Suddenly the bartender was fawning over me. Several servers came by to check (though I still had to retrieve my own utensils from the server station). Even the chef came out to inquire about my eggs Benedict duo, which, I had to admit, was very good. As much as I hate being recognized because I feel it could unfairly color my experience, at that point, I was just happy to be fed, and fed well.
At 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, the portions are indeed ranch-size, whether you're there for a leisurely brunch or a boozy dinner. The menu options, though interesting in their diversity, aren't cutting-edge in the way a meal at The Pass might be thanks to unusual cooking techniques or ingredients you'd normally find only in the pages of Modernist Cuisine. Still, it's clear from items like the $200 foie gras- and gold-leaf-topped hamburger that Certified Master Chef Gitschner likes to play with his food.
At brunch, the eggs Benedict duo is the best example of this touch of whimsy. A good eggs Benedict really needs only four things: Some sort of bread, some sort of protein, hollandaise sauce and a perfectly poached egg. Gitschner executes this at brunch in two very different ways. First, a whole lump crab cake perfectly seared on the outside is topped with a poached egg and chive-laced hollandaise sauce — simple and straightforward were it not for the crab cake combining the bread and protein into one delicious patty. Next to that, a Cajun-inspired Benedict featuring a buttery biscuit topped with tasso ham and a poached egg and drizzled with a spicy "Creole hollandaise," just hot enough to make you reach for your bottomless mimosa.
At dinner, the creativity emerges in a number of ways, from that unusual chopped-steak burger to a trio of salmon — miso, smoked and pastrami-style — served as an appetizer but large enough to be dinner for one. The desire to innovate sometimes goes overboard, though, seemingly taking precedence over something as simple as seasoning.
A bowl of Tejas chili with the signature Akaushi beef features divinely tender meat in a rather bland chili base. The lack of spice — both heat and herbal — could be forgiven were it not for the dollops of "Mexican crema" topping the chili. At first bite, I was sure a mistake had been made and sweet whipped cream from a dessert had been piped atop the chili. A check of the menu showed amaretto listed as an ingredient, and I realized the sweetness was intentional, but it definitely was not welcome.
A trio of pork (yes, the chef loves his duos and trios) succeeds with spareribs marinated in Gosling's Black Seal Rum to the point that they fall off the bone with a gentle tug of the fork, no caveman-style gnawing necessary. The pork belly is less intriguing, purportedly braised in Asian spices (whatever those may be) but tasting mostly sweet and a little chewy. House-made pork sausage is the least appetizing. It's dry, crumbly and virtually flavorless, save for a hint of pork. An obvious tasting note, but I was glad to find at least that descriptor was accurate.
Seafood tends to fare better than beef, pork or chicken at the ranch-centric restaurant. Crab cakes are bursting with large lumps of crustacean, cured salmon would do a Jewish deli proud, and that red snapper with eggplant risotto and basil pesto shocked me into taking the sometimes kitschy restaurant seriously. It's a shame it's not on the regular menu.
Gitschner possesses a title shared by 65 other people in the United States, a title that some would claim is arbitrary but that others wear with pride. Regardless of how you feel about the Certified Master Chef designation — obtained through an eight-day test of culinary knowledge and skills and a $3,800 application fee — the know-how needed to obtain it is real, and Gitschner has proven he's got the chops, so to speak.
He's spent years practicing culinary consulting in the hospitality industry and helping educate up-and-coming chefs. He has won numerous awards, and he owns a successful caramelized-pecan manufacturing business with his wife. He'll cook you a nine- to 12-course chef's tasting menu featuring everything from molecular gastronomy to cowboy food for $280 per person at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted. That sounds like a whole other angle to the restaurant, but enough quibbling with the name.
Gitschner comes from the Houston Country Club, and try as he might to escape the upscale atmosphere in favor of a more casual, ranch-themed, meat-centric gathering place, it's a tough sell. There's still an air of not belonging unless you're someone, even though my subsequent trips were met with fine service, and I don't believe I was recognized. There are still microgreens and lobster and foie gras. There's still the illusion of innovation, until you remember that eggs Benedict was invented long enough ago that every iteration has been done and every meat duo and trio has been witnessed before, too.