First Look at BRC Gastropub

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Biscuits and bacon never looked so good.
Let's get one thing out of the way first: BRC stands for Big Red Cock. There's even a giant crimson rooster in the parking lot, in case there was any misunderstanding. So get all the "Wow, that Big Red Cock is really delicious!" and "I can't wait to try some Big Red Cock!" jokes (or jokes about dining at its fake competitor -- "eating at the Y") out of our collective systems now.

Feel better?

It's unfortunate, really, that BRC Gastropub -- the second joint venture between Glass Wall's duo of Lance Fegen and Shepard Ross -- has such a silly name. Yes, I understand that it's silly on purpose, tongue-in-cheek and all that. I possess a sense of humor. But on another, more refined level, it smacks of a juvenile attitude and trying way too hard. Which is a shame, since the dishes on BRC's menu are earnest in a different way: good, honest, lovingly constructed food that is in no way juvenile or overreaching.

That's not to say the food isn't occasionally playful, however. It is, and manages to strike a precarious balance between silly and serious. And it's this attitude that's going to pay off for BRC in the long run.

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The leather-bound beer and wine list is just one of many classic touches.
On a serious note, the beer list at BRC is a hophead's dream (on a related note: ever notice that there's no beer-related equivalent for the word "oenophile"?). Covered with craft beers, small-batch brews and cask ales along with clever descriptions ("biscuity nose") that will help even a novice choose the right beer for them, I want to come back to BRC time and again simply to keep sampling the rotating beers.

Last night, I went with an Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale simply because I liked the tasting notes that BRC had given it on the menu: apricot, grapefruit, citrus flavors, hops. I am not a fan of the only other Oskar Blues brew I've ever had (Mama's Little Yella Pils), and if it weren't for BRC's apt description, I might not have tried -- and thoroughly enjoyed -- the pale, hoppy brew.

The food menu is equally descriptive of its classic Americana fare with a slight twist, which goes a long way toward exciting one's tastebuds. Buttermilk biscuits are transformed into a palate-stimulating appetizer with the addition of smoked cheddar, served with creamy whipped butter and a sweet, viscous bacon jam that brought to mind vivid memories of my mother's pig candy.

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The quail is $9, but more than enough to serve as a main course.
In that same nostalgic vein, Dr Pepper-fried quail served with a huge dollop of blue cheese potato salad was the high point of the meal. This is the kind of wholly Texas dish that mothers across the state would have made after fathers brought home fresh quail from a hunting weekend if they'd had a bit more creativity. The quail was rich, fresh and sweet, the dark meat just barely infused with the fruity soda and fried up to perfection. But the tangy blue cheese potato salad -- which had already drawn rave reviews from all my friends -- was truly the star. I mused as to why no one had ever come up with this concoction before. Soft potatoes, sharply sour blue cheese, crunchy celery and bites of cucumber all blurred together into a dish that makes the argument between mustard-based potato salad and mayo-based potato salad entirely irrelevant.

BRC offers several specials on a weekly basis. On Monday nights, the pub burger and hand-cut, twice-cooked fries are only $6.50. By all accounts, the burger is lovely (most people there last night were ordering it and diving in face-first). But the quail and biscuits had left my stomach a little on the heavy side, so I looked to the changing rotation of sliders (a different trio each day for $8.75). BRC had run out of the chicken-fried sliders that were the optiondu jour, which was fine with me, especially when our waitress told me they had subbed the Maryland crabcake instead.

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One for myself and my dining companion, one for the road.
I know that everyone is quickly becoming tired of sliders. I thought that I was, too. But this is how the concept can be done, and done well: sweet, fluffy buns that hold a messy but not too messy filling, in this case an expertly seasoned and effortlessly light crabcake topped with a tangy coleslaw that worked to perfection.

I should have ordered fries along with the sliders, though, as the mac & cheese of the day (ham and peppers) was terribly disappointing, both in quantity of cheese and price. For $6.50, I expect to get at least some cheese with my elbow macaroni. It has potential, though, especially with the crunchy breadcrumbs that cover the top of the dish.

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Better concept than execution.
The frozen Snicker beignets turned out to be only slightly less disappointing than the mac & cheese, but that could easily be my fault. Entranced only by the words "Snickers" and "beignets," I willingly and foolishly signed myself up for the upscale equivalent of a fried Snickers bar at the county fair. And it wasn't a good equivalent, although the dark chocolate sauce that accompanied the dessert was excellent.

This is where BRC could potentially stumble: taking the concept of cheeky Americana a bit too far, and not seeing it through all the way.

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The cozy dining room.
The cozy interior of the restaurant is something straight out of Southern Living, right down the soft, absorbant flour sack towels that serve as napkins, with playful touches at the corners. As long as the menu continues to reflect that same aesthetic, and Chef Jeff Axline continues to turn out high-quality items like the quail and crabcake sliders that hit that elusive sweet spot between fun and fundamental, I expect BRC (along with its comrade-in-arms, Branch Water Tavern, across the street) will become a mainstay in the area long after the hustle of Washington Avenue has died down and moved on to the next hot spot.

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BRC Gastropub

519 Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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