It’s now two-and-a-half months until we take off for Michigan and begin this adventure, which leaves us precious little time to take our last few stabs at our favorite Houston things. In honor of today being Easter Sunday, which is important primarily for its connection to brunch, we wanted to document our favorite brunch spots in Houston. Not because it’s something new that we learned on our adventure, but because, maybe some of you aren’t from Houston, and maybe some of you might come to Houston one day and need to know where to eat brunch (it’s cooler than the Chicago Tribune gave it credit for in a recent op-ed, though their characterization of the city as a “giant Texas suburb” isn’t too far off).
But first, in memorium of the brunch spots we’ve lost:
- Brick & Spoon – went here for brunch once in 2015. They ran out of eggs. Meaning that your choices for brunch were fried chicken and Bloody Mary’s. Good Dog rolled in, build a beautiful front porch, and turned it into a hot dog joint. Verdict: Upgrade
- Lowbrow – this place couldn’t keep an owner. In our two-and-a-half years living in Montrose, it was owned by 3 different groups, and none of them seemed to be able to strike a cord much beyond the brunch crowd. The queso-hash was the best hash game this side of the Third Ward (different kind of hash). But the new owner, who seems to have the kiss of death for restaurants and geese (foie gras on everything!) finally spelled its demise. Enter Night Heron, which thinks brunch starts at noon. Their lunch and dinner menu is good – and at least it doesn’t have the gall to charge $25 a plate and call itself a ‘neighborhood restaurant’ like its predecessor owner did – but they painted over that bitchin’ mural out front that was so cool it had its own Poke Spot. Verdict: push
- Farrago World Cuisine – a common echo in Houston, restaurateurs blame the increasing incomes in their neighborhoods, leading to increasing rents, being the cause for their inability to make it. When they’re pulling in $15/head + alcohol. The Houston restaurant scene is great, but has thrived for a long time on cheap rents not forcing smart business. Time for the rubber to meet the road. Verdict: Oh well
- Alcaliente – The ghost of the unpaid employees of Houston institution 59 Diner will forever haunt this space. Alcaliente was good, and surprisingly cheap for the area, but lasted about a minute. Verdict: we lost ye too soon
Now, the Best Brunch Spots in Houston (no national chains, because we all know IHOP is phenomenal)
Common Bond – This place was a great bakery once, and then the Mandola family (the first family of food in Houston, see: Carrabba’s) rolled in and made it a great restaurant (and, more importantly, built them a commissary kitchen to bake bread for other restaurants on not-the-most-valuable-corner-in-Montrose. This is why the Mandola family is rich, while other places go out of business. We talked about this). Great variety of sweets, and a menu that caters from the accessible standard fare like amazing croissants and pulled pork flatbread all the way up to the sophisticated like like lamb chops and smoked duck Tartine. Sometimes takes itself too seriously, and is the victim of a questionable interior design from the days before it was pre-crowded, but if you can embrace the chaos, it’s worth it. Very ‘see-and-be-seen’ place for the young crowd on a Saturday morning.
- Empire Cafe – a converted old gas station/service station, Empire Cafe is now a gem shrouded from Westheimer by a privacy fence of hedges. Great for grackle watching, great for all-weather patio seating, and great for cake. Cake is a brunch food, right? But seriously – it has largely traditional brunch dishes (benedict, waffles, pancakes, sausage, migas), but everything has a twist. Feels a little better, a little more sophisticated, and doesn’t take itself as seriously as most of the Montrose brunch scene. Solid patio with great people watching at a busy intersection.
Backstreet Cafe – an oldie but a goodie, Backstreet stands the test of time against the churn of the inner-loop dining scene. First opened in 1983, it was the first restaurant opened by Tracy Vaught, a former geologist looking for a change. That’s a fateful fact, as it launched the career of Houston legend Hugo Ortega, who started as a dishwasher and a busboy, but is now a Houston restaurant mogul in his own right. It has many crossover dishes from Hugo’s, which is a more renowned brunch spot (probably because of its buffet, which never impressed me much), Caracol, and Xochi, but mixes in a more traditional southern menu like corn pudding, brioche french toast, steak and eggs, and fungi pasta. This is my go-to for upscale dining for any meal – because it’s fantastic (the red corn enchiladas are my personal pick), but still comfortable. Quiet patio in a courtyard behind the building really makes you feel like your in a back-street cafe.
- Everywhere Else – Because after your 6th bottomless mimosa, it all kinda tastes the same, doesn’t it?