat it for at least three weeks after it was invented. It's kind of a funny story."

Evidently, Pellegrino had decided to take a rare break from the kitchen for a day and left his sous chef, Ana Amayo, in charge. He poked his head in at some point — just to make sure things were running smoothly in his absence — and there it was on the specials board: Chicken-Fried Lobster.

Pellegrino says he went back to the kitchen and asked Amayo what the hell she was thinking.

"I was like, people like lobster braised in butter or steamed!" Pellegrino says. "No one wants to eat chicken-fried lobster!"

Amayo told him to give it a try, and sure enough, diners loved it. It's been a regular special for some time now, because people keep coming in and requesting the $40 plate of chicken-fried lobster.

It's a full lobster tail scooped out of the shell, then breaded in a thick, slightly spicy batter and fried until the outside is bubbly and crispy and the lobster inside is cooked through. Actually, it might be fried just a tad longer than necessary for the lobster, since it was a little tough. It still had the sweet, delicate lobster flavor, though, and it held up surprisingly well against the flavorful batter.

The fried tail meat was served on a bed of stewed collard greens that were some of the best I've ever had the pleasure to brunch on. Home fries cooked so long they're almost caramelized are a nice addition to the plate as well, though unnecessary, unless you have the appetite of a rapper. I do not.

The dish contains one final component that might have been my favorite part, even more so than the lobster: a fluffy half slice of French toast with a generous side of real maple syrup. It was rich and custardy, and it would pair perfectly with a glass or three of dry rosé on a Sunday afternoon. Breakfast and wine together? Two of my favorite things.

If you're a tried-and-true Texan like I am, you believe that anything can be improved by a little chicken-frying, and lobster is no exception. So while the notion of the lobster dish was questionable, the execution made me proud to be from the great state that has invented the likes of deep-fried butter, chicken-fried bacon and, yes, fried beer.

That said, watching Slim Thug go to town on a chicken-fried crustacean was the definite highlight of my brunch.
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Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Japanese tapas trend, The Woodlands restaurant expansion & more.

Molly Dunn

It was an exciting week in terms of openings for Houston restaurants. We heard about two closings only, but a ton of restaurants announced plans concerning openings (many came forward with dates, too!).

Let's get the closings out of the way before we get to last week's openings and news about soon-to-open establishments.

El Corral Mexican Restaurant in Cypress shut its doors. No news on why the restaurant will no longer serve customers off Highway 249. The restaurant's Facebook page hasn't been updated since June 30, so maybe things have been going downhill for a while.

Swamplot reports that the Harrisburg Sonic Drive-In has quietly closed; the once bright and vibrantly colored Sonic is covered with gray-painted plywood. Swamplot's report explains that chains, franchises, bus terminals and a golf course surrounded the drive-in — possible reasons for its demise.

Thankfully, that's it for closings. On to the openings!

The strip center along Heights Boulevard off of I-10 welcomed Salata on October 16. Eater reports that the upscale salad bar — which also ­offers wraps and soups — is the 13th Salata franchise in the Houston area. Salata also announced that it is now a gluten-free-certified ­establishment.

Another Japanese and noodle restaurant is set to open in October as well. Tiger Den will be located on Bellaire Boulevard in Chinatown. Owner Mike Tran (from Aka Sushi House) tells CultureMap that the restaurant will have five types of ramen, Hong Kong-style "cart noodles," Japanese tapas (izakaya) and grilled items.

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