BY BENSON BENNY
Cook & Collins $$ (10-20)
Sitting at the intersection of Brazos and Bremond St, amidst the drinkeries and nightclubs of Houston’s midtown is the recently opened restaurant, Cook & Collins. All too often, newly opened restaurants have a hard time getting off the ground in terms of quality of food and service, but everything from the modern décor to the upscale comfort food communicated a restaurant that is striving to meet and even exceed the expectations of its patrons.
The parking lot of Cook & Collins is valet parking only and extremely small, so I would recommend parking at the adjacent lots and walking. Upon entering the doors of Cook & Collins, things start opening up. The restaurant has a covered patio with windows that are opened during the day if weather allows. On the other side of the patio, there is a more casual area that is also covered, allowing for a more private dining experience separated from the bar. Past these areas, the restaurant opens into a more modern area with the bar and kitchen, into a setting that invites conversation.
The bar is well stocked, offering a variety of different wines, Texas craft beers on draft, the usual assortment of bottled beers, but their cocktails are worth skipping out on your routine beverage. I ordered their South Padre Collins, a cocktail made up of a combination of vodka, whiskey, and tequila along with sweetened lime juice and topped with Dr. Pepper. It is a marvelously refreshing drink that is perfect for a hot Houston day. Although it is made with a mix of different spirits, the SPC is not strong in its alcohol content. On the contrary, it is constructed well and balanced in its flavors. One unique offering available at Cook & Collins is the category of coffee cocktails, coffee-based alcoholic drinks that have the flavors and caffeine kick of everyone’s beloved beverage, but more spirited. However, if drinks aren’t your cup of tea or if you aren’t of age yet, Cook & Collins also offers the usual espresso-based beverages as well.
I went to Cook and Collins with two of my friends, so we were able to try a variety of different foods. For appetizers, we ordered Red Eye Fries: hand cut fries topped with buffalo chili, white cheddar, mustard seed, a cage-free egg, and valentina hot sauce; Mac & Cheese Crab Rolls: Crab Macaroni & Cheese mixed with sundried tomato, rolled in the form of an egg roll, fried to a crisp, and truffle vinaigrette to use as a dipping sauce; and lastly Angry Birds: boneless chicken thighs fried to a crisp and rolled in a sweet and spicy sauce of pineapples, almonds, and a sweet heat hot sauce. All the appetizers were fantastic.
The Red Eye Fries were an upscale version of normal bar food. With an unexpectedly large portion, this dish’s unique taste was provided from the lean, chewy buffalo meat in the chili along with the mustard seeds that gave the dish a very nice herbal flavor that stood out among the more savory elements like the white cheddar and runny yolk of the egg. The Mac & Cheese “Crab Rolls” were surprisingly light for the ingredients used and the vinaigrette that accompanied the dish cut through the richness of the mac & cheese with a refreshing tanginess. The Angry Birds dish plays on the sweet and spicy sauce that the chicken is rolled in. The spice doesn’t come all at once, rather, it’s the sweetness that is first tasted, but the heat slowly comes through, leaving one’s mouth in a spice-caused stupor whose closest source of relief is the sweetness of pineapple in another bite of the dish. Definitely recommended for any spice junkies. My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed all three of these appetizers, leaving us looking forward to the lunch entrees ahead.
The lunch menu at Cook & Collins is reasonably priced, most items costing around $10-15. Since the category of food is upscale American comfort food, most items are familiar to the average American consumer from the burgers and sandwiches, to the pork porterhouse and the steak & fries. One category that differs from usual American comfort food is the Flatbread pizza. It is the same concept as a pizza, but uses flatbread dough made in-house and stretched to a uniform thickness. The flatbreads at Cook & Collins are all unique combinations of upscale ingredients but with flavor profiles that are familiar and recognizable to any consumer. During my visit, my friends and I ordered two of the flatbreads, the Pig Popper: a flatbread of sweet heat, pineapple, Canadian bacon, grilled poblano peppers, chorizo, and cilantro; and the Party Fowl: made up of roasted duck, candied bacon, pickled shitake mushrooms, bleu cheese, and arugula.
The Pig popper is reminiscent to the Hawaiian pizza, but with a fiery kick. The heat isn’t overwhelming due to the sweetness of the pineapple and the savoriness of the thick cut Canadian bacon. It is definitely a must-try for all the spice junkies out there. The Party Fowl is an combination of rich, savory ingredients. It was my favorite flatbread of the two. The ingredients are all different in their own respects, but together, provide a delicious culinary experience. The meat of the duck gets enhanced with the sweetness of the candied bacon, the sour tang of the pickled shitake, the peppery bite of the arugula, and finishes with the profound richness of the melted bleu cheese. My only criticism to this dish is that the richness and flavor of bleu cheese drowns out the subtle nuances of the other ingredients, leaving the eater in a lethargic state. Nevertheless, the Party Fowl is a great culmination of flavors, and worth ordering.
After all the food we had to eat, our stomachs could not handle much more, but we had to make room for dessert. We decided to split the Caramel Apple Bread Pudding since it was fairly light compared to the other options. For their bread pudding, Cook & Collins, decided to stick with a classic approach using rum raisins, bits of apple, and topped with a maple caramel and vanilla bean whipped cream. It was the perfect way to end our Cook & Collins experience. The bread was fluffy, with sweet and tart accents arising from the apples and rum raisins, and the addition of the vanilla bean whipped cream tied the entire dessert together.
Open for Brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, Lunch, Dinner and a between-meal period called Afternoon Delight, Cook & Collins has a wide range of menu items that appeal to any consumer. All this, in addition to its great location, unique but familiar food, and well-crafted cocktails, Cook & Collins has a bright future ahead of itself. It will easily become another addition to Houston’s great eateries.
Stay classy Houston.