Things have really been interesting over at Mark’s American Cuisine. A few months ago, Mark's introduced happy hour. It runs Sundays through Thursdays and features $6 cocktail and wine specials and $7 small plates, like macaroni and cheese dotted with hunks of short rib and hearth-roasted oysters.
Next came a series of pie and wine pairings, which ran through the month of February. Now, there's a new feature for March.
For the next two Sundays — March 13 and 20 — chef Mark Cox is offering classy Sunday dinners served family-style. To add to the experience, dinner will be served in the intimate dining room called Cloisters.
The cost is $65 per person ($18.95 for children 12 and under; kids three and under are free) and consists of a large main dish and several sides. Wine pairings are available at an extra charge. Reservations are required. Next Sunday features chateaubriand. Since March 20 falls just before Easter, a whole-roasted fish will be served.
We couldn’t help but wonder, though: What spurred all of this reinvigorated creativity? Mark’s American Cuisine has long been a fine-dining destination prized in part for its beauty, consistency and reliability. Those aren’t exactly exciting traits, though, and Houston’s food scene has doggedly become more dynamic by the minute.
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In a case of something bad leading to something good, Cox found new inspiration after a hospital stay. “When I came back full-time, I was so happy to be back to work that I felt it was a blessing to still be doing this,” he said. Cox has long been hands-on in his own kitchen, although he’s starting to focus more on creative menu development and training his employees. “I figure I’ll make the most of it — use my mind a little more and coach “the kids” more. I can’t run and do all the things I used to do when I was 25.”
He has certainly been responsible for helping propel other chefs along their career paths. Many have passed through Cox’s kitchen and gone on to be executive chefs themselves, both at Mark’s and at his prior jobs at Tony’s and Brennan’s of Houston. They include Randy Rucker (Bramble), Ryan Hildebrand (Triniti), Travis Lenig (recently Liberty Kitchen and now at Little Liberty in Rice Village) and Polo Beccera (Post Oak Grill). Jordan Asher, another Cox protégé, was executive chef at now-closed Dosi and will fulfill the same role at forthcoming Ritual in the former El Cantina Superior space. He is also mentoring Eric Aldis at The Marque, who is also slated to open a barbecue joint in Midtown and just took over as executive chef at Corner Table.
After decades in the business, Cox still loves being a chef and has no intention of stopping. He said, “We’re having fun. I love coming to work. Let’s keep rollin’.”