Shrimp 'n' Grits It
Besides a prodigious number of rooms (seven plus the Courtyard patio at Brennan's, five plus the Bears' Garden patio at Ouisie's), these two Houston landmarks have something else in common: both lay claim to the best shrimp 'n' grits in the city. But whose is the greater grit?
Brennan's of Houston
Local Flavor: Housed in the New Orleans-style 1929 John F. Staub building that originally served as the Junior League of Houston's headquarters; damaged in 2008 by Hurricane Ike and a subsequent two-alarm fire, Brennan's was rebuilt and reopened in 2010.
Shrimp: Six premium Gulf 16/20 shrimp from Jimmy Evans of J&J Shrimp Company in Houston, coated with Creole seasoning and seared in a hot pan
Grits: stone-ground yellow from Homestead Gristmill in Waco, which executive chef Danny Trace calls "the best grits you can buy"; cooked down with milk and butter; Texas goat cheese, roasted corn and fresh thyme added at the end
Price: $25 (lunch); $36 (dinner)
Why it's the best: "It's about flavor, and it's about seasoning absolutely everything," says Trace, who's been overseeing the kitchen at Brennan's since 2010. That includes deglazing the pan with both white wine and brandy. "We're probably the only restaurant in town that uses two types of alcohol," he laughs. "Once it's deglazed we splash cream in the pan and put it [compound] butter," says Trace. "You don't come here for the lack of calories."
Founded: 1973 (moved to new location in 1995)
Local flavor: Horton Foote based his play Dividing the Estate on chef and owner Elouise "Ouisie" Adams Jone's family; Miss Ruby, the scarlet dress Jones's sister wore to the 1958 Houston Debutante Ball, hangs in the restaurant from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day each year.
Shrimp: Six - and always from the Gulf
Grits: "A lot of people think grits are just grits, but that definitely is not the case," says Jones, "We think we found the best to be made by Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. Their grits are stone-ground and milled from heirloom corn."
Price: $18 (brunch); $20 (lunch); $24 (dinner)
Why it's the best: "The basic recipe comes from one of the most exceptional chefs I ever met, Bill Neal of Chapel Hill, North Carolina," says Jones. "I had the pleasure of getting to know him before he came famous, and he personally okayed me using this recipe. Over the years, we've had two people who worked in our kitchen and went on to become chefs on their own try to copy ours. We were happy to hear from their customers [that] neither of them were able to replicate ours."
Too close to call: you decide.