BY KERIN MAYNE
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Backstreet and brunch are synonymous when you ask Houstonians about dining at this well-known establishment. We love our restaurants, and we love brunch. Judging by the steady stream of cars in the valet line and large groups of people heading to and from the restaurant on any given Sunday, Houstonians love brunch at Backstreet Café.
So, how does one review a restaurant with a long-standing reputation for Sunday brunch? Simple. Pick a different mealtime.
Although I have never dined at Backstreet, I anticipated a great meal knowing of the restaurant’s 30-year history with Houston and ties to Hugo’s and Caracol. Determined to thoroughly investigate their weekday menu, my lunch companion and I started with the Pate & Cheese Board, which featured 3 cheeses, a deviled egg, chorizo links, duck pate, pickled vegetables, and house-made pumpernickel bread. The cheeses: cheddar, blue, and manchego, offered nice contrasting flavors to one another, but the standout was a creamy blue, Fourme d’Ambert. It surprised me as being a favorite because I do not ordinarily gravitate toward blue cheeses. The duck pate had a mildly smoky and sweet flavor. The smoky came from the bacon wrapped around the country-style pate, and the sweet came from tiny figs embedded in the meat. The grill-marked chorizo was picture perfect sitting on the dark wood board, almost outshining the pate. It was flavorful without being too greasy or spicy and was nicely complimented by the crunchy and tart pickled vegetables. It was difficult to refrain from finishing everything on the board, but we knew that more great food was on its way.
Our next course was Roasted Oysters. Having previewed the menu in advance and being familiar with the oysters at Caracol, I knew this was a dish not to be missed. They did not disappoint. Roasted with smoked piquillo pepper butter and topped with Parmesan and breadcrumbs, the chef offered contrasts in texture and a buttery rich flavor to compliment the ultra-fresh oysters. Our extremely knowledgeable and helpful waiter told us what all seafood lovers want to hear. The seafood is delivered fresh. Each. Day. Hearing this only increased our anticipation of our main courses.
A beautifully golden 6-oz filet of red snapper was presented soon after the oysters disappeared. It was served with a crawfish lemon butter sauce, atop a bed of orzo pasta and roasted vegetables. The snapper’s golden exterior implied cooking perfection, and its moist flaky interior confirmed it. The seasoning was a perfect balance that accentuated the delicate flavor of the fish without overpowering it.
In addition to ordering the daily special, we also ordered Cioppino, a regular on the menu. The tomato infused seafood broth surrounded the scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels, and calamari. This particular day it was served with a generous piece of red snapper; the fish served in this dish is always the fresh fish of the day. The bowl of seafood soup was fresh, generous, and prepared to perfection. Had I not been making an effort to save that last little bit of space for dessert, I would have surely picked up the bowl to finish every last drop of broth.
How did we end our fabulous lunch? We decided to show some self-restraint, so we shared a dessert. I usually lean toward something that includes chocolate, but this time I was drawn toward ordering the Golden Delicious Apple Crostata. Like everything else we ordered, this was a fantastic choice. We were served a perfectly shaped orb of golden brown pastry crust filled with lightly sweetened chunks of apple, topped with salted caramel ice cream; it was finished with a drizzle of caramel and a neat stack of julienned apple sticks perched on top. Even though I’m pretty sure we had no business eating dessert after that fantastic lunch, we were more than happy to enjoy this one. Once again, like so many elements of our dishes, it was the perfect complement to our meal.
So, if you have enjoyed the fabulous Backstreet brunch and would like to return for an equally great meal, I highly recommend lunch. If you have yet to experience Backstreet Café, consider lunch and bring a friend, date, colleague, or client. I know you will be talking about that meal for at least a few more to come.
PHOTOGRAPHY: KERIN MAYNE