Published On: Oct 17 2015 10:16:25 AM CDT Updated On: Oct 18 2015 09:01:16 AM CDT
Autumn is in the air, and it’s coming to kitchens at Houston restaurants.
Creative Caesar salad (Southern Creole Caesar with collard greens, crispy sweet potatoes and tasso ham gravy dressing) from Brennan’s Houston at the annual Caesar Salad Competition held Oct. 9 at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College.
Caesar salad might be the most popular restaurant salad in the country. And while there’s a traditional Caesar profile familiar to most diners, there’s also a wild side to the romaine/parmesan/anchovy mash-up.
Both were celebrated at the annual Caesar Salad Competition held Oct. 9 at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College where 25 area restaurants competed in classic and creative Caesar categories.
El Meson Restaurant, 2425 University, was named best classic Caesar by a panel of food judges, while most creative Caesar (a Creole inspired salad) went To Brennan’s Houston, 3300 Smith. Brennan’s also took the people’s choice award, while best Caesar presentation went to the San Luis Resort, Galveston.
Proceeds from the event went to the Food & Beverage Managers Association’s educational endowments.
By Phaedra Cook
Monday, October 12, 2015
Honorable Mention: Fluff Bake Bar, 314 Gray
Fluff Bake Bar is more of a bakery than a restaurant but it’s a must-visit Midtown establishment. There’s a small but surprisingly astute wine program and the staff can help guide guests to good choices for pairing with desserts. Even people who don’t have a sweet tooth should still drop by for the outstanding charcuterie platter. A recent example included spicy ‘nduja (a luscious, spreadable sausage), chunky goat mortadella studded through with pistachios,loukaniki, a cured Greek sausage and several cheeses from the Houston Dairymaids, including Casatica di Bufala (soft cheese made of Italian water buffalo milk), Chiriboga Blue and Cabot cloth-wrapped cheddar.
Hopefully you do have a sweet tooth, though, because it would just be a shame to not be in the mood for pastry chef Rebecca Masson’s chocolatey Veruca Salt cake (named “Best Cake” for Best of Houston 2015), oaty Hobnobs or her insane(ly delicious) Couch Potato cookies with potato chips, chocolate chips, pretzel bits and corn flakes all held together with marshmallow.
Honorable Mention: Spec’s Deli, 2410 Smith
The Spec’s deli counter has been getting Houston workers back to their offices on time with thick, hearty sandwiches like this muffaletta for years.
Spec’s deli counter has been a boon to harried workers for years and its big sandwiches, piled high with meats, cheeses and veggies, are good values, too. The Lucky Lucy ($7.50) is like a Reuben but with both pastrami and corned beef—in other words, a sandwich that has achieved its higher purpose. For vegetarians, there’s The Rabbit ($6.99) with grilled eggplant, squash, zucchini, roasted red peppers, sprouts, feta and pesto on toasted focccia. They’re known for their burgers, too, such as the Smoke & Pepper burger with cheddar cheese, pepper bacon and bacon aioli with lettuce, tomato and red onion. For a sweet snack afterward, don’t fail to check out the huge aisle of fancy chocolate bars. Bonus: you can restock your booze cabinet while grabbing lunch and that’s a perk that you’ll never get at Subway or Which Wich.
10. (Tie) Pho Saigon, 2808 Milam / Thien An Sandwiches, 2611 San Jacinto
Pho Tai Nam Gau from no-frills Pho Saigon on Milam. The pho is really good and service is fast.
Photo by Phaedra Cook
Which of these popular casual Vietnamese spots to select depends on what’s desired. People who don’t have a lot of time on their lunch hour should head to no-frills Pho Saigon. On rainy or cold days, Houstonians queue up for a own comforting bowl full of broth, thin rice noodles and beef spiked to taste with hoisin and Sriracha. The people who run it are total pros at getting people seated and served quickly. The pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), cha gio (Vietnamese-style eggrolls) and cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) are all just great. Service can be brusk but they’ll get you back to the office quickly.
Thien An Sandwiches used to be in a small, modest strip center location but relocated several months ago to a bigger, stand-alone building with an ample parking lot. The name alludes to the great banh mi, but it also dishes out good bowls of pho. It’s a nicer setting than Pho Saigon, but service can be slow.
