Weekend Goals

Houston's Best New Locavore Brunch Is at... Saks?

Weekend grub at 51fifteen is far more thoughtful than it needs to be.

By Alice Levitt September 7, 2016

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Sriracha Fried Chicken and Waffle, will soon go from special to menu item.

Image: Kimberly Park

I have very happy memories of brunching with my grandmother (and even great-grandmother) at department stores, as much to refuel as to break up the pressure of trying on swimsuits or party dresses under their critical eyes. It doesn't take much soul-searching to realize that the pleasant sentiment had more to do with the passage of time and the company now lost than the overcooked burgers with a side of canned mandarin oranges. But girls going to Saks Fifth Avenue with their older relatives today will be making distinctly more sophisticated gustatory recollections.

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Deconstructing every chef's favorite food, the street taco

Image: Alice Levitt

To put it most simply, brunch at 51fifteen, which reopened along with the Galleria's new Saks at the end of April, is as excellent as dinner at 51fifteen. And with dishes that include the deconstructed street tacos at right, duck with local peaches, and lamb with both carrots and pesto made from the roots' tops, that's no idle statement. 

Service in the pristine, marble-ceilinged dining room is friendly but in the fine dining realm of attentiveness. The food itself is pure Texas with an appropriately upscale edge. The chicken-and-waffles above is a frequent special that will soon be added to the regular brunch menu. Chicken breasts from Barry Farm are marinated in buttermilk and Sriracha, then fried ultra crisp. They rest atop a lightly sweet jalapeño cornbread waffle with green tomato chow-chow and squiggles of local honey, also made prickly with Sriracha.

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Croque madame is more craquant than croquant.

Bread is among the very few items at 51fifteen not made in-house. Chef Stefon Rishel has Slow Dough Bread Co. make each of the breads he uses to his specifications. That's clear with the sesame-speckled brioche that absorbs the butter with which it's fried (and its liberal baptism of Mornay sauce) so readily that it turns into something like French toast. Good quality prosciutto and Gruyère give the whole thing a sharp Alpine edge. The egg on top? Well that just makes it brunch.

I was also impressed with the chilaquiles, particularly after having some terrible ones in Mexico a few weeks ago. Rishel's crisp chips are moistened with both a peppery salsa rojo and tangy salsa verde for a beautiful balance further enlivened with a drizzle of lime crema. Over-easy eggs are a part of that dish, too, with more creamy fat in the form of queso fresco.

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Wild-rice-and-blueberry pancakes are less heavy than they sound.

Image: Kimberly Park

I'm more of a savory brunch girl than a sweet tooth, but I must pay respect to the over-the-top French toast. In a hat tip to PB&J, the slices of Slow Dough baguette are bloated with peanut-butter-flavored custard and drizzled with Concord grape syrup.

But I preferred the less sugary wild-rice-and-blueberry pancakes. I had assumed the cakes would be wheat flour with blueberries and rice mixed in. Instead, the rice is in the batter, translating to thin, slippery-textured rounds dominated by fat, bursting blueberries. On their own, they would barely be sweet at all, but local honey and a dusting of powdered sugar makes it palatable to diners who grew up on supermarket cereal.

For those still craving sweets, there are desserts, too. The "banana split," is more of a banana triptych. It combines crumbly banana bread with caramel-laden bananas Foster and intensely creamy homemade butter pecan ice cream. And luckily, I wasn't trying on any swimsuits with my grandmother afterwards.

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