March 5th, 2010

Benjy’s Brunch: Don’t Hold the Crab, Please

In 6 Words: Piquillo, Crabby, Avocado, Mimosas, Blood-Orange, Reservations

With the Benjy’s on Washington Avenue finally relenting to the popular cry for brunch, who am I to pass up an invitation to sample their midday treats? Since the venue is less than five minutes from my house, I would have to be an imbecile to forgo such a quick and easy fix for Sunday fare.

Our reservation is at one p.m., so I force myself to wake up and try to wash away the sins of the previous night. Naturally, I leave my house at five past the hour, only to find I’m the first to arrive on the scene. After doing a lap around the block, I reluctantly pull into the lot and hand over my wheels to the valet. I am loathe to valet my car, as I am not one to appreciate giving up control – just ask my editor.

I stand outside, trying to look aloof and cool, because I don’t know what name the reservation is under. The first of our party of five joins me and we walk in, only to be told that they hesitate to seat incomplete parties. As we wait, a manager comes over and offers us a drink from the bar. My friend, we’ll call her “the art critic,” asks for the blood orange mimosa; I opt for water. Just as he walks away, guests three and four walk in the door. We’ll call them “The Chef” and “The Designer” for continuity’s sake. With a majority of our party present, we’re deemed an acceptable size to be seated.

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This is my first time up to Benjy’s. The space here on Washington embodies the new, urban, and modern flavor of the avenue. The ceilings rise up, allowing for great windows that let natural light pour through, giving the tables a soft luminescence.

In front of the waiting area is a table that looks as if it will seat a party of 20. The table is surrounded by wooden stalactites, reminiscent of sitting within the mandible of some great Ent. Booths line the outer wall of the establishment and of particular interest to the Mimosa crowd, a bar stands in the far corner under a staircase that leads to an exclusive area on the second floor.

We are shown to a half-circle booth on the south wall with a chair for a fifth, dawdling friend. We slide into the leather booth leaving the chair for “the doctor” so that he will have to deal with the traffic of the waitstaff. He finally arrives at a table where the majority of us have received drinks and already decided upon our respective dishes.

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After placing our order, the conversation shifts from being pulled over, to being roofied, to occupations. The doctor takes a keen interest in the chef’s employment and sends some soft volleys over the table. “Where do you work?” “Do you like it?” “What’s your specialty?” and with those nonchalant questions out of the way, he goes straight for the winner down the line.

“So, is it anything like it is on television,” he asks, genuinely interested.

“What do you mean?”

“Is it anything like Hell’s Kitchen or Iron Chef? Well it couldn’t be like ‘Iron Chef,’ but I do love that show.”

A little shocked at the line of questioning, we all take a second to laugh before I take the questions to their obvious and cliched conclusion.

“So, your job is exactly like Grey’s Anatomy, right?”

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The water glasses on the table are never half empty as the waitstaff is in constant, whirling dervish revolution around the grounds. At the next pass, we flag them down for another round of non-hydrating drinks. Another Blood Orange Mimosa for The Art Critic, a White Peach Mimosa for The Designer, and an Absolute Bloody Mary for The Doctor. The Chef and I pass. Hair of the dog be damned, Sunday mornings should have no place for alcohol if you’ve done the job properly the night before.

I can’t decide if our food is delivered in a relatively short time, or if the pace of the conversation has made the wait seem abbreviated. As our plates are pushed in front of us, they are unexpectedly full. My plate, in particular, is loaded to the brim. Two huge pieces of nut-crusted french toast, a mound of eggs with homefries to match, and several pieces of homemade chicken sausage.

The french toast, which sits on top of a bright red raspberry sauce, gets sweeter and sweeter with each bite as it sponges up the sugar in the sauce. Diabetics beware. The scrambled eggs are perfectly cooked, hard and firm. I am not a fan of overly runny scrambled eggs, it defeats the purpose of cooking them in the first place. If I wanted runny eggs, I’d just drink them. In fact, the only part of my dish that doesn’t live up to the rest is the sausage, which is a little cold.

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A general silence envelopes the table as everyone is absorbed in their food. Mumbles of “yeah, it’s good” are all I get in response to my journalistic questions about my counterparts’ experiences until the Art Critic breaks the silence. “I don’t think I got any crab ,” she notices out loud. After a thorough inspection we conclude that she did not, in fact, receive any crab in her “Local Crab with Truffled Asparagus Toast, Spinach, Poached Eggs, and Piquillo Pepper Puree.” With the prominence of crab in the name, one might even suspect the crab to be the most important part of the dish. We get the waiter’s attention to inform him, only to have him race off to the kitchen and a manager come in his stead. He offers to take the plate back to add crab or bring out a side plate with the crustacean’s meat.

