Over the course of the next few months, I'm counting down 100 of my favorite Houston dishes. I chose some because they are such quintessential Houston creations, others for their cultural or historical significance, and others because they are just so damn tasty. Share your own nominations in the comments.
#7 Turtle Soup at Brennan's
The turtle soup at Brennan's of Houston takes you on a magic carpet ride. From the moment the bowl of chocolate-colored stew hits the white linen, it commands your attention. Musky alligator snapper meat, dark roux and intricately spiced veal stock shimmer behind a veil of steam. And just as you lift your spoon, the waiter steps in. Your silverware hovers in the air as he upends the sherry bottle and lets the Creole genie out. A sudden whiff of sherry, bay, garlic and spices rises up, lifting you gently from your chair. Just close your eyes, slurp a spoonful, and take a tasty trip.
But don't let the ethereal turtle soup fool you into thinking that Brennan's of Houston just does old-fashioned New Orleans cooking. There is always something new and remarkable on the menu. Last time I went, it was softshell crab and grits that blew me away. Next time it will be something else. Brennan's has been a hothouse of innovation for the Houston culinary scene for decades. And Brennan's chefs have been at the forefront of the local food movement, tirelessly promoting the products of local farmers, fishermen and ranchers.
Before it burned down during Hurricane Ike, the old restaurant had a New Orleans vibe, owing in part to the charm of the original structure, which dates from 1930, when it was built as the headquarters of the Junior League of Houston. The remodeling has preserved the Big Easy charm while adding a little to the luxury. I could sit in one of those big yellow chairs in the dining room all day.
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Brennan's was sorely missed during its 17-month absence. It was the restaurant where my family and lots of other Houston families celebrated big events. My daughters Katie and Julia had their first glass of bubbly at Brennan's on New Year's Eve. Several years later, we toasted a newborn at a brunch reception held there after a baptism ceremony at a nearby church. And I've always recommended Brennan's to anyone looking for a fine restaurant where a family could celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. It has never disappointed.
Thank goodness Brennan's of Houston has risen from the ashes.
The list to date:
#100: Green Chile Chicken Kebabs at Chatkhara Grill #99: The All-Day Burrito at Cherry Top Bakery #98: "You Buy We Fry" Trout Basket at Hank's Fish Market #97: Chicharron de Barriga at La Michoacana Meat Market # 10 #96: Pakistani Breakfast at Kings Chicken #95: Fried Mojarra at Taqueria Jesus Maria #94: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cake Ball at Coffee Groundz #93: Cheeseburger at Leonard's Famous Burgers #92: Lasagna at Doyle's #91: Cochinita Pibil at Tacos La Bala #90: Fajita Tacos at Taqueria El Charro #89: Kubideh and Zereshk Polo at Kasra Persian Grill #88: Trentino Gelato's Dulce de Leche at Shisha #87: Deviled Eggs at Nielsen's Deli #86: Italian-Cuban Sandwich at Logan Farms #85: Vegetable Trio in Sichuan Sauce at Spicy Sichuan #84: Salchi-Burger at Brisa Cocina #83: El Ultimo Taco Truck's Breakfast Tacos #82: Kielbasa on a Sizzling Comal at Polonia #81: Shrimp and Grits at Bistro Alex, Hotel Sorella #80: A Bowl of Chili at James Coney Island #79: Lamb Dumplings at Lucky Pot #78: Crazy Irishman Sushi Roll at Soma #77: Tesar's "Magic" Burger #76: Mac n' Cheese at Two Saints #75: Spicy Armenian Kebabs at Café Rita #74: Jalapeño Gefilte Fish at Rustika #73: Greek Burger at the Hubcap Grill #72: The Basil Inferno at Thai Bistro #71: Paella at Rioja on Kirkwood #70: The Big Adrian Burger at Adrian's Local Café #69: Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Bar at La Paletera #68: Indonesian Deviled Eggs at Rice Bowl II #67: Al Pastor Quesadillas at Tierra Caliente Meat Market #66: Boudin Kolaches at Shipley's on North Main #65: Banh Cuon at Tay Ho 18 in Hong Kong City Mall #64: Cumin Lamb at Chinese Halal Cuisine on Bellaire #63: Stuffed Artichoke at Mint Café on Sage #62: Italian Sausage Pie at Russo's Coal Oven Pizza #61: Tom Kha Gai at Thai Choice on Wilcrest #60: Torta Cubano Estilo Mexicano at El Amigo Taco Truck #59: Whataburger Triple Meat, Triple Cheese with Bacon and Jalapeños #58: The Banana, Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip and Dulce de Leche Empanada at The Original Marini's #57: The Barbecue Brisket and Egg Breakfast Taco at Plantation BBQ Trailer #56: Chicken-Fried Steak at Frank's Chop House #55: Catfish and Grits at the Breakfast Klub #54: Bun Bo Hue at Kim Chau #53: Beef Tips at Davis Meat Market #52: Moules Frites at Jeanine's Bistro #51: The Fajita Taco at the Taconazo Truck #50: Frito Pie at the Rio Verde Taco Truck #49: Ceviche at Yelapa #48: African-American Beef Links at Bar-B-Que Done Right #47: Pasta with Fresh Peas, Ham and Mushrooms at Ciao Bello #46: Ice Cream at Hank's #45: Oysters with Lardons and Leeks at Brocante #44: Steak Tikka at Himalaya #43: Barbacoa Soup at De Buey Y Vaca #42: Banh Mi Xiu Mai at Don Cafe #41: The BBQ Burger at Guy's Meat Market #40: Indian Borsch at Indika #39: Mole Poblano at Hugo's #38: Banh Bot Chien at Tan Tan #37: Soft-boiled Quail Eggs with Asparagus Tips at Chez Roux #36: Surf and Turf Salad at Que Huong #35: Breakfast Tacos at Laredo Taqueria #34: French Fries at Little Big's #33: The Picnic Platter at the Grove #32: Cheese Enchiladas with Fried Eggs at Los Dos Amigos #31: The Sampler Plate at Café Lili #30: Elysian Fields Lamb and Mushy Peas at Tony's #29: The Cheeseburger at Christian's #28 Couchon de Lait at Stella Sola #27: Warm Glazed Donuts at Shipley's on Ella #26: Fried Shrimp at Segari's #25: Special Enchiladas-A-La-Taylor at Spanish Village #24: Pasta with White Truffles at Da Marco #23: Green Falafel Sandwich at Zabak's #22: The Roast Beef Poor Boy at Mama's Cajun Cuisine #21: Goat Buttermilk and Pecan Pie with San Leon Rum Ice Cream at Haven #20: The Pork Chop at Perry's on Scarsdale #19: Barbacoa Tacos at Gerardo's #18: Tex-Cajun Poutine at BB's Cajun Cafe #17: The "Instant Vintage" Burger at Rockwell Tavern # 16: Enchiladas de Tejas at Molina's # 15: The Reuben at Kenny & Ziggy's #14: Cassoulet at Feast #13: Chicken Fried Steak at Ouisie's Table #12: Fried Chicken at Frenchy's #11: Crispy Pork Belly with Steen's Cane Syrup at Catalan #10: Crispy Skin Snapper at Reef #9: Pho at Pho Binh on Beamer #8: In and Out Brisket at Thelma's