First Look at Federal American Grill, the Reincarnation of Branch Water Tavern

Categories: Restaurant News

Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
A thoughtful vegetarian entree on a meat-heavy menu was the first of a few pleasant surprises at the new Federal American Grill.
Matt Brice, the new owner of Federal American Grill, was making his rounds to all of the tables in the wood-paneled dining room last Thursday night. Tables were filling up quickly, but not all of them had come to eat at Federal American Grill. And Brice knew that.

"Those two women over there," Brice told my friend Brandi and me as he came by to check on our table, "told me that they'd come here still thinking this was Branch Water Tavern." It's a mistake more diners are sure to make in the coming months, as Federal American Grill moved into the old Branch Water space a few months ago and revamped large portions of the restaurant before reopening in late April.

Brice continued with a laugh: "They told me that they'd come here for the biscuits and that they'd have been really upset if those were gone." Luckily, the complimentary biscuits are still on the menu -- complete with former chef David Grossman's sweet jalapeño jelly on the side -- as are a few other favorites. The duck fat popcorn has remained, as has the smoked pork chop with pimento cheese polenta.

But there are plenty of changes, too -- all of them for the better.

The buttery housemade biscuits are still served to every table.
Brice (who has also run the friendly Bistro des Amis in Rice Village for years) has toned down the formerly buttoned-up bar area, which now includes plenty of pub-style tables and comfortable leather couches, making it a more attractive space in which to enjoy a few light snacks with beer or cocktails. And his kitchen team -- which includes executive chef Michael Hoffman (previously of Café Annie and Mockingbird Bistro) and chef Antoine Ware (fresh out of The Hay Merchant) -- has started serving an all-USDA Prime steak selection on its meat-friendly menu.

The whiskey and wine lists are as ambitious as ever, with a special section in the back devoted to a line-up of whiskey and bourbon flights rivaled only by the opulent lobby bar at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. When my girlfriend couldn't decide on a cocktail, our waiter gamely suggested that she give him some parameters and let his bartender whip something up.

The wine by the glass list is comprehensive and wide-ranging.
A few minutes later, she was presented with her requested "tequila cocktail that's a little fruity but not too sweet." It was a beautiful thistle-colored drink with a base of muddled blackberries. A little pineapple juice gave it a velvety feel and lime juice gave it an acidic pop. It was pristine for something created on the fly.

"It's called the Brandi," our waiter smiled. "You can ask for it any time you come in. We've got it written down." Brandi liked her drink so much, she ordered a second one for dessert.

"You know how to get a repeat customer!" she laughed. Brice indicated that one of his goals in opening Federal American Grill was to provide old-school service -- a goal that's currently being met. Our waiter glided past the table throughout dinner with excellent wine recommendations, those fancy crumb-gathering contraptions that fascinated me as a child, with new silver and new napkins for each course, and always with a casual, friendly demeanor.

I really enjoy these types of hybrid restaurants -- the ones that allow patrons to come as they are, yet still provide them with an upscale, respectful dining experience -- and hope Federal American Grill (or just Federal Grill, as it seems to be calling itself on its Web site) continues in this vein.

Dinner, too, hit a succession of high notes.

Location Info

Federal American Grill

510 Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

Not a place I'm very likely to frequent, but thank you for mentioning the vegetarian option.


There is a giant new sign in front of the place - you gotta be clueless or completely self-absorbed to not notice the change in management! (WTF?)


branch water was a joke, anyone who understands food knows this...i have not been to Federal yet but someone I trust said it was excellent so it's on my to do list soon...


Wasn’t impressed with Branch Water, but I’ve been considering a trip to check out the revamped space and menu. I’m glad they’ve added a vegetarian entrée, but why include red meat in all three seafood entrees? (Some people like their seafood without chorizo, bacon, or prosciutto—how about throwing us a bone.) I will admit the menu looks pricy—which is fine if the food lives up, but I don’t necessarily expect $75+ per person at an “all American grill” type of place. Given the pricing and the limited non-red-meat options, I can’t see this becoming a regular in rotation for us. But I know there’s a big audience for this type of food in Houston.

Catherine Wright Flores
Catherine Wright Flores

Fantastic article! I suggested Federal American Grill to my coworkers last week and we had a Monday lunch that was nothing short of amazing (mouthwatering biscuits + accouterments had everyone willing to forgive calorie counting for at least a week). Matt Brice greeted us walking in and heading out - friendly, warm, wonderful. Each appetizer and entree choice was cheered. As a huge fan of the former BWT, I walked in nostalgic and hopeful for a similar experience; definitely got that and more. Go soon! Enjoy!


Our experience last Monday was very happily similar to the author of this articles'. I had the chicken and my girlfriend had the eggplant. It was great food, especially the biscuits. We thought the prices were a little high, but the service was delightful.


Nicely written review. I however, had the exact opposite experience. Complete with food poisoning. awful food and 3 ounce wine pours. Sloppy service. Before I woke up at 4 AM vomiting I had written the place off. And I asked why they called it Federal Grill. I was clumisly given a strange story about the owners family owning a company called Federal.... Or something, it wasn't really clear. But overall atrocious dinner, bland food, expensive and short pour on the wine and awkward atmosphere. We were in on a Tuesday and there couldn't have been more than 8 tables seated the entire time we were there.

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