First Look at Canopy

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Another new restaurant, another Sunday brunch "preview" in its opening days. This time, we landed at Canopy, Claire Smith's latest culinary endeavor (her most well-known being Shade, on 19th Street in the Heights). And landed is certainly an apt way to put it.

The interior of what used to be Salud! Winery at 3939 Montrose has changed for the better. And while the neighborhood was sad to see the Odom brothers shut down their boutique wine room, Canopy is an ever better addition. Large wood beams crisscross the two-story ceiling in the main dining room, looking for all the world like a giant bird's nest. Floor-to-ceiling panels that trick the eye with their prints of leafy shade trees and blue skies separate the dining room from a private dining area, while the cheerful green tabletops and modern wood chairs lend an elegant yet whimsical feel to the entire space. We instantly felt as if we were resting under a verdant canopy while dining outside.

While we weren't at all pleased to pull up and find half the parking lot choking in orange traffic cones and bored-looking valets, nor to find that we were some of the only people not in fur coats on this sunny, 60-degree Sunday morning -- this isn't River Oaks; valet parking and mink stoles are an instant turn-off in Montrose -- simply looking around Canopy put us in a better mood.

Service was shaky to start. We waited a good five minutes for anyone to even acknowledge us, and a surly hostess (we think? it was hard to tell) finally sat us with an attitude that implied we were seriously disrupting her morning. Our server was very pleasant, but had to be reminded about a cocktail that was never brought to the table. But that's where the difficulties ended. The rest of our visit was nothing short of perfect.

We all began with a round of breakfast cocktails and coffee, rationalizing that if one can drink bloody Marys and mimosas at brunch, one can certainly take a few steps forward and enjoy a Gin Blossom (French gin, elderflower liqueur, fresh orange juice and orange bitters) or a Rude Boy Punch (Jamaican gold rum, Jamaican coffee liqueur, sugar and cream). We weren't disappointed. Both the coffee -- served in delightfully larger-than-average mugs -- and the cocktails were fantastic: sharp, stimulating and seriously well-made.

For brunch, we all ended up ordering off the more breakfast-y side of the menu. More adventurous brunch patrons can order off the more lunch-y side that contains items like the house burger on a challah bun or a BLT with applewood-smoked bacon and arugula mayonnaise. Eggs Benedict, an omelet and a buttermilk-fried pork loin were all we could think about.

The omelet and pork loin were both served with the same sides: a rather uninspired assortment of fruit and the most outstanding homestyle potatoes we've had outside of our mother's house. Exceptionally crispy on the outside owing to the skin that had been left on and (we're imagining) being roasted first at a high heat, then taken down to a more moderate heat to finish roasting, the simple pile of potatoes made the entire table fall silent.

Our buttermilk-fried pork loin came with a generous portion of jalapeno-sausage cream gravy that could have been spicier, but we were too enamored of the perfectly crispy batter and succulent pork to care. Had it been brined? It was tender enough to cut with a fork. Our dining companion's omelet was replete with mushrooms, spinach, roasted tomatoes and smoked Gouda. The omelet was heavy on the Gouda, which gave the fluffy eggs a deeper, richer flavor.

The eggs Benedict were fun twist on an old classic. Initially dubious of replacing the traditional English muffin base with a chive-sweet potato pancake, it quickly became apparent that the balance of flavors -- vaguely syrupy from the latkes, tangy from the Hollandaise sauce, meaty from the Neuske ham and slightly spicy and herbal from the chives -- was inspired.

If Canopy can straighten out its few service hiccups, lose the snooty valet and -- most importantly -- keep a consistent product coming from its young kitchen, we're soon to have another winner on our hands in Montrose (and probably the best brunch in town).

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