The Scoop Houston: Benjy’s
The crispy Brussels sprouts at Benjy’s are arguably some of the best in Houston. These miniature cabbages, roasted, flash fried and generously coated in aged, French banyuls vinegar, are transformed into a crispy, tangy and sweet addiction that will keep you coming back for more. With each bite, coarse shreds of parmesan and thickly sliced green onions will join the Brussels sprouts, introducing more texture and umami to the dish.
This is just one reason to visit Benjy’s, a modern American restaurant featuring farm to table ingredients on Washington Avenue. As the second, and larger, Benjy’s location in Houston, it quickly rose to popularity for its fresh, seasonal ingredients, creative cocktails, and happy hour prices. On a Monday night, I met my family for dinner to celebrate my mom’s birthday, but with a friendly suggestion from the host, we opted to check out the upstairs lounge area and Happy Hour menu before settling in for dinner. Upon quickly finding a table (which would be rare if it were a night later in the week) and taking a peek at the appetizer offerings, we were staying put.
The lounge area definitely has an air of intimacy, with its cozy seating and dim lighting, but between upstairs and the wide open downstairs table service, Benjy’s is perfect for anything from a business lunch to a romantic dinner to a boozy brunch with a group of friends, rehashing the weekend over white peach mimosas.
Like I mentioned, one of Benjy’s claims to fame is their infamous happy hour menu full of creative, hand-crafted cocktails with the friendly price tag of only $6 a pop. The list offers a handful of refreshing drinks featuring fresh fruits and floral liqueurs, such as lychee and elderflower. Unanimously, we all ordered the blood orange margarita, made with El Jimador, a smooth, mid-grade tequila, fresh blood orange puree, Patron Citronge orange liqueur and lemon & lime juice. As a fan of margaritas that land somewhere on the middle of the tart-sweet spectrum, these bright pink-orange cocktails hit the spot. Another round? Absolutely.
The happy hour appetizer menu is simple and bare (and also only $6 per dish), giving you enough information about each item to make an informed decision. In other words, the most delicious ingredients are listed, helping certain popular words like “truffle oil,” “house kimchi,” or “goat cheese cakes” catch your eye and prompt immediate mouth-watering.
We settled on a handful of appetizers to share as our dinner, including two orders of the irresistible Brussels sprouts. I’m sure the server thought we were getting carried away by ordering nearly every option on the menu, but with each dish ranging in size, it ended up being just the right amount.
The stand outs for me included Benjy’s B&P grinder burger and the mushroom pizza. The B&P is not your typical burger; this is burger with gumption. Inside the buttery challah bun slathered with caramelized onion aioli, is a duo of juicy, ground beef and pork patties (representing the B and P) seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium, made complete with a big gooey slice of cheddar cheese. This burger is the true meaning to the term “less is more” and I need to go back for more very soon.
The mushroom pizza could also fit this bill. Replacing pizza sauce with light oil, this thin, euro-style pizza was heavily topped with only a few ingredients: savory, sautéed cremini mushrooms, earthy, toasted pine nuts, rich fontina cheese and a very subtle drizzle of truffle oil (maybe too subtle, as I could only barely taste it on every other slice). Despite the need for more heavenly truffle, I still found myself enjoying the crunchy, airy crust and deep flavor of the seasoned mushrooms in every bite.
We rounded out the evening with one last round of blood orange margaritas, a surprise piece of chocolate cake from our server after hearing it was my mom’s birthday, and an amazing view of the huge Harvest Supermoon rising over the downtown skyline.
You might need to get a reservation if you chose to dine at Benjy’s for brunch or dinner on the weekends, and you may find yourself fighting a crowd of swanky young professionals at the bar during happy hour, but it will all be worth it once you are handed that frosty cocktail and have a pile of crispy, umami-packed Brussels sprouts set in front of you.