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Bradley's Fine Diner Is Bradley Ogden's Chance to Get Comfy, for Better or Worse

Bradley’s Fine Diner has evolved into more of a comfort-food place; we wouldn’t mind a little more excitement.

Bradley's Fine Diner Is Bradley Ogden's Chance to Get Comfy, for Better or Worse

"Yankee pot roast" is exactly what you might expect from a place calling itself a "fine diner." The tender beef roast is topped with buttery, crunchy bread crumbs and surrounded by fluffy Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Nothing is overseasoned or overspiced. It's classic and safe but incredibly satisfying. It's just upscale enough to merit the designation "fine," but still straightforward in a fast-casual sort of way. This, unlike previous menu iterations that included frog legs and expensive, rare steak, feels like diner food.

So, too, does a pan-roasted swordfish on a bed of corn salsa. It's like spa food in its simplicity, and even after downing the entire fillet of fish and accoutrements, I felt light. Full and nourished, but not overly so. I wasn't excited by the dish, but I left the restaurant feeling healthy and, again, satisfied.

It was quality food, sure, but somehow not what I expected from Bradley Ogden, two-time James Beard award-winner and legend in the California food scene, and his son Bryan Ogden, his second in command. Bradley Ogden rose to culinary fame in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he served as executive chef at the Campton Place Hotel. Once that took off, he opened a slew of other restaurants, including The Lark Creek Inn, which he refers to as his signature restaurant thanks to its use of seasonal local ingredients in upscale but classic preparations. This is the Ogden style of cuisine, so where was it at Bradley's Fine Diner?

There's a lot going on with the decor at BFD, but the mishmash of patterns and colors gives the restaurant an informal feel.
Yuri Peña
There's a lot going on with the decor at BFD, but the mishmash of patterns and colors gives the restaurant an informal feel.
The sorbet is made in-house, and the flavors vary based on availability of fresh, seasonal fruit.
Yuri Peña
The sorbet is made in-house, and the flavors vary based on availability of fresh, seasonal fruit.

Location Info

Map

Bradley's Fine Diner

191 Heights Boulevard
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Spring garlic dip: $9

Oak grilled asparagus: $7

Southern fried tomatoes: $7

Oak grilled chuck burger: $15

Red snapper with corn relish: $26

Steak and potato: $24

Yankee pot roast: $28

Blue plate special: $19.95

Many of the "signature dishes" — the things Ogden advertised when BFD debuted, the things that are still featured prominently on the website — are no longer on the menu. I was disappointed to find there were no "shake and bake" frog legs with sunchoke and no oak-grilled, center cut Texas Wagyu beef. Caviar and quail eggs on brioche toast is noticeably missing as well, and a spring pea soup carefully plated table-side has disappeared along with Houston's cool spring nights.

This is perhaps a reflection of the season, as Ogden is known for making use of nature's bounty if and when it's available. But I wonder if BFD and Ogden's other concepts — Funky Chicken, a fried-chicken joint, and the soon-to-come Ogden Pour Society, an upscale pub — are pandering to a Houston crowd, presumably unaccustomed to California-style dining. Surely this isn't the best Ogden has to offer...right?
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It was a strange moment when the first bite of steak met my mouth. The large strip cooked to a perfect medium rare with a lovely dark sear on the outside and a pink, juicy interior didn't taste like steak. It tasted like lighter fluid, like the gasoline from the grill. Even trimming the edges — which was a shame because the fat was nicely rendered and the meat well-seasoned — couldn't eliminate the chemical flavor that now infused the meat.

My fellow diner and I moved on to the side of asparagus, a recommendation from the server, and found it, too, had a distinct grilled flavor with a strong essence of lighter fluid. The steak was aided by a smear of shallot-zinfandel butter, but even dipping the asparagus spears in garlic hummus couldn't mask the acrid flavor of petroleum. We told the server we wouldn't be taking the asparagus in a doggy bag, but she wrapped it up anyway, insisting she couldn't let it go to waste. We didn't have the heart to tell her it already had.

The menu describes both the NY strip steak and the asparagus as "wood grilled," so the caustic gas taste of the food is surprising. Generally, when lighter fluid is used, it's with charcoal briquettes, not wood, which ignites much more easily with crumpled newspaper or kindling. Wood usually imparts a smoky flavor unique to the type of wood used, but this, unfortunately, was lacking.

