"Because, why not?" That’s chef Jonathan Jones’ answer to questions about the big portions and bold flavors of the brunch menu he’s rolling out at Cane Rosso's Montrose location this Sunday, just in time for Father's Day (Heights will follow by the end of June). Less than two months after being hired to give the Houston and Austin locations of the restaurant an independent identity from their corporate siblings in Dallas, Jones is making his presence felt with several new dishes that aren’t afraid to ask, “Why not?”
Why not add more egg to spaghetti carbonara, top it with a poached egg, and call it "breakfast pasta?" Why not serve a giant hunk of porchetta topped with braised greens and a fried egg surrounded by spicy salsa verde? Why not use that same salsa on “Eggs in Anguish,” a riff on the classic “Eggs in Purgatory” that includes three poached eggs served over extremely cheesy polenta?
Houston diners have seen these kind of over the top dishes from Jones at his other posts — his deep fried, cacheta-stuffed French toast at Xuco Xicana remains the stuff of legend. At Cane Rosso, that big and bold approach gets a Tex-Italian spin. The chef tells CultureMap he fully understands the sort of people his brunch dishes will appeal to.
“Usually, when you’ve partied a lot the night before and you want some big, heavy food to set your Sunday off right and then lounge in the pool afterwards, or you want to go party on Sunday funday and you need big, heavy food to set that platform to be able to do a little day drinking,” Jones says. “Then you’re in bed by 10 pm to wake up at 6 am ready to go to the office the next day. To me, that’s why brunch is always bigger.”
The porchetta, a giant slab of rolled, roasted pork with a crispy exterior and a juicy interior, best reflects this blend of classic Italian technique with a Texas accent. Jones starts with the meat, which takes its inspiration from recipes developed by acclaimed Italian chef and butcher Dario Cecchini of Antica Macelleria Cecchini. On top goes a layer of Southern-style greens that have been braised in liquid spiked with bits and pieces of chopped salumi and a fried egg (“because why not?”). As noted above, it’s all surrounded by salsa verde.
“For me, when you’re looking to attach to our background and culture here in Houston, that salsa verde tied it all in,” Jones says. “The gratuitous use of chiles and things speaks to South Texas. Not everything I do is super spicy, but there’s a lot of that.”
Speaking of spicy, the Devil’s Shrimp spaghetti turns up the heat on mild tomato sugo sauce with a healthy dose of chili flake and ghost pepper guanciale. Even a classic hoe cake, which Jones says he added specifically to satisfy Cane Rosso owner Jay Jerrier, contains jalapeno and cheese and gets brushed with sorghum butter.
Like Cane Rosso's pizzas, these dishes are all designed to be shared — pairing them with a salad makes them slightly less excessive — although one gluttonous person could probably wolf down any of them (the prochetta is seriously addictive). On the beverage side, expect a couple of brunch cocktails from bartender Chris Frankel, along with $1 mimosas.
Other than a few people who are upset about Jones’ decision to replace sandwiches with pastas on the dinner menu, the chef says the changes he implemented to the menu at Montrose have been well-received (The Heights gets the new menu in a couple of weeks), but he’s not quite as busy as he'd like to be. Jones says he still hasn’t seen the crush of diners coming to Cane Rosso to check out the new dishes that he’s experienced at other restaurants where he’s worked previously, but don’t count on these dishes flying under the radar for too long.
After all, Coltivare’s spin on blending Texan and Italian influences has made it one of the city’s most-acclaimed restaurants. Jones is working with similar flavors, but at a restaurant without a two hour wait — at least until Houstonians discover how good these new dishes are.
Cane Rosso serves brunch on Sunday from 11 am until 4 pm at its Montrose location, 4306 Yoakum Boulevard.