A sip of New Orleans right at home
By Marene Gustin
Dreaming of a summer brunch lounging on a shaded courtyard in the Big Easy, sipping a cool cocktail? But can't make the trip?
No worries. Head to Brennan's of Houston in Midtown and enjoy the old world charm of one of the city's most revered restaurants, a product of New Orleans taste and tradition and sister eatery of the famous Commander's Palace. Since 1967 Brennan's of Houston has survived floods, hurricanes and a devastating fire and yet has persevered to continue as a beacon of genteel comfort.
The gorgeous two-story brick building on Smith Street is not only elegant architecturally but the service is impeccable and the food divine. And while you may yearn for the famous snapping turtle soup finished tableside with sherry, the Creole cuisine like Jimmy's pecan wood grilled oysters and the flambe of bananas foster drenched in Caribbean rum, don't forget the bar menu here.
The weekday happy hour at the courtyard offers Seven for Seven until Seven: Seven cocktails, seven wines (by the glass) and seven Creole bites for $7 a piece until 7:00 p.m. The long bar, which was lengthened during renovations after the devastating fire during Hurricane Ike, sports hundreds of bottles of premium liquors and the restaurant is known for its superb cocktail, including its famous 25-cent martinis offered during weekday lunch.
"Back in the late 1940s the Brennan's offered 25-cent martinis at lunch," says Richard Middleton, the restaurant's Bar Chef or, as he likes to call himself, the Drink Daddy. "It was a good price then but not like it is now. In the 1990s we brought it back and it's an incredible deal now."
So much so that they limit the drinks to three per customer, and they are now offering 25-cent bloody marys and mimosas for Saturday brunch.
Middleton likes to think he's one of the oldest living bartenders, although he's only 68 years old. But this is his retirement job. In his former career as an AT&T executive, he brought all of his clients to Brennan's starting in 1974, and he's been coming here ever since. When he retired Brennan's asked him to come bartend and he's been here for the past six years.
"I don't have any professional training," Middleton says. "And I don't like to hire bartenders who have been to bartending schools. It's too hard to undo some of that training. What a successful bartender needs is knowledge of liquors and brands and a way with people. I can teach them everything else.
"People come in and sit at the bar and ask for a drink. You talk to them to see what they want and suggest things. The thing about cocktails is that they are not tattoos, if they don't like the drink I'll just make them another one. It's okay. God created chocolate and vanilla because we all don't like the same thing."
And while Brennan's offers wine and some beers, cocktails are the main draw, particularly vodka drinks. Middleton says women still order Cosmopolitans the most and men tend towards Old Fashions. He makes those with housemade fig jam instead of the standard sugar cubes. As for himself, Middleton prefers Scotch and Bourbon like Rob Roys and Manhattans with meat dishes.
"But if you want a gin and coke," he says and you can almost hear him shudder, "I'll make you one. I don't judge. People come to Brennan's to enjoy themselves and have a good time."
But just in case you can't make it to Brennan's for a good time, do try the Brennan's Courtyard Tea, recipe below, in your own backyard for a cool summer sip. Just close your eyes and pretend you're at the old world patio surrounded by trees and ivy covered brick walls and relax. It's summer.
Brennan's' Courtyard Bar Tea
2 oz. Seagram's vodka
1/2 oz hibiscus tea
1.25 oz pineapple juice
one mint sprig and cherry for garnish
For hibiscus tea: Bring one quart of water to a boil. Add one cup of hibiscus flowers. Boil for five minutes and remove from heat. Dissolve one cup of sugar in liquid and let cool. Use one-half once in cocktail, stir and garnish with mint and cherry. Enjoy.