Sure to Peas
I'm told that black-eyed peas were imported into the South aboard African slave ships, originally intended for consumption by livestock; hence the nickname "cow peas." Perhaps the same Reconstruction desperation that reduced Scarlett O'Hara to draperies forced Southerners to dine on animal fodder, but honor demanded they deem the practice lucky. Whatever its origin, this New Year's Day tradition is now firmly entrenched. Since the idea is that the more black-eyed peas you eat, the luckier you get, you should heap your plate at any of these Houston purveyors.

*"Black-eyed peas? Of course!" says Tom Williams, owner and chef of the Fox Diner (905 Taft, 523-5369). "And cabbage, too. The peas will bring you pocket money in the New Year, but the cabbage brings folding money." The Fox will host a special New Year's Day brunch buffet from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., offering all you can eat for $21.95. The comfort food spread includes a variety of fresh-baked breakfast breads and egg dishes -- the Creole-smoked sausage egg casserole is stellar -- and ten different desserts to enjoy with fresh espresso.

*"Yo Mama's!" I love the way they answer the phone at Yo' Mama's Soul Food [5332 Antoine, 680-8002 and 17583 Imperial Valley, (281)875-1722]. Here you'll find '90s-smart Southern home-style cooking -- pork chops, collard greens, corn bread -- every day of the year except Christmas Day, the only day they're closed. And black-eyed peas? "Honey, if we ever ran out of black-eyed peas, we'd be in trouble!"

*Okay, so Brady's Landing Restaurant (8505 Cypress, 928-9921) is a tourist trap. But if the alternative is being trapped in the wreckage of your postholiday house until the throbbing tunes of bowl game bands make your head explode, a day's outing to the Ship Channel turning basin can sound strangely attractive. The festive New Year's Day brunch includes a spectacular view to go with the black-eyed peas and cabbage, plus eggs Benedict, roast beef, glazed ham, boiled shrimp, seafood pasta, roast pork loin and a mountain of desserts. $14.95 adults, $12.95 seniors, $5.95 kids ages five to ten. Reservations recommended.

*The grandmama of all Southern genteel brunches is at Brennan's (3300 Smith, 522-9223), where the black-eyed peas will put in an appearance in the soup du jour, alongside the usual Sunday à la carte selections and live jazz. New on the menu: Scottish smoked salmon in buckwheat blinis sprinkled with caviar, and "Royal" pecan pie (white chocolate, almonds and pecans) topped with homemade coffee ice cream. Hold my magnolia, Miss Scarlett, while I finish my eggs Sardou.

-- Margaret L. Briggs


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