100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 50, Beef Sweetbreads at Feast

This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

Every week or so, I tell some wary potential diner the same thing: "Feast has more on its menu than just offal, I promise." It's difficult for me to disguise the exasperation in my tone at this point; Feast has served an incredibly diverse menu for years now and yet the idea persists that there's nothing to eat there aside from pork heart tartare and pickled lamb's tongue.

"There is always at least one terrific fish on the menu, like a red snapper," I tell pescatarians turned off by what they envision as a meat-heavy palace. "And the fish and scallop pie is absolutely amazing."

"There's always a vegetarian dish," I tell the people who won't touch flesh of any kind. This week, for example, it's a roasted portobello mushroom with braised lentils and goat cheese.

And for the utterly unadventurous -- who picture Feast as a kind of abbatoir where famed nose-to-tail chefs James Silk and Richard Knight frolick amidst entrails and buckets of fresh blood -- I preach the gospel of Feast's beguilingly simple dishes: beef shoulder -- "It's just a brisket!" -- braised in red wine and served with carrots and mashed potatoes. Or a pan-roasted pork chop with Swiss chard and swirls of Duchesse potatoes. Simple. Straightforward. Approachable.

Of course, when I dine there on my own, it's a different story entirely: I dive straight into the pork heart tartare and pickled lamb's tongue (which, of course, are divine). That's the allure of Feast: You can have an exciting, adventurous meal and experience all the bounty and beauty that the often neglected parts of an animal can provide...and your friends can enjoy a tender pork chop or a lovely piece of tuna. Silk and Knight provide something for everyone here.

My personal favorite is the beef sweetbreads, which are served in a mad jumble atop a mound of mashed rutabaga. A side of tangy Swiss chard is softened by the rich, meaty juices from the sweetbreads -- typically the thymus or pancreas of an animal -- and a few fresh mint leaves on top provide a sweet, bright note to the entire dish. It may sound like too much, but the sweetbreads themselves are pillowy and incredibly creamy without being too heavy. And the earthy sweetness of the more roughly textured rutabaga in place of, say, mashed potatoes, keeps the dish light, too.

But no matter what you order at Feast, be sure to save room for sticky toffee pudding. You may need to split it with a friend, but it's a delicious dessert that everyone can agree on.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F. No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB

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