On the occasion of my grandmother's 90th birthday last week, my mother and I took her to Brennan's for lunch. Having recently moved here from Dallas, it was my grandmother's first visit to the legendary local institution, and she kept expressing her surprise at how much it reminded her of Commander's Palace, Brennan's big sister restaurant in New Orleans. Both were nearly destroyed by hurricanes, both make you wear a jacket at night, both offer the sort of old-school hospitality grandmothers (and their grandkids, if they know any better) swoon for, and both have been overseen by executive chef Danny Trace.
Brennan's of Houston
3300 Smith St.
It had been a few years since I'd been to Brennan's to eat Trace's food, and upon reacquainting myself with the menu I landed on the two-course lunch specials section and couldn't be bothered trying to order anything else. Lunch at Brennan's, it turns out, is a steal—and not just because of the 25-cent martinis (and Cosmopolitans) it serves during the day.
For $16 to $23, depending on what you order, you'll receive tremendously large, wonderfully non-lunch-sized portions (which the waitstaff will, naturally, box up for you if/when you can't finish) of some of Brennan's best dishes.
I chose the turtle soup, finished with a generous glug of dry sherry, and the crispy Anahuac catfish. Two giant, cornmeal-breaded filets were served over the same Anson Mills grits that Brennan's uses in its famous shrimp and grits. The whole affair is topped with a pickled okra chow-chow that could possibly make even the staunchest okra-hater see the light. You can opt for a topping of lump crab meat or fried oysters for an additional charge; I picked the latter, and swiped the plump oysters through the Saint Arnold beer aioli on the catfish plate.
My grandmother, meanwhile, gamely worked her way through a few more firsts: her first-ever shrimp and grits; her first-ever bananas foster (which mesmerized her the way fireworks must have stunned the first Italians who saw them in the 13th century); and her first-ever Cosmopolitan.
I wanted her to try and run up against Brennan's limit of three 25-cent cocktails per person, but she begged off after only one, claiming the small pink concoction had her "drunk." I think she was still drunk on the dazzling bananas foster display, but who was I to argue? I was too full of catfish and turtle soup to move, and so we all three—mom, me, and grandmother—lazed at our table for a little while longer, enjoying the serene comfort of the calm, butter-toned dining room and the crackling fire a few feet away, putting off our eventual retreat into the rainy cold as long as possible. This is, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy Brennan's: a weekday to yourself with nowhere to be and plenty to eat.