Brunch might be Houston’s most popular meal. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, droves of residents go out — maybe in jeans or perhaps in their Sunday best – in search of one of the greatest meals ever invented. It’s one where cocktails in the morning or early afternoon are not just okay but encouraged. It’s when sweet French toast and maple syrup-drenched pancakes parlay for diners' affections with savory bacon, sausage, hash or eggs.
The best brunches are sumptuous, lingering affairs. These are feasts; a sanctioned, communal type of hedonism that allows diners to reconnect with friends and family over the kind of over-the-top meal that's available only on weekends. Here are a dozen Houston restaurants that really understand what brunch is all about.
12. Davis St. at Hermann Park, 5925 Almeda. The atmosphere on any given Sunday is convivial and vibrant. During brunch, executive chef Jonathan Penright can usually be spotted manning the kitchen pass, checking over big platters of salmon Benedict and fried chicken before they are taken to hungry diners. Sizable pancakes topped with bananas Foster are a don’t-miss item thanks to just the right amount of caramelized syrup on top. Sunday brunch runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so it’s possible to sleep late and still be able to land a hearty meal.
11. Ritual, 602 Studewood. We hope Ritual plans to expand its brunch menu with a few more dishes. As it stands, there are only eight to choose from. That said, what's available are good choices that showcase the farm-fresh egg and meat program. The Butcher’s Breakfast, for example, is enough to satisfy even the ravenous. It has three slices of delectable, house-cured bacon, a link of coarsely ground sausage, a petite steak, fried potatoes and outstanding grits, and is topped with a fried duck egg.
10. Étoile Cuisine et Bar, 1101-11 Uptown Park. Étoile has one of the most extensive brunch menus around, and it will be especially appealing to those who want dishes more on the “lunch” side of the equation. Brunch is served both Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The ravioli filled with duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms) and accented with port wine, white truffle oil and aged parmesan are especially pleasing. Plenty of French classics are on hand as well, including toasted brioche, omelettes, croque-madame (a croissant version topped with broiled ham, Gruyère and béchamel) and croque-monsieur (same as the croque-madame without the egg). There is always at least one specially created brunch cocktail to try, too.
9. Izakaya, 318 Gray. Chef Jean Philippe-Gaston’s brunch creations are fun and funky, yet very serious when it comes to ingredient quality and execution. Diners may shake their heads in wonder when they have the “Menoodles” — a fusion of menudo and ramen. Why didn't anyone think of this sooner? In fact, culinary mash-ups are a brunch-time specialty at Izakaya. Diners might also dig the musubi bibimbap — homemade "Spam" over sizzling rice with unagi sauce and topped with a fried egg and nori — or The Japanese French Guy, a take on croque-monsieur topped with Japanese curry sauce, pork katsu and a fried egg. Brunch is on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
8. Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella. Big windows with a view of lush greenery and fruit trees make brunch at Rainbow Lodge feel as if it’s being enjoyed near a country road instead of less than a mile from a Houston freeway. As if that weren’t enough incentive to linger, mimosas and glasses of the house sparkling wine are only $2 until 3 p.m. The braised buffalo short rib “Benedict” with poached eggs and jalapeño hollandaise on Texas toast was divinely juicy and meaty. Really hungry folks might prefer the mixed grill plate of game sausage, venison, Texas quail, blistered jalapeños and rösti (Swiss-style grated and fried) potatoes with two eggs.