First Taste: Michael Kramer mixes up the brunch scene at Tasting Room
It was an early September miracle: A Sunday morning with a breeze and only a mild heat. When faced with such an auspicious situation, there's only one thing to be done — find a brunch spot with cheap drinks, good food and a pretty patio, and don't move for as long as possible.
The combination brought me to The Tasting Room in Uptown Park, the venerable neighborhood wine bar with siblings in River Oaks and now CityCentre. Eschewing the air conditioning and the soft sounds of the live guitarist, we found a shady place on the spacious patio.
The menus were served with three squares of cornbread. Rough, crumbly, and just slightly sweet, it was the perfect starter, especially with a dollop of the rich butter and honey mix served alongside the bread.
Getting right down to business, my friend and I ordered a round of peach basil sangria. When you like peach, really love sangria and haven't met a drink with basil you didn't adore, this seems like a no-brainer. But these glasses had nary a piece of fruit floating in them (red flag No. 1) and a single piece of basil floating in each. Lacking the telltale sweetness of either peach or sangria, the drink came of as dull, or as my friend quipped, "It tastes like Fail."
Luckily the $2 mimosas were much more to our liking (and, um, $2).
In the past I've stuck to wine when at The Tasting Room, but since Voice alum Michael Kramer came on board as culinary director, menus have been expanded and upgraded. We started with the jumbo crab cake, which was smaller than expected for $12, but wasn't full of bread filler, just jumbo lump goodness, a light, bready shell and a bed of sweet corn relish. The fennel salad on the side was a crisp, perfectly acidic accompaniment.
We also had the Carolina shrimp and grits, with four absolutely enormous shrimp, a heavy dusting of Tasso ham, peppers for an ever-so-slight heat and a rich Cajun butter sauce that took the grits beyond creamy to almost melt-in-your mouth status, while retaining just enough of their eponymous texture.
Moving into the entrees, we doubled down on egg dishes with mixed results. The Italian frittata was well cooked but bland — but perhaps I'm just accustomed to Sicilian versions, with the same tomato, basil and mozzarella plus sausage. I found myself stealing bites of my friend's truffle mushroom omelette, bursting with the strong flavor of goat cheese as well as portobello mushroom, tomato, and a judicious hint of truffle oil.
Beautiful day and spacious patio notwithstanding, Kramer's menu is a refreshing mix of brunch favorites, with frequent seasonal changes and top-notch ingredients. Alone, it might not be enough to stand out in a crowded brunch field, with the addition of an established wine service and hot locations, there is plenty of reason to think The Tasting Room's brunch could win a following.
Just keep the mercury at 82 and the mimosas coming.