Brennan’s of Houston
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Did someone send Brennan’s to the French Riviera? For an octogenarian, the old dear is looking fabulous. If you didn’t know the 1930 building had been badly damaged by fire during Hurricane Ike, you’d never guess, so skillful has been the nipping, tucking, and general makeover. When the doors were finally flung open in February, droves of loyalists and a smattering of curious newcomers practically scaled the walls to check things out. My dining companions, devotees all, raced to be sure the table of complimentary pralines was in its customary place in the hall and that turtle soup was on the menu. Of course, both were, just as they were supposed to be. If you liked the old Brennan’s, you’ll love the new one.
The menu is still happily rooted in the unique Texas–New Orleans niche that the kitchen has been cultivating since it first moved into the two-story brick building, in 1967. Modern dishes do exist, and there will undoubtedly be more going forward, but under president Alex Brennan-Martin and executive chef Danny Trace, change will come as an evolution, not a revolution. Those whose taste runs to the cutting-edge should go elsewhere. But those who value gentility and time-honored recipes, please, step this way.
You must start with soup, but skip the turtle—sorry, I’ve never understood that insipid stuff, no matter how famous—and go for the shrimp gumbo. Based on a dark-brown roux, it has the full flavor that comes from long simmering as well as beautifully cooked shrimp peeking from its depths. Even better is the blue-crab-and-leek bread pudding, a seductive confluence of rounded flavors and pillowy textures.
Feeling a bit brunchy, I ordered the sweet-potato pancakes topped with the restaurant’s signature lamb “debris,” a New Orleans term meaning, basically, caramelized shreds of roasted meat. It was an almost brazen earthy-sweet combination given added appeal by a mint julep hollandaise. A friend’s Black Angus filet from Harris Ranch—served with Bordeaux-roasted mushrooms and a squiggle of reduced Worcestershire—was also quite fine, in a “something for the steak-and-potatoes crowd” way.
Then, oddly, we hit a rough patch with two fish orders: pan-seared redfish filet Haute Creole and poached flounder. Both arrived overcooked and textureless. Not only that, the flounder’s blue crab stuffing was soggy. But remembering that we were visiting a mere week after the restaurant was back in business, it seemed only reasonable to chalk up such flubs to opening jitters.
And, as if to reassure us that all was right with the world, bananas Foster flambé proved to be all that that cinnamon-and-rum-soused dessert should be (though if the leaping flames had been six inches closer, my hair would have been part of the entertainment). Sated, we grabbed pralines on the way out and vowed we would convene again, and soon. Sometimes it’s just nice to turn back the clock. Bar. 3300 Smith (713-522-9711). Lunch Mon–Fri 11–2. Dinner 7 days 5:45–10. Brunch Sat 11–2, Sun (with live jazz) 10–2. Reservations recommended. $$$–$$$$