True to the 'Trose

Get the Green Eggs and Ham with — oh, gawd —the chocolate ­hazelnut tart.
Troy Fields

I walked into Canopy, Shade owner Claire Smith's new restaurant in the Montrose, to have lunch with a friend. When I sat down at the table, the first thing I did was spill a margarita down the front of my shirt, right in front of the waiter. Embarrassing. So I ordered another cocktail and half the appetizers on the menu.

It was hard to choose just one app because they all looked so good. The creamy asparagus with mushrooms on toast was so tantalizing, I could have just ordered a double portion and been content.

It was pretty hot outside, and melon gazpacho sounded like a good way to cool down before devouring some of the hot dishes. But the chilled melon soup was just stock. Neither I nor my lunch partner tasted any melon — it was just tomato soup with lots of onion, carrot and celery. Oh well; we weren't going to let that slow us down.

We also tried the crab rémoulade salad. I am not a big salad eater, but crab and mayonnaise sounded good. Turns out it was more than good, it was transporting. The blue crab salad was really fresh and plentiful, but the show stealer was the tomatoes and feta with pumpkin seeds on the side. It had been a while since I'd had heirloom tomatoes, and these little nightshades were ripe and juicy. I wish all tomatoes could be this way, not gassed, waxed or stored in a refrigerator for weeks. Ground control to major tomatoes...

It was even harder to choose what to eat next because, again, everything on the list of entrées sounded really good. BLT, Croque Monsieur, or spaghetti with shrimp and bacon? My lunch partner wanted to try the buttermilk-fried pork loin, I think because it came with mac and cheese. The buttermilk-fried loin chop was down-home and damn good. The crust on the pork looked like a chicken-fried steak. It was crunchy and encased the loin on the inside, keeping all the juices inside. The mac and cheese was creamy and reason enough to order this dish.

I got the Canopy Burger. The house-made challah bun and hand-cut fries made for burger greatness. I asked our waiter for a side of the Harissa mayo for my fries. The spicy mayo that came with the burger was good, but Harissa mayo sounded intriguing. Harissa is a spicy African condiment made with red peppers and spices like cardamom. We both tried the Harissa mayo; it was good, but the cardamom was overbearing. I like cardamom, but it goes best when in balance with other flavors like curries, green teas or even sweet cream.

My lunch experience that day reminded me of the non-pretentious restaurants that used to fill the Montrose years ago, like the original Daily Review Cafe (when it was owned by Canopy's own Claire Smith) and Monica Pope's now-closed Boulevard Bistrot (where I used to work). These places offered fresh, creative food featuring local ingredients along with seasonal creative menus that were affordable enough to make them regular destinations for people in the neighborhood.

While many of these restaurants seem to have abandoned the 'Trose for more fertile grounds at Midtown or on Washington Avenue, it appears that some chefs and restaurateurs are bringing them back. There are still plenty of great restaurants in Montrose, but they are high-end and have been around for years — i.e., Mark's, Da Marco and Hugo's.

Canopy's spot is a snake-bitten location if there ever was one. I can't even count the number of restaurants that have tried to make it in this location. But by the look of things, Canopy is going to break this urban curse and provide Montrosians with a colorful neighborhood eatery for years to come.

My next visit to Canopy was for brunch, Mother's Day brunch. The industry nightmare. I bet every chef or restaurant owner in town has a Mother's Day nightmare story to tell. What is it with this tradition? Do mothers really love brunch that much? I don't know, but I have seen some craziness myself: microwaving steaks, grilling frozen chicken and putting snow crab legs in the dishwasher just to keep up with the demands from the dining room.

I sat at the bar at Canopy drinking a spicy Bloody Mary with Tito's vodka and a house-made mix, awaiting a group of mothers and children. There is one Mother's Day tradition that I do appreciate: Bloody Marys, mimosas and bellinis. Canopy has a nice selection of these "nip your hangover in the butt" cocktails. When my group arrived, we were promptly seated, and the dining room was calm, ambient and relaxing. What was this? On this holiday, the kitchen is supposed to be backed up, waiters should be pulling at each other's aprons, drinks should be M.I.A. and, of course, it should take 45 minutes for a table. Nope, it was pure serenity.

In fact, the only commotion came from my table when I knocked a champagne flute filled with a sparkling pear mimosa onto the floor and it broke into a million pieces. "Woohoo," I yelled. "Mother's Day!"

If you ask me, brunch is all about Eggs Benedict, typically poached eggs on an English muffin with Canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce. I could eat this every Sunday for the rest of my life. The Eggs Benny at Canopy were delish — not very traditional, but really tasty. Two poached eggs sat on a potato pancake with ham and grilled asparagus, and it was all covered with hollandaise.

Hollandaise too often comes out runny or broken up. Not here. It was perfect. I couldn't believe how pleasant this brunch was. All my preconceived notions about eating this meal on Mother's Day were proven wrong. I found myself wondering how incredible it must be on a normal Sunday.

When I visited Canopy at dinnertime, I was looking forward to a nice, quiet meal with a good bottle of wine and some meat. Unfortunately, the dining room was filled with middle-aged women talking loudly and drinking white wine by the glass. It was like The Real Housewives of Montrose. It was Cougar Town.

For appetizers, we ordered a crab cake and Green Eggs and Ham, which was seared sea scallops with ham grits, jalapeño Tabasco butter and a sunny-side-up quail egg. The Green Eggs and Ham came out picture-perfect, looking like something you'd see on the cover of Saveur magazine. I commented to my dining companion that scallops are one of those ingredients that's easy to mess up. First of all, fresh scallops, sea scallops and diver scallops are the best. As for those little frozen white scallops that come in that chemical bath, don't waste your time. Canopy executed its scallops perfectly. They were seared on the outside and nice and creamy on the inside. Yes!

Everything I had here was so pretty, I wanted to take a picture of it. For an entrée, I was torn between the snapper and the duck breast, so I talked my tablemate into ordering the snapper, arguing that it was possible Gulf seafood wouldn't be available for long.

The flavors of both dishes flowed really well and were sophisticated. The snapper was crispy on top and melt-in-your-mouth on the bottom. Mixed in with the fish were little crispy sheets of fried basil, and the plate was filled with artichokes and greens. As for the roasted duck breast, its skin was golden-brown and crispy, and it lay naked across a bed of fluffy wild rice and dried fruits. It was sexy. And it was such a big breast, I could hardly finish it.

In my three visits to Canopy, I tried every single dessert on the menu. The bread pudding contained house-made croissants. The icebox key lime pie was tasty but old-school. It was like a frozen key lime cheesecake made by Betty Crocker. The coconut cream cannoli was good, but I didn't want to eat the whole thing. The lime granita on the side was extreme. When you put it in your mouth, it was like somebody was punching your tongue with a lime tree. It must have been made with fresh lime juice, lime water, lime zest and lime air. But it did cut the cream coconut well. The raspberry layer cake was excellent; the butter cream in between the chocolate layers was the best part.

But the best dessert was the chocolate hazelnut tart with Nutella sorbet and praline ice cream. Oh my gawd! You get the smooth richness of the chocolate filling with the crunch of the hazelnut crust, then the Nutella sorbet to prepare your palate for the cold caramel of the praline. When I'm on my deathbed, I want this. Last meal? That tart from Canopy. I am going back ASAP to order it again, and I am not even a dessert eater. This thing was no less than amazing.

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