I couldn’t figure out why our waiter was so insistent on his recommendation of the quesadilla appetizer until I took a bite of the crisped, doughy housemade tortillas sandwiching a mixture of poblano rajas. Topped with a smear of guacamole spiked with just enough lime, the quesadillas were sublime.
Houston diners should know this because not too many of them are coming in to discover the Mexi-South cuisine at Edgar’s Hermano for themselves. The impeccably designed restaurant, tucked upstairs inside the recently renovated Whitehall hotel, was mostly empty for the duration of the meal — and subsequent meals.
It wasn’t empty for lack of aesthetics or service — the recently upgraded interior is outfitted with cheerily hued turquoise booths, casual bar-height wooden tables and brightly colored metal accent stools for a trendy look that would fit in well in the Heights or Montrose. It’s spacious enough to fit crowds of people, with a natural split between the booth-studded dining room and a long bar where sports aficionados can hoist a pint and watch a game on one of the large TV screens. Service ranged from extremely friendly and attentive to quick and efficient — and it made for smooth dining.
But with no signage outside the hotel to indicate the restaurant hidden inside, it’s easy to see how the establishment is often overlooked.
It seems clear that the fusion Mexican-Southern restaurant is attempting to elevate itself beyond the average hotel restaurant — yet it still has to abide by the long hours required of a restaurant servicing a boutique hotel. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the kitchen transitions seamlessly from one meal into the next beginning at 6 a.m. and ending with dinner service at 10 p.m. (The bar closes at midnight daily.)
For a twist on breakfast, à la carte entrées are featured alongside twin-set menus offered for a minimum of two people: The “Family Style” is composed of familiar American standards — biscuits, scrambled eggs, potato hash, breakfast meats and a pancake platter topped with Texas candied pecans, bananas and maple syrup, all for $16 a person. The “Estilo Familiar” is nearly a mirror image of the Family Style menu, but with a Southwestern twist — biscuits are replaced by Mexican breakfast pastries, scrambled eggs are upgraded with pico and cheese, and it’s all rounded out with a spread of refried beans, salsa and those toothsome housemade tortillas for $18 a head.
The plush tortillas are reincarnated multiple times as deeply golden, well-seasoned tortilla chips that accompany the guacamole, chile con queso and queso flameado, a small boat of melted white cheese garnished with roasted corn and black beans. The cheese is stretchy and mild, almost reminiscent of molten string cheese. Extracting chips from the endless cheese strings was a pleasing if gluttonous affair — and we used forks to awkwardly stretch the melted cheese into the fresh, hot tortillas, which were served in a towel — but the queso is almost too neat and contained. I wanted the cheese to arrive sizzling hot, spurting telltale pools of grease along its edges, rather than coming to the table kind of hot before quietly cooling into a barely oozing submission.
The Mexi-South mashup theme was perhaps most apparent in a lunch dish of fried chicken paired with poblano potato enchiladas. The $15 namesake plate of “Edgar’s Fried Chicken” came with an equal if not overpowering volume of enchiladas next to two medium chicken breasts tossed rather gracelessly alongside. The enchiladas were a glorious mess of mild salsa verde, crema and añejo cheese topping a stalwart filling of potato and poblanos. My dining companion said his chicken was very tender, with a well-executed, crispy crust accented by a syrupy ancho chile jam. There were a lot of bones vying for attention, though, which resulted in just a few mouthfuls from the two chicken breasts. Overall execution was more like that of a plate of enchiladas with a side of chicken rather than a true fried chicken entrée.
Not so with the fried chicken entrée at dinner. The award-winning, $22 mac-and-cheese-stuffed fried chicken was nearly three times the size of the lunch portion: towering hunks of golden chicken nestled into a large swath of lusciously creamy masa grits, overrun by a chunky jam of reduced Dr Pepper and bacon. Gigantic roasted Brussels sprouts added both volume and an extra layer of caramelization to the meal.
Unfortunately, this restaurant has a bad habit of promising certain dish elements on the menu that never appear on the plate. The lunch fried chicken lacked the promised zingy jalapeño bread-and-butter pickles. The tres leches parfait arrived, bafflingly, as a very ordinary — if very large — slice of cake, missing the layers of cake sandwiched with seasonal berries and fresh cream. The fried chile relleno, which was reportedly to be served alongside Spanish rice, refried beans and homemade tortillas, arrived sans the pillowy tortilla rounds.
Missing components aside, the chile relleno was an excellent rendition, with a light, wispy batter and a meaty stuffing of lentils and vegetables, melted through with Chihuahua cheese. The refried beans accompanying the chile in a cute ceramic pot were rich and flavorful, though strewn with a layer of unmelted Mexican cheese that was overpowering at points — and vegetarians, beware: These canned refried beans are saturated with lard. The Spanish rice was, unfortunately, dry and insipid.
The only complete flop we encountered was the salmon salad, recommended by our waiter at lunch. It had all the elements that I would normally love: plaintains, mango salsa, salmon, heirloom tomatoes. But together, they made for a clumsy mishmash that didn’t mesh well. Long peels of fried plantain turned slightly soggy in the overabundant, powerful salad dressing, which was applied in awkward globs. A too-small bed of greens set the base for a tower of soft tomato slices and salmon curled into a pinwheel shape that lacked flavor. The mango salsa was an awkward sweet accent against an already sweet salad dressing. The disappointing overall package reminded me of the typically uninspiring room service provided by many hotel kitchens.
Dessert was a semi-flop: The impressive-sounding chocoflan (a half flan, half chocolate cake creation) yielded a square block of chocolate cake that leaned dry capped with an overly dense and slightly gritty layer of flan that had none of the light and silky characteristics that I hope for in flan. The tres leches — let’s be clear: It was just cake, not a parfait — was a gargantuan chunk of airy white cake sauced with a slightly runny pool of whipped cream and sliced strawberries. A puddle of milk seeped only partway up the cake base, leaving a good few inches of it untouched by the soaking necessary for a solid tres leches. The cake was still surprisingly tasty and a huge portion for $6, but it was slightly off in the execution.
Surely one of the most convenient options for those staying in the Whitehall or nearby downtown is the Express Lunch: For $9.99 or $11.99, diners can receive one or two mains, respectively, with two sides. Among the options are a beef or chicken fajita street taco, a crispy chicken slider and a roasted turkey sandwich; side options include mac and queso, southwest Caesar salad and sweet potato fries, and each meal includes the dessert of the day.
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Edgar’s Hermano also offers a variety of interesting cocktails that again span the Mexi-South theme, from the Southern Belle, which features bourbon, peach liqueur, vermouth and angostura bitters, to twists on standards like Watermelon Mojitos, Cilantro-Lime Micheladas and South Texas Mules with grenadine and ginger beer. The bar is open from 11 a.m. until midnight on weekdays, and from 4 p.m. to midnight on weekends.
If I worked nearby in the downtown area, I could easily see myself stopping in for a drink after work and occasionally staying for a shared plate or two, although most of the entrées are pricier than what I would spend on a casual weeknight meal. Edgar’s Hermano shows promise with several hits and many barely-there dishes, if only it can fill its seats.
1700 Smith, 713-495-7854. Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; bar from 11 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Fridays; 4 p.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays.
Chile con queso $12
Queso flameado $12
Salmon pinwheel salad $16
Edgar’s fried chicken $15
Fried chile relleno $15
Southern fried stuffed chicken $22
Tres leches parfait $6