I tend to like gospel brunches in theory. It's the execution that is often uneven.
At the House of Blues, the show itself is usually fabulous, but the food is overpriced and weary. While at Stubbs in Austin, on the other hand, the food is much better -- and there's the draw of the Bloody Mary bar -- but the music is deafening. Does God want me to shatter an eardrum over my plate of grits?
Perhaps. Which is why I normally avoid gimmicky gospel brunches altogether. But the gospel-tinged blues brunch at Danton's is a fine example of the genre, and one of the only ones I enjoy.
A few weekends ago, I ran into Matthew Dresden as he was preparing to interview Chef Danton Nix for last week's Chef Chat series. Dresde asked if I wanted to meet the chef. I did; I really did, because I wanted to tell him what an excellent job he's done with the place since opening up in late 2007. Danton's has quickly become my go-to spot for seafood and Cajun cooking, and I recommend it to friends and family at every possible turn. But I politely declined, mostly because I love being able to eat at one of my favorite restaurants wholly unrecognized, a treat in and of itself.
Instead, my girlfriends and I retreated into the main dining room and settled in for Danton's Sunday blues brunch, which takes place each week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I'll admit that the two main draws for me at Danton's -- aside from the blues music played softly and soulfully at just the right decibel -- are the oysters and the Bloody Marys. We ordered no less than four different oyster dishes for brunch (including the tasso-topped oysters above) and those were just the appetizers.
No one else at the table shared my love of the Bloody Mary, however, and I fear it's an acquired taste. Here, it's called the Bloody Danton, and you won't find any Clamato juice in your glass. The Bloody Danton is made from the restaurant's gumbo, strained and mixed with vodka in a glass rimmed with a spicy salt mixture. If that doesn't sound amazing to you, good. More for me. I can't abide sweet, boring Bloody Marys that are nothing more than V-8 juice; I need a little kick and a little cheekiness in my morning cocktails. There's nothing kickier than peppery gumbo and vodka.
And because I love oysters so much, I also love that each of the brunch plates is served with six fried oysters on the side. And these pillowy little dumplings are not the tough, gizzard-like creatures you'll find at many seafood restaurants.
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The oysters are so lightly fried that all you really taste are the oysters themselves with a hint of cornmeal. As an added bonus, if you can stand to wait until you've eaten your eggs Benedict, the oysters are truly at their best when used to sop up all the remaining hollandaise sauce, creamy and bright with a vigorous shot of lemon juice.
It's not an inexpensive way to spend brunch, but it's surprisingly affordable considering the elegant surroundings and the music. Go and enjoy it yourself one weekend soon before oyster season is over.