9. The Breakfast Klub, 3711 Travis
The “Katfish” & Grits at The Breakfast Klub
Going to The Breakfast Klub can be a communal experience. It’s far more than just getting some grub. There’s often a line on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but so what? Staff members walk up and down the lines greeting guests and handing out menus and there’s nothing wrong with striking up a conversation with a fellow Houstonian. Once inside, order at the register, grab a cup of above-average coffee and hunker down over a soul-satisfying plate of either spicy chicken wings and a giant, Belgian waffle or the acclaimed catfish and grits. They serve lunch, too, so don’t hesitate to explore the other menu options. These are just the famous ones.
8. Artisans, 3201 Louisiana
Artisans is ideal for business lunches during the day and dates at night.
Photo by Troy Fields
Artisans, the classy French restaurant endeavor by chefs Jacques Fox and David Denis, as well as sommelier Sylvain Denis, is a perfect place for a business lunch during the day. At night, it’s equally suited as a romantic date spot. The interior is fun and impressive, with a vast open kitchen and counter seating that allows diners to watch all of the work that goes into the artfully plated meals. Spend a little with the three-course business meals for $29 or a lot by splurging on Petrossian caviar with blinis and Champagne for $120. The six-course tasting menu with wine pairings is actually a good value at $139 for a decadent, celebratory meal.
7. Damian’s Cucina Italiana, 3011 Smith
Photo by Jack Thompson
6. Jinya Ramen, 3201 Louisiana
The Tonkotsu Black at JINYA Ramen in Midtown
JINYA Ramen, which started making waves in the Houston area with its outstanding, complex ramen with a location in Webster, is one of the restaurants that filled in a big deficit in places to eat late at night in Midtown. There are many kinds of ramen available here: tonkotsu, miso, chicken and even a vegetarian option, but the fried dumplings and rice bowls with various meaty toppings are also delightful. The craft beer and sake lists are small but it’s not hard to find a good pairing.
4. Ibiza, 2450 Louisiana #300
Ibiza is an outstanding yet understated Spanish restaurant that does a wonderful job using excellent ingredients and uncomplicated preparations like the Simply Grilled Fish.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Ibiza is the restaurant that put chef Charles Clark in the national spotlight and set him along the restaurateur path along with business partner Grant Cooper. (The duo also own Coppa Osteria, SaltAir, Punk’s Simple Southern Cusine and other endeavors with corporate executive chef Brandi Key having a big role in the direction of the cuisine these days.) Ibiza has a nice patio and when the weather’s good, inspired cuisine like La Plancha Style Octopus with Chorizo and Piquillo Peppers stuff with pulled pork and topped with Alabama white barbecue sauce tastes mighty fine indeed. People with hearty appetites will meet their match in the Braised Pork Osso Buco with Bleu Cheese and Bacon Mashed Potatoes.
4. Weights + Measures, 2808 Caroline
The Carrot Pizza at Weights + Measures has been an overwhelming favorite among guests (and critics).
Weights + Measures is an ambitious project that serves diners from early in the morning until late in the evening. In the mornings, it’s a great stop for doughnuts and pastries from the in-house Slow Dough Bake Shop and people who aren’t rushing to work can have a sit-down breakfast inside the restaurant proper. Next is casual lunch service with burger and sandwich options as the afternoon fades into happy hour. As night falls, it’s time for dinner and this is where Weights + Measures really pulls the stops out. Dive into a four-course meal here starting with something as simple as chicken liver and toast or as elaborate as wood grilled mortadella with a balsamic reduction, pistachio crunch and a fried egg. The Lacquered Duck Breast is a customer favorite, as are the piping hot “Doughknots” with cardamom and honey. It’s also become a reliable stop for late-night cocktails.
3. Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 3201 Louisiana
If this friendly man offers you a big tray of oysters, you say yes.
Photo by Phaedra Cook
Chef Mark Holley spent a long time working for the Brennan family so it shouldn’t be surprising that his fare has a New Orleans vibe. That’s not his only inspiration, though. Holley’s has been an opportunity for him to branch out and reach for inspiration ranging from the low country to Asian cuisine. The LH Gumbo may very well be the best in Houston and yet warming, spicy Koonce’s Peanut Soup could give it a run for the money. For dinner, the Blackened Grouper with Carolina Gold rice, creamer peas, Kimchi-seasoned greens and ham hock pot liquor is strongly recommended but a couple dining together will delight in the amazing presentation of the Thai-Style Fried Snapper for two. Do not miss the coconut cake, unless you are allergic, in which case we feel very sorry for you.
