BRC, Houston
Photograph by Ryann Ford

A large concrete rooster, painted fire-engine red, rules the parking lot of BRC, so that when the children at your table pipe up, “What does ‘ BRC’ stand for, Mommy?” you can answer, “Big Red Cock, darlings,” with a straight face. Springing from the obviously fevered brains of a slew of co-owners, chief among them Lance Fegen and Shepard Ross (chef and wine maestro, respectively, of the Glass Wall), BRC embodies that culinary buzzword “gastropub.” The idea is a dining and drinking establishment that crosses an American cafe with an English pub, but what it means in practice is that the skills that in a more affluent era would have been applied to razzle-dazzle ingredients and a pricey wine list are now being channeled into a modest wine and craft-brew menu and smart versions of the familiar, comforting fare that people are said to crave in hard times.

Chef Jeff Axline (formerly of the Glass Wall and the Houstonian Hotel) is by and large pulling it off, and the best example may well be the most trivial item on the menu: the Pickle Jar. It’s a small glass jug of crisp, garlicky house-cured cukes and asparagus, and I challenge you to stop at just one. Another triumph is the charred-pimento cheese dip made with aged Vermont cheddar, a legend in its own time. A less successful effort is the heavy smoked-cheddar biscuits with an oily “jam” of shallots, sugar, and bacon.

Entrées are all over the map, but in a good way. The quickly sautéed, lightly crusted Maryland crab cake contained a small fortune of lump crab, held together with Old Bay—seasoned mayonnaise and a smidge of bread. In fact, I would have happily eaten nothing but seafood here. I loved the Atlantic cod in the Fish & Fries, its batter puffier than a down jacket. Even better was the gorgeous caper-topped halibut; its subtle smoky grill flavor was a terrific foil for a light lemony sauce. Indeed, the only disappointment in the piscavore category was an order of crabmeat beignets, boring and a tad soggy inside.

Perhaps because it was 95 degrees outside and the very idea of eating beef or pork threatened to send me into a coma, I gave short shrift to meaty items like burgers and pork chops. But the one item I coerced a friend to order, a brunch dish of toothsome chicken-fried tenderloin, made me wonder why CFS isn’t always crusted with potato chips—what a fabulous idea. Even better, the pan-fried steak had not been drowned in cream gravy (although if you had to drown

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