The long line that stretched out the door by 10 a.m. on a sunny Saturday testified to the fact that The Dunlavy, which opened about six months ago, is Houston’s new, trendy place to brunch.
Without a doubt, part of the big draw is the space itself. Long, floor-to-ceiling windows provide a great view of Buffalo Bayou Park and the bayou itself, which was traversing at a greater clip than usual thanks to the recent floods in Houston. (We were amused to spot a trio of mallard drakes placidly hitching a fast ride right down the center of the current. Why bother paddling?)
It’s a testament to the architect that The Dunlavy did not flood during the downpours that drenched parts of Houston with up to 17 inches of rain. It’s on the second floor of a building supported with blocky pylons. While the view outside is great, the view inside isn’t too shabby, either. Besides the fact that the restaurant is open and airy, the big design feature is the 20 or so crystal chandeliers of all shapes, ages and sizes. It’s like a museum of chandeliers, and it’s entertaining just to look at them, admire the shapes and the forms and wonder where they were found. The Dunlavy only serves breakfast and lunch. In the evenings, it's reserved for private events, an ideal use of the space.
We dived into The Dunlavy Picnic Lunch, a $28 ploughman’s lunch of charcuterie, cheese, bread and hard-boiled egg halves, and, aside from a few nitpicks, couldn’t have been much happier. The prosciutto was a little dry, as if it had been sliced in advance and left to sit, but the glistening, fatty slices of genoa salami made up the difference. A lemony white bean spread proved perfect to dip slabs of fresh, sweet carrots into, and the generous jar of chicken liver mousse was blissfully thick and hearty.
Other menu items range from the healthful, like kale salad, avocado toast and chia seed pudding, to the elegant, like the St. Cecilia, a pressed French baguette with prosciutto, brie, fig jam and honey. Folks looking for just a normal breakfast will be happy with waffles, oatmeal or the two-egg plate, with bacon, steak fries and toast.
There are, though, a few issues that make dining at The Dunlavy annoying — and pricey. Parking in the nearby lot is limited and requires the use of valets to manage that situation. The valet charges $5, and that’s before the traditional gratuity. Additionally, The Dunlavy is counter service only and diners are confronted with a tip line for credit card payments at the register.
A tip line on a receipt is the electronic, more persistent and guilt-inducing equivalent of putting out a tip jar. The Dunlavy has one of those, too, but dropping a few bucks into a tip jar seems more discretionary. There’s much debate on whether it’s appropriate or not. At The Dunlavy, customers order at the counter and receive a placard with a number on it. Non-alcoholic beverages are self-service. Someone drops off the food when it's ready, and there is someone who comes by and clears the tables of used plates. That's not the same, though, as a server who comes by, takes your order, brings drinks, brings food and periodically checks in to see if everything is okay.
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Here’s a guideline from the TripAdvisor web site:
Counter service/fast food restaurants often have tip jars out, but you are not required to tip. If the service is exemplary or unusual requests are made, then tips are appropriate.
Conversely, anyone who is familiar with the restaurant industry knows that employees don’t make much in the way of hourly wages. Ultimately, diners will have to let their hearts decide what to do with that tip line.
We spent $12 just on the valet fee and gratuities and $28 on the picnic lunch, plus tax. Our first meal of the day ended up being more than $40 (without any frills, like mimosas), and that’s steep, no matter how great the view is. That said, both the meal and the scenery were decidedly delightful.