Note: This is slated to be a recurring feature. Here's the idea: Date night should be dinner for two at a restaurant where there are enough options on the menu for you to have an excellent meal but not pay more than $15 for any single item (excluding wine). That gives you a strong measure of control over your final check. Sometimes it'll be somewhere romantic, other times it will be somewhere you can go with your honey and enjoy some quality people-watching. Whatever floats your boat. But it's good to get out of the house and spend a little time together.
BRC Gastro Pub generated a lot of strong reactions when it opened. Most of them related to the name. Big Red Cock. Forget that there's a big red rooster out front, reminding us of having fun with homophones. The name is probably funniest to those who are learning homophones in school right now -- what, seven- or eight-year-olds? Okay, it's a childish joke. But BRC is exciting. It comes from Shepard Ross and Lance Fegan of the Glass Wall, with Jeff Axline taking the reins at the stove on a daily basis, and this is what the Glass Wall does best. Bar food. (Read about that strength here.)
Initially, the kitchen had a few growing pains. The large potato chips served with the excellent pimento cheese dip were obviously prepared far in advance and came out soggy and soaked with grease. Subsequently, however, this defect has been corrected: the chips aren't spending as much time waiting around after they come out of the fryer. And, from the start, the kitchen has had more hits than misses.
The crab beignets are superb, fried skillfully, with a warm and gooey inside revealing plenty of crab. The boudin balls are a real treat. These are the not mushy, dense, nondescript boudin balls you find too regularly. These are light, delicious, and layered with flavor. Appetizers are a strength. The Glass Wall crab cake is slightly modified and as delicious as ever. But the Dr. Pepper fried quail came out with a chewy batter and cloyingly sweet sauce, though the quail themselves were excellent.
A handful of main entrees, although very solid, are not the star attraction. That is saved for the array of inventive sandwiches. There's the excellent and improbable flavor combination of the roasted brisket sandwich. On a thick piece of toast, the tender brisket is topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions, ham, smoked cheddar cheese, and gravy. It gets the right combination of smokey, salty, and savory.
The State Fair Griddled Cheese -- an unmistakably Texas interpretation -- has short ribs, cheese, and tomato inside. It works beautifully, although sometimes the tomato can intrude on the ooze you want in a grilled cheese. The chicken fried steak sandwich is an instant Houston classic, and Sheppy's Dogs might be the best pure hot dog in town. And, of course, the hamburger is very solid indeed. It's a steal on Mondays, coming in at $6.50 with fries.
On the side, the fries have been somewhat inconsistent but recently are better, obviously double-fried and crispy. The daily macaroni and cheese is beautifully executed, always faithful to the essentials of the dish: creamy, cheesy, and flavorful, without reliance on gimmicks.
Another high point is the dinners for four BRC features on Sunday and Tuesday. Sundays, you can get a fried chicken dinner for four for $60. For the same price on Tuesday, you get a Yankee pot roast dinner for four. It's a strong excuse to get together with friends and kick off the week.
The wine list is slim but smartly picked, with a couple real bargains. Given the food, though, you would like to see a few more Zinfandels and spicy reds on it. The selection of microbrews on tap is impressive, and the two sangrias are very pleasing. (BRC has a beer-wine license only; it doesn't serve liquor.)
There are only two downsides to BRC -- one potential and one very real that must be addressed. First, it's noisy inside. This noisy restaurant trend can't end soon enough. These places aren't sparing any expense, so why not invest in a couple acoustic panels? Second, and more importantly, service rarely has been good and too frequently veers into the woeful. You can only hope the service issues are a growing pain and will be corrected in short order. Given the extensive turnover among the wait staff, one can hope this is a kink BRC is aggressively trying to work out.
All told, though, BRC is a terrific date night place. It falls more into the people-watching rather than romantic category, but it's a great precursor for a night on the town.