Bacon, Lettuce, To-mah-toes
Drumroll, please: I am about to reveal the location of the best BLT sandwich in Houston. No trivial matter, this, the making of a world-class BLT. Nor is the price tag attached to the masterpiece insignificant, at ten bucks a pop.
Oh, and did I mention that the ultimate BLT is made with waffles?
Without further ado, this wondrous sandwich can be found at The Terrace on the Main, the newest restaurant at the recently renovated Warwick Hotel. As part of the hotel's multimillion-dollar face-lift, the Warwick sliced off the north side of its lobby to frame a slender, intimate dining room with its own outdoor terrace. A stroke of genius, because if I remember correctly, this part of the floor plan used to be a dumpy alcove with a grim overlook of the side parking lot. Dull no more, this Cinderella space is uptown elegant now. By day, it's a cafe, serving beautifully composed plates of salad or sandwich; by night, a swanky lounge, with cocktails and live music and luxurious little nibbles.
Okay, about that BLT: Imagine golden-brown waffles that are crunchy but not at all sweet, instead sharply flavored with cheddar cheese. Got that? Now add crisp one-eighth-inch-thick slices of smoky, meaty bacon to your mental image. Lavish on juicy slices of red, ripe tomato and frills of deep green lettuce. But don't stop yet. The truly irresistible touch is a slathering of mayonnaise suffused with fragrant, fresh green basil. It's at this point that my eyes rolled blissfully back in my head, I swear. You see, that's the design problem with a standard-issue BLT. No ordinary bread can hope to stand up to juicy tomatoes and generous dressing. It requires an industrial-strength waffle to take such a beating; instead of getting soggy, the last bite was as crisp as the first.
It doesn't hurt that the sandwich is accompanied by chips -- well, we expect that -- but these chips are carved mandolin-thin from white and sweet potatoes, salty and sassy with jalapeño. These are the sort of designer potato chips that cost a fortune at the supermarket, and those fancy-bagged numbers aren't even fresh. These are piping hot from the deep fryer. I even liked the presentation of my BLT; the sandwich came served on a plate of fine china surprisingly painted in riotous Caribbean colors round the rim. It made me happy just to look at that plate.
And the BLT's not the only prize pig on the Terrace menu, either. We swooned over the subtlety of the potato-and-leek soup ($4), thick and rich as only real cream and butter can make it. We nearly came to blows over the smoked salmon on toasted brioche ($14). It wasn't so much the rosy slabs of meltingly tender salmon, or even the teensy-tiny granules of top-notch black caviar generously mounded about. No, I think it was the vodka-laden sour cream. Or was the vodka in the spicy, black-peppered peaches? We were so giddy and greedy that it's hard to report now with any accuracy.
The only disappointment -- perhaps puzzlement would be more accurate -- had to do with the seafood salad ($14) billed as "spicy Cajun" style. It was a delightful toss of shrimp and crabmeat and tiny colorful bits of celery and pimento in a creamy mayonnaise dressing, very ladies-who-lunch sort of fare, but spicy it emphatically was not. We were startled; our waitress was stunned. She seemed to truly share our pain. She went back to the kitchen and fetched us a brand-new bottle of Tabasco. She darted off to the other dining room and returned with a plate of red pepper flakes and black peppercorns. I don't know what else her resourcefulness might have turned up -- cayenne? paprika? Tony Chachere in person? -- because by then we'd already eaten all the salad, along with its flaky whole wheat croissant, lettuce, tomatoes and the entire pile of those killer potato chips.
Ooh, baby, now let's talk pastries. Desserts are on offer day or night at the Terrace, and these are some serious sweets. In particular, we fell for the warm chocolate bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream ($4), an enormous bombe-shaped mass that turned out to be deceptively light, fluffy and as chocolaty as promised. I behaved badly, I'm ashamed to admit, when I found out that the blackberry cobbler served warm with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce ($4) was not available that day; someone had substituted peaches for the blackberries I craved. I perversely switched my order to the napoleons ($4), a pastry I don't often eat because they are so often badly done a ridiculous assumption on my part, it turns out. These were, I think, the definitive napoleons: multiple layers of impeccably fresh and crisp puff pastry, the top ones glazed with creamy icing drizzled with chocolate, the bottom ones separated by a thin, intensely flavored spread of raspberry jam. The custardy crème pâtissière in between flowed gently outward at the lightest pressure of the fork, lapping across the garnish of fresh raspberries and strawberries.
My friends and I knew we were racking up quite a tab at this point. I mean, caviar and napoleons? But we just couldn't seem to care. It was a beautiful day, the room had gathered some quite handsome people to watch, we'd been cosseted by intelligent, attentive service, and we'd blissed out on elegant food. We were ready for the check, no matter how scary. So the hitch, when it came, was a jolt.
There was a problem, our waitress explained, with the credit card machine. She'd try another machine. Ten minutes elapsed, then 15. I started to get antsy: I had an appointment, it looked as if I'd be late, and there was no way anyone at our table could cover this check in cash. The waitress apologized; just a few more minutes, she said. We fidgeted in silence. Finally she came back to the table with the credit card. "We're very sorry, ma'am, that you had to wait so long," she said, very Southern and sweet. "The problem is with our machine, not your card. So, please, your lunch is on us today, compliments of the Warwick."
The next sound was that of our jaws dropping to the tabletop.
Did this influence my carefully neutral opinion of Terrace on the Main? Of the food, no. Of the level of hospitality, you bet. I'm still astounded by the graciousness of the gesture. Scoff if you like; maybe it's lagniappe, or maybe it was just my lucky day. I'm not expecting it to happen again. (You can bet that machine's fixed by now!) But I firmly believe that this is what world-class service is all about. And The Terrace on the Main clearly aims to be a world-class destination, sparing no expense.
The Terrace on Main, in the Warwick Hotel, 5701 Main Street, (713)526-1991.
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