For a very long time, it was difficult to take the family to breakfast out on the west side of Houston — from Memorial down through the Energy Corridor — without heading to a place that wasn't a chain. In an area that should ideally have small, independently run places serving a good, budget-friendly breakfast, we were left with joints like Denny's, IHOP, Waffle House, The Egg & I, the long-lost JoJo's on Wilcrest...Getting a home-cooked meal at breakfast was best done just like that — at home.
But within the past year, West Houston has gotten not one but two excellent options for those looking to eat out at breakfast, and they're virtually right across the street from each other on Eldridge Parkway.
Pecan Creek Grille was the brainchild of Brock and Stacy Silverstein, who ran one of the ever-popular Buffalo Grille locations for ten years. That's why there are familiar touches throughout the place — witness the canister of hot maple syrup, for example — that remind one of a west-side Buffalo Grille spinoff. But the young place has a distinct feel of its own, blending breakfast standards with a West Texas aesthetic that's more Southwestern than Southern.
The grits, for example, are filled with jalapeños and cheddar. And while I wish that they were saltier (a common complaint here, in fact), the smooth texture is true to its Southern roots, and the peppers give it a heft and cheekiness rarely found in a bowl of grits in Houston. I like getting the grits along with the Texan breakfast plate that also includes a biscuit with gravy and scrambled eggs beefed up with the addition of chopped bacon and still more cheddar. It's not the healthiest breakfast, but it's tasty.
Your healthier side can be indulged here in the omelettes — which can be made with egg whites or Egg Beaters — like the California, made with spinach, mushrooms and low-calorie cheese. I personally prefer the Big Deal, however, which again blends Southwestern flavors into the enormous, meat-stuffed affair, pouring a mild but peppy green chile sauce on top. It's also stuffed with some of the Grille's unusual hash browns, wispy curls of skin-on potato that have so far divided my friends; some love the light texture, some wish for the greasier, more substantial, Waffle House-style hash browns.
Neither the waffles nor the pancakes here live up to Buffalo Grille's nearly untouchable breakfast quick breads, but they're fine and sturdy things on their own, and the pancakes are alluringly buttery. I appreciate being able to choose from a wide selection of fruits and other toppings for both, and that the waffles here are also served on a chicken-and-waffles plate that's mighty impressive when topped with that hot maple syrup. (Obligatory side note here about how I wish restaurants would serve actual maple syrup instead of maple-flavored syrup, but that's been a losing battle so far.)
Pecan Creek Grille is already known for serving breakfast all day (until close, that is), though it does serve lunch, too. Like the grits, the macaroni and cheese here is spiced up with jalapeños but still requires salting. Nevertheless, it's a good complement to dishes like the pecan-crusted chicken breasts served with a dusky brown molasses sauce. I'd swap out the overly garlicky potatoes, however, for some of the Grille's perky, crunchy fried okra. Burgers are a good bet, too, especially when you get them with a soft egg bun sandwiching the thin, Texas-style patty. Add a slice of cheese and the restaurant's ample pieces of bacon for a burger that requires no other toppings.
On weekday mornings between 7 and 10 a.m., you can pick up Pecan Creek Grille's breakfast tacos in party packs to go (complete with salsa), netting yourself 13 tacos for a little less than $18. It'll make you a hero at the office, but I still prefer heading there on the weekends, when you can actually sit and enjoy the restaurant itself.
Since opening, the Grille has added a pleasant side patio with cheerful red umbrellas. Although the restaurant sits at the end of a large grocery store strip center, you'd hardly know it. And inside, the homey, Western decor and flat-screens hanging on nearly every wall make the bustling restaurant feel as if you're eating in your own house — with a few dozen of your friends, and a saddle or two. It's mornings like these, with a cup of Pecan Creek's signature cinnamon-spiced house coffee in hand, that make me wish I still lived out on the west side of town.
Across the street, Chatter's Cafe & Bistro might also call to memories another long-lived Houston establishment: After all, it's the second location of the Heights-area restaurant that's held court in a little blue building for years. This new incarnation of Chatter's is spiffed up and decidedly chic for its location, making it the more upscale of the two breakfast joints on this stretch of Eldridge.
It's also the restaurant of the pair that offers table service and a full coffee menu; from lattes to cappuccinos, you can get your caffeine fix in one of many foam-topped forms from the friendly waitstaff. Like Pecan Creek Grille, it has a gluten-free menu available. And like Pecan Creek Grille, it offers a nice side patio and shaded seating areas, although here I'm a fan of sitting inside the expansive, colorful dining room. There's even a bar for Chatter's evening hours which offers a surprising selection of draft beers that aren't adjunct lagers, as well as wine and spirits.
It also, happily, offers mimosas at brunch, and $10 will get you a "bottomless" supply of the stuff. The brunch menu here is only available on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but I'm just pleased that Chatter's has joined in with other restaurants in serving brunch on Saturdays as well as Sundays. It's utterly civilized.
Favorites from the Heights location are found here, such as the Poblano Omelette and the Eastern Nova Plate with smoked salmon and all the trimmings. There's more to be found here, however, than just the old standbys. I'm a fan of the breakfast sandwich served on a buttery, flaky croissant and overflowing with eggs and melted cheese. Don't be afraid to get the fruit cup on the side here, either; unlike at most restaurants, the fruit inside is actually appealing, as bright-red strawberries jostle for space with fat grapes and orange pieces of cantaloupe.
Eggs Benedict are topped with a lively, tangy Hollandaise, although the eggs themselves can sometimes be overcooked (a common complaint here, although at least everything is salted appropriately). And the waffles here are butter-drenched, crisp-edged and wholly delicious — especially with a crown of strawberries on top.
In the evenings, when Pecan Creek Grille closes down, you can sneak back over to Chatter's for a grown-up dinner over a glass of wine and a plate of short ribs with blue cheese-spiked polenta, or a pint of beer with a Creole salmon that's served with a soft, savory corn pudding. Chatter's also showcases its Mediterranean side to great effect in dishes like the velvety hummus (some of the finest in Houston) or a combo plate that pairs chicken and beef kebabs with Mediterranean rice under a St. George sauce that's comprised mostly of cream, garlic and cremini mushrooms.
Wednesdays are the best nights to go — especially with a few friends — as all bottles of wine are half-off, and the wine list of 50 or so bottles gives you more than enough to choose from. And although the draft beer selection isn't quite as impressive as the one at the Heights location (which currently has local brews from Karback on tap), it's still better than your average Energy Corridor bar: two Saint Arnold beers are on draft — including the seasonal Oktoberfest — as well as the autumnal Tumbler from Sierra Nevada and the classic Fuller's ESB.
With Le Mistral still going strong right down the street on Eldridge, Pecan Creek Grille for breakfast, Chatter's for brunch and the weekly spaghetti suppers at St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church, there's never been a better time to be a west-sider with a big appetite.
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