The oversight has everyone looking at their plates. I know all my ingredients are accounted for, but The Doctor believes he has spotted yet another error.

“Sir, I think that my dish was supposed to come with applewood bacon.”

A clearly distraught waiter retreats back to the kitchen to be the bearer of yet more bad news. If Benji’s wanted opening day to go off without a hitch, they certainly granted a reservation to be the wrong party.

“Sir, it was apple smoked bacon gravy, not actual bacon,” says the waiter, returning with redemptive news.

“Oh, that’s fine. It’s better this way anyway. Bacon would have ruined the dish entirely,” replies The Doctor laced with self-deprecation, which sets the the whole table to laughing.

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As brunch winds down, I’m still left with a third of a plate of food when I throw in the napkin. As quickly as we finish, the plates are cleared. Of course we wouldn’t be living up to expectations if we didn’t inconvenience the waiter one last time. As he comes to the table with the check, we extend five separate credit cards to him, asking to split the check. Rather than ask him to play match this meal, we only ask that he split it evenly.

Our bills are returned to us and we notice that they’ve already added the gratuity to the check. Some of us – meaning myself – notice a second too late and are too embarrassed to scratch out and reapply a lower tip. It seems a little bit overboard for a table of five, but then again, we are the table that tricked them into forgetting the crab.

Opening day is tough business. Then again, this is a business they’ve been in for a long time and brunch is nothing new to the franchise. For now, I’m willing to give Benjy’s the benefit of the doubt. For next time, I’ll make a deal with you: I’ll bring a bigger appetite if you provide the crab.

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[Full photographs in our Flickr photo-set]

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Where5922 Washington Avenue, Houston, TX‎ 77007 (View Map)
What – Brunchity, Brunch-Brunch
Wear – Bring the Bells, Leave the Whistles
How Much – Mid-Range (but, watch out for the added gratuity)
When – Tue-Sat 6PM – 2AM; Private Events on Sunday; Closed Monday
WebWebsite; Twitter; Facebook

With the Benjy’s on Washington Avenue finally relenting to the popular cry for brunch, who am I to pass up an invitation to sample their midday treats? Since the venue is less than five minutes from my house, I would have to be an imbecile to forgo such a quick and easy fix for Sunday fare.

Our reservation is at one p.m., so I force myself to wake up and try to wash away the sins of the previous night. Naturally, I leave my house at five past the hour, only to find I’m the first to arrive on the scene. After doing a lap around the block, I reluctantly pull into the lot and hand over my wheels to the valet. I am loathe to valet my car, as I am not one to appreciate giving up control (just ask my editor).

I stand outside, trying to look aloof and cool, because I don’t know what name the reservation is under. The first of our party of five joins me and we walk in, only to be told that they hesitate to seat incomplete parties. As we wait, a manager comes over and offers us a drink from the bar. My friend, we’ll call her “the art critic,” asks for the blood orange mimosa; I opt for water. Just as he walks away, guests three and four walk in the door. We’ll call them “the chef” and “the designer” for continuity’s sake. With a majority of our party present, we’re deemed an acceptable size to be seated.

This is my first time up to Benjy’s. The space here on Washington embodies the new, urban, and modern flavor of the avenue. The ceilings rise up, allowing for great windows that let natural light pour through, giving the tables a soft luminescence.

In front of the waiting area is a table that looks as if it will seat a party of 20. The table is surrounded by wooden stalagtites, reminiscent of sitting within the mandible of some great Ent (for the record I had to look this up, I’ve only seen the movie once). Booths line the outer wall of the establishment and of particular interest to the Mimosa crowd, a bar stands in the far corner under a staircase that leads to an exclusive area on the second floor.

We are shown to a half-circle booth on the south wall with a chair for a fifth, dawdling friend. We slide into the leather booth leaving the chair for “the doctor” so that he will have to deal with the traffic of the waitstaff. He finally arrives at a table where the majority of us have received drinks and already decided upon our respective dishes.

