Praise the Lord and Pass the Mimosas

Gospel Brunch at the newly-opened House of Blues is a funny thing.

You're sitting in a darkened concert hall, your ears ringing from the thundering sounds that rumble through the elaborate sound system and shake your bones, your eyes assaulted by a kaleidoscope of brightly-colored lights, all while you sip daintily at your bottomless mimosa and praise Jesus at an early (for some...) 11:00 in the morning.  To say that it's a dichotomic situation is putting it lightly.

That's not to say that Gospel Brunch won't be popular here in Houston, as it has been in the other nine cities where the House of Blues holds the event every Sunday.  I have no doubt that it will.  After all, there's nothing that a good Houstonian loves more than things that clash.

The "brunch" portion of Gospel Brunch definitely plays second fiddle to the "gospel" portion, which is a shame if you're only in it for the food.  Along with a few hundred other people, you wind your way through several different buffets, carving stations, fruit tables, dessert tables and will probably -- at first -- find yourself dazzled by the sheer variety of it all.  Red beans and rice?  Made-to-order omelettes?  Cheese grits?  Portobello mushroom pasta?  Shrimp cocktail?  Bread pudding?  Caesar salad?  Biscuits and gravy?  The vastness of it is overwhelming; you feel like a Viking after battle.

The food itself, however, falls victim to that old adage: too much of anything is a bad thing.  It's a truth held to be self-evident in any restaurant or kitchen that too much variety decreases the quality of the food.  You can't focus your attention and skill on a million different items at once, and the result is that everything is only mediocre.  To be fair, however, the food at Gospel Brunch is slightly above average.  And it's certainly good enough to be enjoyed while listening to a raucous, joyful gospel choir.  And perhaps it's for the best that way; who's going to focus on the food anyway when you have Sylvia St. James in all her glittering glory waving a white napkin in your face and exhorting you to give it up for the lord.

One of the best things about Gospel Brunch is the beverage service.  You get never-empty carafes of freshly-squeezed orange juice, delicious chicory coffee and expertly made mimosas delivered swiftly your table without even asking.  The mimosas, in particular, come in quite handy for greasing the wheels in the audience -- even at such an early hour -- and encouraging them to participate in the choir's call-and-response songs and activities.  As my friend said at last weekend's inaugural Gospel Brunch, "These mimosas really help the white people loosen up!"  And how often do you get to imbibe while worshiping God, anyway?

The choir itself changes from weekend to weekend, but one of the hallmarks of any Gospel Brunch is the interaction and audience participation.  Come prepared to sing along, dance along, clap along and praise along.  If that's not your thing, you've been warned, but you can always stand in the back and graze idly at the buffet as you take in the wonderful spectacle of it all.

Gospel Brunch takes place every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. at the House of Blues, located at Caroline and Dallas in downtown.  Tickets are $38 for adults and $18 for children, or you can grab a show-only ticket for $12.

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Katharine Shilcutt