By Joanna O’Leary
Early in the afternoon on a very rainy Saturday, a large party of diners is having a grand old time in Midtown. After a cheerful chorus of “Happy Birthday” to the guest of honor, the group tucks into their second (or maybe even third) round of mimosas and entrées, just delivered in quick succession by the waitstaff. Why such cheer despite the gloomy weather? They’re having brunch at Laurenzo’s.
If “Laurenzo’s” only brings to mind unctuous prime rib or slow-simmered Sunday gravy served over al dente pasta, recalibrate your expectations when you visit their newest Midtown location on Bagby. Yes, you can still enjoy these classics, but if you branch out (especially at brunch), you’ll be richly rewarded. Executive chef Domenic Laurenzo (descendant of Houston restaurant royalty “Mama Ninfa” Laurenzo) has created a terrific brunch menu that is simultaneously accessible, sophisticated, classy, and comforting.
But first, a cocktail—because as Laurenzo’s marquee proclaims, “Brunch is the best excuse to day drink.” Bloody Marys and mimosas are available by the carafe; however, I suggest drinking off the beaten path and ordering a tangy blood-orange margarita, which will conveniently satisfy your recommended daily requirements for both vitamin C and tequila.
Those who look to indulge their sweet tooth at brunch will have a hard time deciding between Laurenzo’s dense brioche French toast (liberally garnished with a snowstorm of powdered sugar) and the buttery, thin Bananas Foster pancakes. To avoid making difficult choices, try going with several friends and ordering one of each to share.
Although these dishes are very good, I give highest honors to Laurenzo’s savory selections. The restaurant exploits the versatility of the incredible edible egg in the best way possible. There are three (count ’em, three) different riffs on eggs Benedict (with béarnaise, not hollandaise). The Mediterranean-inspired “Lake George Hotel” (two eggs topped with grilled tomato, asparagus, mozzarella, and grilled beef tenderloin) pays homage to Laurenzo’s dual cultural roots. My favorite benny is “La Boca Chica,” with its salty, briny strata of English muffin, sunny yolk, and salmon. My penchant for piscine brunch dishes could explain my soft spot for Laurenzo’s BBQ shrimp and grits, in which three-bite prawns are doused in a peppery vinegar glaze and laid to rest on a creamy mascarpone hominy bed with bourbon sauce. (Yes, you can eat as well as drink your booze during brunch at Laurenzo’s.)
These comprehensive and enticing offerings (plus even a plain ol’ “Midtown Breakfast” option for folks who just want eggs their way, bacon, sausage, and pancakes) mean that the new restaurant is already attracting a burgeoning, diverse crowd between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. That includes families with young children, sports fans looking to catch up on college basketball at the posh bar, and a post-workout crowd eager to reward themselves for making it through that grueling spin class. The voluminous, spanking-new space means reservations aren’t necessary yet, but this reporter is willing to bet things will get cozily crowded as we settle into the spring patio season.
Joanna O’Leary is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine and a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.