2. Oporto Fooding House, 125 West Gray #500
Oporto Fooding House & Wine
Photo by Troy Fields
Oporto was the Houston Press “Best New Restaurant” choice for Best Of Houston 2015. It’s at the end of a somewhat triangular building in Midtown, so the front is narrower than the back, but they made the best out of an awkward design situation. It’s gorgeous inside—dark, sexy and classy. Owned by husband and wife team Rick Di Virgilio and chef Shiva Patel-Di Virgilio, Oporto is like an equivalent love match between their earlier endeavors — the original Oporto and Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen. Have a casual meal at the bar or bring friends and indulge in a multi-course dinner. The seafood-heavy menu includes croquetas de bacalhau (salted cod croquettes), polvo com batatas (charred octopus) and littleneck clams bathed in white wine sauce. There’s a wine list spanning the world from Portugal to Chile that makes it almost too easy to find a splendid pairing.
1. Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith
Hunter’s Duck at Brennan’s Of Houston
Photo by Phaedra Cook
Brennan’s of Houston opened in 1967 and to this day it is still considered a very special place to go to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. The business crowd loves the sumptuous Creole-inspired lunches and tiny dollar martinis at lunchtime and a visit doesn’t seem complete without a bowl of the famous Turtle Soup. The restaurant, which had to be rebuilt after a fire during Hurricane Ike, features several elegant private dining rooms perfect for any celebration. Chef Danny Trace doesn’t allow this old Houston classic to become staid, though, relying on a true farm-to-table program (as in, he actually sources directly from local farmers and ranchers) and international cuisines to inspire new seasonal dishes. The casual crowd delights in happy hour at the bar and on the patio with small bites and drink specials. Houston legends Carl Walker (former chef and now general manager) and longtime head bartender Richard Middleton are still responsible for steering the ship and teaching the young ones a thing or two.
Considering Houston’s close proximity to the Gulf, there’s no shortage of good seafood inside the city’s culinary scene. Gumbo is one of the most iconic seafood creole dishes you’ll find along the south coast. So we put together a list of some of Houston’s best takes on this seafood stew.
Brennan’s of Houston, the 1967 beloved Houston landmark, is famous for its Texas Creole-inspired menu with longtime favorites like shrimp étouffée and their legendary Bananas Foster. When it comes to gumbo, Louisiana transplant Chef Danny Trace puts a Texan twist on the dish with creations like tabasco smoked pheasant and sausage gumbo, hunter’s gumbo with duck, rabbit, venison, andouille, and creole seafood gumbo made with crab, shrimp, and oysters.
Featuring contemporary Gulf Coast regional cuisine, the Rainbow Lodge has received national acclaim for both its menu and wine cellar. Executive Chef Jimmy Mitchell’s duck and andouille gumbo is highly regarded among in the Houston culinary scene. Rainbow Lodge has also won Wine Spectator magazine’s “Award for Excellence” for 10 consecutive years.
Definitely the go-to spot for gumbo on Galveston Island, Gumbo Bar also serves up great salads, and po-boys. Made when you order, you know you are getting the freshest meal. Try the Mumbo Gumbo filled with shrimp, crab, oyster, chicken, sausage, and prime rib. Be sure you get some garlic bread for dipping. Not in the mood for gumbo? Ha-ha very funny, no one ever gets tired of gumbo!
Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar takes its gumbo very seriously. The oyster bar serves up its creole creation in a massive bowl topped with fried oysters and fried okra, unlike any other gumbo in town. To wash it down, grab one of over 20 local beers and an extensive cocktail menu. Liberty Kitchen sits in the heart of one of the most popular restaurant intersections in the Heights neighborhood of Houston.
Cousin Pappadeaux was an old Cajun relative of H.D. Pappas, a Greek immigrant who traveled to America in 1897 and opened numerous restaurants in Texas and beyond. A wise Cajun cook, Cousin Pappadeaux taught H.D. the magic and mystery of Cajun cooking. Today, Pappadeaux serves up the freshest seafood and Louisiana-style favorites like blackened opelousas filet, crawfish & shrimp fondeaux and their signature seafood gumbo.
This bustling seafood emporium is cleverly built into a novelty railroad car. The diverse menu of Texas Gulf Coast, Mexico, and Louisiana culinary influences appeals to the masses. Their gumbo is split into shrimp, crab, or both with a hefty portion of oysters. Also on the menu, expect accomplished frying (oyster po’boys, stuffed crab, shrimp) but equally fine mesquite grilling.
