Fried fish at the Turning Basin

East of downtown, a whole new world awaits the intrepid urban explorer

East of downtown, a whole new world awaits the intrepid urban explorer

Touring the East End on Sunday morning for an urban design project that my husband is involved in, I was dreaming of a "tacos al carbon" lunch at Ninfa's on Navigation with perhaps a margarita to wash it down

But no. My man insisted that I was long overdue for my first visit to the neighboring Ship Channel's famous eatery — Brady's Landing.

In the 25 years since the behemoth restaurant opened on water's edge at the Turning Basin, I had somehow dodged this fried culinary bullet, preferring to keep my dining options happily inside the Loop except for the occasional hegira to the original Ninfa's.

But, hey, we were on a road trip — up and down Harrisburg, around Navigation, over to the frighteningly-industrialized banks of Buffalo Bayou, where our car was attacked by a fierce Doberman-like canine that barked ferociously and nipped at the tires.

The site of the proposed soccer stadium, the early signs of gentrification in new townhouses and mid-rise developments, the rows of oaks wisely planted along boulevards, the old 16-story Maxwell House coffee plant — it was not your mother's sightseeing tour. But it was culturally enlightening and even entertaining (sort of), particularly knowing that a tasty meal would be our reward.

As the Sunday brunching hour approached, our merry band of three with notebooks and maps in hand began our quest for Brady's Landing. It is no easy find. We followed Harrisburg past enticing mom and pop taquerias and quaint little houses offering mariscos just like in Puerto Vallarta. Across the Brays Bayou bridge, Harrisburg turned into Broadway and we knew we were close. But we were put off by the rust-laden industrial sites. Surely, there couldn't be a quality eating establishment in the middle of the apocalyptic landscape.

After several rounds up and down Broadway, we finally found the Brady's Landing sign at Cypress Street. So down we went along an asphalt road that led toward dilapidated barges until we veered suddenly left and came across a verdant acreage of St. Augustine grass and leafy oak trees. Brady's Landing looked like a country club as we moved up the drive.

Alas, the give-away to the true nature of the neighborhood was not the aroma of fresh-hewn golf course grass rather it was the not-so-faint odor of creosote that  shouted "industrial."

Stepping through the doors of the vast restaurant, we were transported to a 20th-century Victorian fantasy. Faux Tiffany lamps, faux Victorian dining chairs and heavily-patterned carpets served as setting for our Sunday buffet brunch. It set us back $28.95 each and included a bottomless pitcher of mimosas. While the food and drink might not have been worth the price of admission, the view certainly was. (Perhaps if we had arrived as soon as the previously-frozen fried catfish, shrimp and hush puppies were placed under the heat lamp, we might have enjoyed it more.)

Forget my take on the food as I am an admitted food snob. My companions found it tasty. And the restaurant has been hosting merry throngs — wedding receptions, political fundraisers, etc. — for decades with party rooms large enough to hold 2,000 revelers. They must be doing something right. I, personally, think it's the view.

The panorama of the Port of Houston's Ship Channel was mesmerizing. Granted, this was not a glamorous, luxury yachting basin where beautiful people embarked from their pristine tenders. Rather oil tankers and container ships were anchored in the distance along side barges of various descriptions. Houston boasts is the largest port in the nation in terms of foreign tonnage, second in the nation in total tonnage  And the visuals are impressive.

Our imagination played with wonder at who and what might have been transported in via ship and and what would be moving out. The water beneath our window looked murky and oil-laden though we knew it had nothing to do with the Deepwater Horizon. A high bridge to the south indicated the measure of the vessels that regularly pass through these waters. Our only disappointment  was that one of the major ships did not cruise by during our lunch.

It was in all a satisfying excursion for anyone interested in an up-close view of the Ship Channel. But I must confess that I closed the day out with margaritas and deluxe nachos —  at El Tiempo, contentedly within the arms of Loop 610.

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The popular restaurant on the Ship Channel looks like a country club from the outside. Photo by Shelby Hodge
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The view from the dining room windows is pure Ship Channel. Photo by Shelby Hodge
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While this sign is easy to find, the restaurant is not for the newcomer. Photo by Shelby Hodge
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Another splendid waterfront view from the restaurant windows. Photo by Shelby Hodge