As a Newstonian, and as a young person, there are a few things I never got to do here that, if I can go back in time, would be on top of my list. They include:
- Snagging a seat at Oxheart
- Being in the dining room at Reef during its first year
- Sitting down at Tony's at Post Oak in the 1970s
- Sitting down at Cafe Annie in the 1980s
- Sitting down at Brennan's of Houston in the 1990s
And if we're talking Brennan's in the 1990s, we're talking about Chef Mark Holley. The chef de cuisine at Brennan's in those days, he quickly became an authority in Creole and Gulf seafood. These days he's running the kitchen at Davis St. at Hermann Park, bringing with him that Creole, seafood, and a whole lot of Southern comfort.
One dish that doesn't check off any of those boxes is his harissa-dusted Cornish hen. The hen that gets all the attention is a young fowl whose roots are both in chicken from the English county of Cornwall and in chicken bred in New England. But the bird is prone to be quite rich and juicy when prepared well, and when paired with roasted vegetables or a cold salad, tastes pretty darn comforting.
That certainly is the case at Davis St. at Hermann Park. Holley generously dusts his chicken in harissa, providing a well-rounded bout of heat thanks to its starring baklouti peppers from Tunisia. The fowl is given a nice char, with the skin remaining crispy, and the meat is perfectly executed—juicy and decadent together. Served atop a verde salsa and toasted almonds, and with a fresh salad of arugula, Pure Luck feta, pops of pomegranate, and farro, it's just outstanding.
Sure I won't be able to go back in time and witness Holley's mastery at Brennan's, but this is a pretty remarkable consolation prize.