Texas flavor meets Lousiana creole at Gumbo Jeaux’s. The Cajun restaurant, which opened its first Houston location near IAH Airport in 2010, has developed a faithful following among north Houston residents. At Gumbo Jeaux’s guests can expect a range of wallet-friendly options in a laid-back, family-friendly space. The counter service restaurant tempts regulars with its catfish trout plate that comes topped in gumbo, crawfish tacos and crawfish etouffee, but there’s plenty for non-seafood lovers to choose from, too.
Friday, October 9th was the 31st Annual Caesar Salad Competition. Each year, the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College organizes the competition inviting Houston’s best culinary experts to duke it out for the 1) Best Presentation 2) Classic Caesar 3) Most Creative 4) Consumer’s Choice.
This year, Executive Sous Chef Javier U. Lopez and team presented a Southern Creole Caesar with collard greens, crispy sweet potatoes and tasso ham gravy dressing taking home both the Most Creative and People’s Choice Awards.
This is one of the most requested soup recipes.
When duck season arrives each year, Chef Danny is prepared. His passion for hunting fuses effortlessly with his prowess in the kitchen as he creates innovative dishes highlighting the game. The recent purchase of a new oven designed specifically for roasting duck was a welcome addition to the Brennan’s of Houston kitchen repertoire, and has expanded the possibilities for cooking with this flavorful protein.
Take a look at Chef Danny Trace’s hunting adventures:
Look at some of the past culinary duck adventures:
And, if you can’t tell…the whole team is passionate about duck!
By Claire Ebow
What Year did you start working at Brennan’s?
What is your favorite Brennan’s entree? (past or present)
We used to have a lamb chop dish. It was served with a sweet potato brabant and creamed spinach. The Colorado Lamb Chops!
What is the most important lesson you have learned working at Brennan’s?
I’ve learned that everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes I catch myself getting upset at others, from the top to the bottom and I have to realize everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. It helps me to be more level-headed, understanding and reasonable about my expectations.
What do you like to do on your off days?
Workout, relax and spend time with my kids.
Share a special Brennan’s memory:
There are so many but I think my most special memory was when we re-opened in 2010. It was like finally coming back home.
August 10, 2015 | By Carey Jones
Welcome to our series “Dished,” in which we ask the chefs behind some of the most creative dishes out there to explain the inspiration behind their inventions. This week, we’re talking to executive chef Danny Trace of iconic Texas restaurant Brennan’s of Houston about his Texas Creole-inspired Peking Duck recipe.
What was your inspiration for the Creole-style Peking duck? When looking at grills and smokers — all fairly common in Houston and Texas — we came across the website for the Town pig roasting oven. We thought we wanted to serve whole pigs for the table, but then we found out you could roast ducks in the oven as well, and got this idea that we wanted to do a Peking-style duck dish. So Carl (the GM) and I went to New York to try to find the best Peking Duck, and we ended up at Buddakan. We tasted their dish and came back to Houston to try to make our own version.
Tell us a bit about the classic Peking duck preparation methods, and how yours differ. We use the same general techniques, such as blowing the skin away from the meat to get the crispy skin, we just use Creole ingredients and flavors as opposed to Chinese. We toyed around with different sugars, and now we alternate between using honey and sorghum, and we blanch the ducks in a honey citrus syrup. We stuff the ducks and let them air dry, and then we roast them in the oven.
Tell us about all the components of the finished dish. Depending on what’s in season, we tweak the components. It’s always served over a fried rice; sometimes it’s crawfish, right now it’s blue crab, it could be duck, rabbit, etc. We also top it with an Old Fashioned Duck Sauce, which is kind of like a L’Orange sauce, but made with elements of an Old Fashioned—Bulleit bourbon, citrus, a bit of bitters. Then we garnish with mirlitons, duck cracklin’, citrus salad, and a quail egg.
There is something irresistible about this elegant and slightly sinful treat that we typically save for a restaurant visit. But why not make crabcakes at home when Gulf blue crab season is at its peak? It’s easy as 1-2-3: Mounds of fresh sweet crab, a subtle matrix of seasoning that enhance the crab and just the right sauce. Here are two recipes from notable Houston chefs along with professional tips for crafting the ultimate crabcake.