Even when I returned for lunch and ordered the pan-seared swordfish, intent on staying away from the grill, I detected a slight taste of lighter fluid. My friend insisted I was imagining it, that I was expecting an unpleasant flavor and so it manifested. I insisted it was probably burned into my taste buds.

Between that, the overzealous service, the unique atmosphere and the delicious desserts, I'll say this for the place — Bradley's Fine Diner certainly makes an impression, for better or worse.

On the better end of the spectrum, sweets. For a fellow not necessarily known for his desserts, Ogden produces some delicious dishes to end the meal. Seasonal sorbets are made in-house, and the current offerings — lemon, nectarine and strawberry — are more smooth than icy and are served with a ginger crumble for some crunchy texture. Pastries and breads are made in-house too, and the strawberry shortcake is a near perfect example of the chef's baking skills. From the flaky, buttery biscuit to the simple, fresh whipped cream and large slices of bright red, juicy strawberries, the traditional dish still manages to wow.

Though the signature dessert (there are a lot of "signature" items) is butterscotch pudding, nearly every table around me on each visit finished the meal with a dark chocolate banana cake. The moist cake is filled with banana cream and surrounded by a crunchy chocolate crumble, caramel ice cream, drizzles of caramel and small slices of banana. I only wished the banana had been sprinkled with sugar and zapped with a blowtorch, rather than served raw. That would have put the decadent dessert over the top.

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12 comments
vonSchliessen
vonSchliessen

West U/South Hampton is full of white-collar criminals (see John Lomax's posts)...so, I think paying outrageous sums for mediocre Southern fare is a form of pennance.

jamesstahl79
jamesstahl79

Wow. Just read this article after having eaten there several times. Menus change. This is worse than a paste eaters review on yelp. #1 I happen to know for a fact there is no lighter fluid used on their grill. You should write a retraction for not knowing what you are talking about.

As for the other comments I have read, if you can't afford a great burger there is always the dollar menu at Wendy's. Get better jobs.

oliversax
oliversax

I was here after they 1st opened and after reading this review, I thought, "what a shame the place went downhill already." So I decided to give it a try to make sure. 


We had dinner there last night. Decor is lovely, warm, and inviting. Food was delish, esp. caesars salad, fried green tomatoes, locally sourced pork chop, grass-fed burger, tasty Yankee pot roast, and butterscotch pudding.


I did not taste any 'lighter fluid' as the author mentioned. Rather felt the restaurant really paid attention to sourcing the best ingredients and cooking it with wood fired grills whenever they thought it would add to the dish. I can't wait to go back to try the rainbow trout and grass-fed steaks.


There are some changes. Gone are  some of the decadent but pricey items (appetizer of sliders with caviar and quail egg) that are no longer offered. Instead, they offer a simpler menu as well as a hearty chicken dinner on Sundays with 1/2 chicken and all the sides you can eat. This is no 'Bruce Banner Chicken,' with who-knows-what-drugs in its veins. My palate thanked me as I can tell the difference in its texture and taste immediately.


As you may have guessed, I respectfully disagree with the author.


Service is always great, by the way. 'Overzealous' seems a bit harsh to someone trying their best to take care of you.


Keep up the great work. I'm a big fan.

bettyvatel
bettyvatel

"Between that, the overzealous service, the unique atmosphere and the delicious desserts, I'll say this for the place — Bradley's Fine Diner certainly makes an impression, for better or worse."


To a food writer, any place should make an impression, no matter how fancy or simple or plain the restaurant/diner/joint is. Where do you learn to write? Where did you learn to eat?

rich5371
rich5371

I was thinking along the same lines as gossamersixteen, only with the Pot roast.  I really find $28.00 for Pot roast to be excessive.

CR250
CR250

that place sucks.  Native Houstonian here and he is not toning it down for a Texas clientele, there is hardly anyone  that lives in that Washington corridor that is from Texas.  He is catering to what it is, that is yuppy/douchebag 20-30 something i just moved to Houston $300 a week millionnaire city over there. 

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@rich5371 Go for drinks and desserts,  both of which are reasonable and delish.

Danny321
Danny321

@CR250 Why are you so hateful?  The place does not suck, have you even eaten there?  I have, and the food was fantastic.

rogerscorpion
rogerscorpion

@KaitlinS @gossamersixteen Kaitlin, where is the website you referred to as still having some of the original items on it? I could find no BFD website. All I could find was a website about Ogden's restaurant group, with no link to a BFD page.

 
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