The next time you find yourself with nostalgic thoughts of the old La Strada scene (big gay brunch is the best kind of brunch, after all), I'd suggest one of two things: Head over to the unofficial "new" La Strada at Berryhill Baja Grill on Sunday and shake your ass to the pulsating music that can be heard all the way at Montrose and Westheimer. Or head to Saint Genevieve for what I'm now calling "La Strada Lite."
The music isn't nearly as loud and the crowd not nearly debauched, but the food, drinks, prices and people-watching more than make up for anything you may miss from the old La Strada days. Saint Genevieve serves an actual, legitimate brunch, I was surprised to find. I'd always figured the West Ave watering hole to be more of a bar with a light bites menu. But I should have known better when chef Kevin Naderi told me some months back that he'd consulted on the menu for Saint Genevieve, developing the recipes and training the kitchen staff on how to prep the food.
Naderi has long been busy running his restaurant, Roost (which just celebrated its one-year anniversary), but that's not to say the food at Saint Genevieve has languished. Given the amount of time that's passed since his consultancy and the huge waves of people that crashed on Saint Genevieve's lofty shores all morning long, I was shocked to find myself enjoying our meal so much this past Sunday.
Although it's located on the second floor of West Ave, the one issue I have with Saint Genevieve is that there's no view at all for either outdoor patio. (Unless you count the lines of wildly attired people waiting to get in.) Instead, you'll find yourself staring at the endless windows and porches of people who live in the pricey mixed-use development.
"These developers are so in love with themselves, of course they want you to sit in quiet contemplation of their work," my brunch companion joked that day. But the folks coming in to Saint Genevieve were more interesting sights, anyway -- and they knew it. We saw a man in a full rabbit jacket wearing single-lens sunglasses that wrapped halfway around his head. We saw two young Thai men on the verge of becoming full-fledged ladyboys in matching outfits. We saw a man in head-to-toe Emporio Armani, each piece black-and-white and each piece emblazoned loudly with the Armani logo. We made a game of counting both the genuine LV handbags and the tacky knock-offs, the full-time rich kids and the wannabes.
Aside from the grand entrances, however, most of the action is inside, where floor-to-ceiling windows provide a fun view onto Kirby below. If you can get a seat, that is. My suggestion: come early, as the huge numbers don't roll out of bed, throw on the entire contents of the Versace store and head down to Saint Genevieve until noon.
By design, the brunch here encourages you to linger, with plates that are meant to extend your meal and share with friends, like the tableside S'Mores (the second time already this week I've written about tableside S'Mores; will tableside hot dogs be next?). While this is a big part of the reason for the lines, it's nice to brunch in a place that's not constantly trying to turn tables. Brunch is for relaxing, for taking your time to recuperate, for visiting people you may not get to see the rest of the wee. Saint Genevieve gets that.
What I was most impressed with was the inexpensive cost associated with brunch-and-a-show. "Bottomless" mimosas are $17, which was by far the most popular item that day, and the Bloody Mary bar is $9 (or an additional $2 if you decide to get the fancy-schmancy vodka, for some reason; it's a freaking Bloody Mary). And then there's the food.
We received a tremendous pile of crabcakes atop housemade cheddar biscuits, with a kicky hollandaise sauce and a poached egg to round it all out. There were three crabcakes in all -- and three delicious, buttery, flaky biscuits -- which was far more than anticipated for $11. The crabcakes weren't anything to write home about, but they weren't bad either. The resolutely cheesy biscuits, on the other hand, were worth the $11 alone. I only wished for another poached egg to sweep the biscuits through.
My egg white and goat cheese frittata was similarly huge, and I regretted my decision to order black beans on the side, having erroneously assumed there wouldn't be enough on the plate to tide me over until dinner. The cup of black beans ($3) was at least two servings' worth, while the frittata ($11) must have featured at least four egg whites. The pale white disc was topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions (an unexpected but welcome addition), mixed greens and cheerful smears of goat cheese, with a roasted Roma tomato sitting upright to one side.
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We left quite satiated, and invigorated both by the food and the fun crowds. Although it had been my intention to head straight home and do laundry, there was something about watching a bunch of young, crazy kids make the most out of their Sunday afternoon that made me want to stay out too. (Of course, I ended up drinking far too much coffee at Southside Espresso on top of what I'd already consumed at Saint Genevieve and wound up at High Fashion Home, where I made a potentially regrettable, caffeine-fueled purchase. We'll see how I feel when the new furniture arrives.)
More importantly, I left planning to make my next visit to Saint Genevieve -- this time with a bigger group and a plan to test out those tableside S'Mores while it's still "winter."