Holy Smoke

Mark's American Cuisine (1658 Westheimer, 713-523-3800) occupies a former church, which is an altogether appropriate space for a dish so divinely inspired. Once you've tasted Mark's fire-roasted breast of chicken ($10.95) for lunch, you'll certainly want to sing its praises. The small half-hen is rubbed with fresh garlic, paprika, salt, pepper and chef-owner Mark Cox's special blend of herbs and spices, then popped into a smoker to let the rich cherry-wood vapors engulf it. From there, it spends a few minutes in a 1,000-degree brick hearth, where the paprika-saturated skin turns crisp and delightfully blackened in places. Served with Parmesan-encrusted asparagus and sweet-tasting Yukon gold potatoes, the bird is topped with a sauce of fresh thyme and rosemary sautéed in butter. Lawdy, lawdy.

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