Last Sunday, free mimosas flowed so liberally at Third Coast inside the John P. McGovern Texas Medical Center Commons that asking for plain orange juice simply flummoxed the bar staff. The event was "Brunch Off," a preview party intended to get football fans excited about the main event taking place on February 4, Taste of the NFL's "Party With a Purpose."
Indulgence was the order of the morning—three kinds of oysters accompanied those flutes of juice and Champagne, and Third Coast chef Jon Buchanan stocked the bar with a slew of apps including deviled eggs with house-cured duck bacon. Bread baskets brought to tables overflowed with several different kinds of breakfast pastry, while guests — including former Houston Oiler Elvin Bethea — watched Robert Del Grande of Café Annie whip up a demonstration potion of Mexican-style scrambled eggs with chopped barbecue brisket and tomatillo salsa. Del Grande has participated in Taste of the NFL events since its inception in 1992 and will be at "Party With a Purpose" this year, too.
According to the event's founder, Wayne Kostroski, who was also in attendance, this was the first brunch the charitable association had hosted in its three decades. But the three main courses, prepared by Del Grande, Buchanan and Michael McKinney of French-Southern fusion restaurant Orsay in Jacksonville, Fl. (a Texans/Jaguars game was on the restaurant's giant screen throughout the meal), were just an amuse gueule for the main event.
Any affair with a registered trademark symbol next to its name must be pretty serious, right? "Party With a Purpose" has one of those to back up its more than 32 stations of food (one from each city with an NFL team) from some of America's top chefs. Del Grande recalls cooking alongside "a young, skinny chef" named Bobby Flay in the event's early years. Kostroski said the event was already halfway at capacity, meaning tickets are selling fast. The event gets its name for its Taste of the NFL's practice of donating a portion of the proceeds to food banks in every city represented. The largest sum goes to the Super Bowl host city, so the Houston Food Bank will be the greatest beneficiary this year.
The strolling event will be held at the University of Houston at 7 p.m. on February 4, with VIP entry beginning at 5:30 p.m. For those who can afford, it that may be worth it—celebrity chefs and football players alike are available for photo ops, so beating the crowd makes some sense. But so does sticking around for final bids in the silent auction, which includes one-of-a-kind experiences as well as memorabilia. A yet-to-be-announced national music act (past performers have ranged from Barenaked Ladies and Third Eye Blind to Martina McBride and Little Big Town), won't hit the stage until 9:30 p.m.
Individual tickets are $700, while tables for 10 go for $10,000. It's a significant expenditure, but it's for two good causes—the Houston Food Bank, and a lifetime of stories to tell.