After placing our order, the conversation shifts from being pulled over, to being roofied, to occupations. The doctor takes a keen interest in the chef’s employment and sends some soft volleys over the table. “Where do you work?” “Do you like it?” “What’s your specialty?” and with those nonchalant questions out of the way, he goes straight for the winner down the line.

“So, is it anything like it is on television,” he asks, genuinely interested.

“What do you mean?”

“Is it anything like Hell’s Kitchen or Iron Chef? Well it couldn’t be like ‘Iron Chef,’ but I do love that show.”

A little shocked at the line of questioning, we all take a second to laugh before I take the questions to their obvious and cliched conclusion.

“So, you’re job is exactly like Grey’s Anatomy, right?”

Having been friends with The Chef for a number of years, it’s always amusing to see what questions he receives from newcomers. Working in a kitchen in a high profile restaurant obviously has its perks. Fielding awkward questions is not one of those. Me, I just answer that I work in the refinery construction industry and conversation immediately shifts away from employment and on to more pressing topics like politics, sports, or the ever popular and interesting weather.

The water glasses on the table are never half empty as the waitstaff is in constant, whirling dervish revolution around the grounds. At the next pass, we flag them down for another round of non-hydrating drinks. Another Blood Orange Mimosa for The Art Critic, a White Peach Mimosa for The Designer, and an Absolute Blood Mary for The Doctor. The Chef and I pass. Hair of the dog be damned, Sunday mornings should have no place for alcohol if you’ve done the job properly the night before.

I can’t decide if our food is delivered in a relatively short time, or if the pace of the conversation has made the wait seem abbreviated. As our plates are pushed in front of us, they are unexpectedly full. My plate, in particular, is loaded to the brim. Two huge pieces of nut-crusted french toast, a mound of eggs with homefries to match, and several pieces of homemade chicken sausage.

The french toast, which sits on top of a bright red raspberry sauce, gets sweeter and sweeter with each bite as it sponges up the sugar in the sauce. Diabetics beware. The scrambled eggs are perfectly cooked, hard and firm. I am not a fan of overly runny scrambled eggs, it defeats the purpose of cooking them in the first place. If I wanted runny eggs, I’d just drink them. In fact, the only part of my dish that doesn’t live up to the rest is the sausage, which is a little cold.

A general silence envelopes the table as everyone is absorbed in their food. Mumbles of “yeah, it’s good” are all I get in response to my journalistic questions about my counterparts’ experiences until the Art Critic breaks the silence. “I don’t think I got anycrab ,” she notices out loud. After a thorough inspection we conclude that she did not, in fact, receive any crab in her “Local Crab with Truffled Asparagus Toast, Spinach, Poached Eggs, and Piquillo Pepper Puree.” With the prominence of crab in the name, one might even suspect the crab to be the most important part of the dish. We get the waiter’s attention to inform him, only to have him race off to thekitchen and a manager come in his stead. He offers to take the plate back to add crab or bring out a side plate with the crustacean’s meat.

The oversight has everyone looking at their plates. I know all my ingredients are accounted for, but The Doctor believes he has spotted yet another error.

“Sir, I think that my dish was supposed to come with applewood bacon.”

A clearly distraught waiter retreats back to the kitchen to be the bearer of yet more bad news. If Benji’s wanted opening day to go off without a hitch, they certainly granted a reservation to be the wrong party.

“Sir, it was apple smoked bacon gravy, not actual bacon,” says the waiter, returning with redemptive news.

“Oh, that’s fine. It’s better this way anyway. Bacon would have ruined the dish entirely,” replies The Doctor laced with self-deprecation, which sets the the whole table to laughing.

As brunch winds down, I’m still left with a third of a plate of food when I throw in the napkin. As quickly as we finish, the plates are cleared. Of course we wouldn’t be living up to expectations if we didn’t inconvenience the waiter one last time. As he comes to the table with the check, we extend five separate credit cards to him, asking to split the check. Rather than ask him to play match this meal, we only ask that he split it evenly.

Our bills are returned to us and we notice that they’ve already added the gratuity to the check. Some of us – meaning myself – notice a second too late and are too embarrassed to scratch out and reapply a lower tip. It seems a little bit overboard for a table of five, but then again, we are the table that tricked them into forgetting the crab.

Opening day is tough business. Then again, this is a business they’ve been in for a long time and brunch is nothing new to the franchise. For now, I’m willing to give Benjy’s the benefit of the doubt. For next time, I’ll make a deal with you: I’ll bring a bigger appetite if you provide the crab.

— Paul

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