Summer Wedding Weekends: Brunch at Shade in Houston

30 Jul

I am solidly in the middle of that age range where I spend every other summer weekend at weddings.  And although they’re always a blast, weddings involve extensive, sometimes multi-meal, catering, and therefore equate to travelling without much chowhounding.  That is until the day after the celebration, when Sunday brunch provides an opportunity for some independent culinary exploration.

First, off to Houston.

The Heights is a neighborhood close-in to downtown Houston going under slow gentrification.  The streets are mixed with turn-of-the-century historic bungalows and new construction, multi-story townhomes.  The urban revitalization process in The Heights, though more sluggish than that of its sister community Montrose to the south, has allowed for some (emphasis on “some”) integration between the existing community and the recent influx of higher-income residents.  It’s not often that a neighborhood can simultaneously boast over a dozen taquerias, an opera troupe, and a monthly arts market within its boundaries.

Shade is an upscale-casual restaurant owned by Heights residents Claire Smith and Russell Murrell.  Located in a historic strip full of antique shops, light and bright Shade clearly stands out.  The interior decor and the menu both have modern spins on classics to match.  The dinner menu features fun comfort cuisine with items like chicken fried quail and fried shrimp and bacon cheese grits as well as fare that depart from southern tradition, such as wasabi and cucumber crusted snapper and chimichurri yogurt marinated leg of lamb.

The brunch menu isn’t as extensive as the dinner menu, but still offers the diner quite a range of options.  Don’t miss the pastry plate to start your meal. 

A small pastry plate ($7) offered more than we had anticipated.  The selection included not-too-sweet chocolate banana bread, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate croissant, cinnamon currant scone, a bacon and cheese rollup (like a savory cinnamon roll), and solid versions of the classic blueberry muffin and cinnamon roll.

For the entree, I went along with Shade’s creative-comfort cuisine slant and ordered the bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato sandwich ($9.75).

Although I love the idea of the BLFGT sandwich, the actual product fell short in many ways.  The first thing that struck me was how over-salted the cornmeal batter was on the green tomatoes.  I looked forward to tasting how the tart green tomato worked in place of a ripe red tomato in this classic sandwich.  However, with the too-salty cornmeal batter, it was hard to taste the delicate flavors of the green tomatoes.  After a few more bites into the sandwich, the cornmeal batter became soggy and began to fall apart due to the moisture from the rather thick layer of mayonnaise between the fried green tomatoes and the toasted wheat bread.  I understand that the mayonnaise is there to add moisture to the sandwich, as green tomatoes (especially deep fried) aren’t nearly as juicy as their ripened red counterparts.  But the mayonnaise quickly destroys the integrity of the entire sandwich, what a dilemma.  I would suggest serving this sandwich in an open-faced style with just one slice of wheat bread.  The sandwich felt carb-heavy between the thick slices of bread and the cornmeal batter.  Plus, it was too big of a portion for one person.  Less bread would be an easy way to alleviate the necessity for so much mayonnaise on this BLFGT (and bring the portion size down to something reasonable).

The deviled egg that came with the sandwich (hidden in the photograph behind the sandwich) was solid, though.

My companion opted for a lighter entree, the Mediterranean plate ($10.50).

Both the hummus and the tabouli exceeded expectations in the sense that Shade isn’t a Mediterranean restaurant.  From a personal preference perspective, I found the creamy hummus a tad on the bland side and would’ve preferred more garlic.  Sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes accompanied balsamic vinegar marinated mozzarella.  But the surprising winner on the plate was the al dente orzo done in a pasta salad style with a light, creamy dressing topped with sweet, dried cherries.

Even though there is some unevenness to the food, I still feel Shade embodies many elements of the quirky cool neighborhood restaurant that everyone wants to have nearby.  The diverse, affordable menu appeals to those with safe tastes as well as those who enjoy keeping their tastebuds on the adventurous edge.  Shade also has the advantage of being located in a neighborhood full of artsy and historic charm.  It is a gem worth polishing.  I can only hope the creative kitchen is striving to improve and hasn’t “settled” in their two years of operation.

Shade
250 W. 19th St
Houston, TX 77008

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One Response to “Summer Wedding Weekends: Brunch at Shade in Houston”

  1. nocturnalsunshine 07/30/2008 at 2:32 pm #

    I love a good BLT myself but that does look heavy. Strangley I like mustard with my BLT along with mayonaise. Cherries in the orzo sounds good, I may have to try that. Or big golden raisins.

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