Earlier this month, Think Tasty readers had the opportunity to choose the best restaurant in the Southwest region. With ten amazing restaurants in the mix, the choice was difficult. Until the last moment, diners placed their votes and left comments praising their restaurants. When voting ended, the restaurant that earned the most votes was Brennan’s, in Houston, Texas.
I spoke with Chef Danny Trace to learn more about this revered dining institution.
TT: Brennan’s is a 43 year old restaurant. Are any of your items the same as the original menu?
DT: Alex (Brennan-Martin, President of Brennan’s) always says that it wouldn’t be safe to go in the dining room without Turtle Soup and Bananas Foster on the menu! I’m beginning to understand what he means! Our menu is broken into three parts: Classics, Seasonal Classics and Tasting Menus. In addition to those mentioned above, our Classics include Eggs Brennan at brunch, Pecan Crusted Gulf Snapper and Shrimp Chippewa over Stone Ground Grits with Goat Cheese, which is flamed tableside. These are the dishes that are definitively Brennan’s Houston. Our Seasonal Classics are dishes such as Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes or Texas Wild Boar Chops with Smokin Goose Cassoulet. Crawfish season brings a whole other rash of dishes back to the menu. If we could get the ingredients year ’round, I guess they’d be on the menu full time as well!
TT: Do you make seasonal or weekly changes to your menu?
DT: While we focus on keeping the Classics and Seasonal Classics as vibrant and relevant as the day they went on the menu, I get my creative release on our Tasting Menus. The dishes we do on this part of the menu are an expression of what my team and I are feeling. We don’t chase fads, that’s not who we are, but we do things a bit beyond the traditional, such as Blue Crab and Leek Bread Pudding with Paddlefish caviar and Pheasant and Lobster Mushroom Crepe. We’ll use a lot of these on our Kitchen Table menus, as well when folks are in a more exploratory mood. Sometimes we’ll see one customer at a table having straight Classic selections while another is choosing from our Tasting Menu, it’s nice to be able to please both.
TT: What makes Brennan’s different than other restaurants?
DT: I got here about a year before the restaurant reopened. I was overwhelmed by the support and outpouring of well wishes from our patrons and the community. The phone in the office never stopped ringing with guests calling to check on us, and many felt the need to tell us about one of their memories of past meals. All the television stations covered our reopening. I truly understood then that this restaurant has a special place in this community. I also like to think it has something to do with the cooking as well! I’m having a blast adding to our Texas Creole Cuisine.
TT: What do you like about being a chef at a restaurant in Texas?
DT: Our abundance of local artisanal purveyors is as good as we have in Louisiana, but we combine that with the rich Hispanic culture, which adds another dimension to this region and our food. Houston is called the Bayou City, so it’s not much different from my home stomping grounds, but it also seems to me that it’s where the Southwest collides with the Gulf Coast culture. Houston seems to have the best of both worlds. I’m also very impressed with the staff we’ve been able to put together, they’re among the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
TT: What do you dislike?
DT: My timing. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could.
TT: What is your favorite dish on your menu?
DT: That’s a loaded question. My answer changes from season to season with the change in seasonal ingredients. Right now I’m really enjoying our new Braised Pork Shank with Creole Cream Cheese Gnocchi and Chanterelle Mushrooms.
TT: You have a loyal base of patrons. What is it about your restaurant that you believe makes them so?
DT: I believe there are two main reasons. First are the memories many of our guests have from their celebrations they’ve had with us over the past forty three years. In some ways we feel we are the caretakers of their restaurant; it’s very gratifying. We focus our service on creating these great memories for our guests by treating our guests to good old fashioned Southern hospitality. Second, I believe it’s our food reputation that stems from our varied menu with our fierce attention to ensuring our Classic dishes are spot on every time combined with our continuing push to keep our Texas Creole Cuisine fresh and vibrant. There’s a thrill when a new dish comes together and it’s well received by our customers; often we find ourselves joking that there’s another one for our Classic category in a few years!