Bradley’s Fine Diner IS a BFD!
Why did the Funky Chicken cross the road?
Actually, it didn’t cross the road, it’s at the other end of the strip center from BFD (Bradley’s Fine Diner). Roughly four months after opening their chicken-every-single-way operation, Funky Chicken… and a couple of months before their upcoming May opening of Ogden’s Pour Society in Memorial City, Bradley Ogden Hospitality has opened an edgy farm-to-table comfort food restaurant, Bradley’s Fine Diner. Menus are paper and adjusted daily to offer the morning’s fresh finds from local suppliers and farmers.
Sally and I were media guests of BFD a few days after opening to the public and, frankly, were taken aback by the contemporary approach to old standards, such as pot roast, pork belly and other comfort foods “all dressed up”.
As my wife admonished me to, I gladly add the word “unpretentious” here. Throw it in wherever it seems appropriate. It will fit almost everywhere.
In a casual, warm setting crowned with a funky (sorry about the word “funky”) tree trunk chandelier overhead, we were greeted throughout our three-hour evening by smiling and knowledgeable servers, managers and mixologists. It didn’t seem like three hours to US, but I have no doubt that it seemed like much longer to our hosts.
I need to point out that cheerful staff visits to guests tables were going on all over the room… NOT just for someone there to write an article about them and evaluate the food.
Not on the menu, but delivered to our table, was a playful amuse bouche of sustainable caviar, herb gnocchi and citrus creme fraiche. I could have played with this for hours, calling for refills frequently, but alas, it was quickly followed by creative Spring Garlic Hummus starter.
A simple Spring Garlic Hummus with grilled and herbed flatbread and a savory olive relish ($9) started an evening of offerings that quickly morfed into a parade of very familiar dishes done in very unfamiliar ways.
Another starter took a childhood favorite of mine to another level altogether. Bone Marrow Toast ($10) was an ample (very ample) spread of roasted beef bone marrow on grilled sourdough bread (did I say that all bread at BFD, including hamburger buns is house baked?), then sprinkled with peppery fresh arugula and pickled red onions. While, as a child, my servings of bone marrow were usually from soup bones, the additional dimension of roasting the bones made this creative variation on the marrow particularly inviting.
Popcorn Rock Shrimp ($14), sweet and juicy then fried in a thin, yet crispy batter. They were presented with a chili-lime aioli. The contrast between the sweet, rose-colored rock shrimp and the standard Gulf of Mexico shrimp (nothing is wrong with Gulf shrimp) is obvious in this dish and the temptation to serve it with a pedestrian tomato-based sauce was resisted in favor of a slightly tart limey aioli that perfectly balanced the sweetness of the rock shrimp. I kept wondering why we see so little of this delicate cousin of our standard Galveston Bay and Gulf of Mexico shrimp on Houston restaurant menus.
As a child, flashlight-in-hand, I roamed ponds on our property and gigged the croaking bullfrogs there in anticipation of an evening’s meal of this chicken-like meat. Half of the fun was trying to keep the whole frog legs from hopping out of the black cast iron pan as the heat caused the detached leg muscles to contract. Quite an adventure. At BFD, the adventure is in the eating, as savory “Shake and Bake” Frog Legs ($22) are served with sunchoke, wild fennel and fresh celery leaves. Boneless and crispy, this is the perfect way to introduce the wary and uninitiated to the wonders of these former hoppers.
Chilled Pea Soup ($10), another upgraded variation on a staple I have always loved was served (a la Vichyssoise and Gazpacho) as a refreshing cold Summer soup. Theatrics add to the experience and the soup is served in stages at BFD. First, is the presentation of a chilled bowl with cracked wheat salad, goat cheese and almonds nestled in the center. Then the chilled vibrant green pea soup is poured ceremoniously from a tea kettle to finish the presentation with the wheat salad peeking through the surface. It’s as delicious as it is fun to watch while it is built in front of you.
I can’t say that, growing up, I was an aficionado of pork belly, except as thick-cut bacon with my eggs. Today, pork belly is the trendy food of the gods and is seen center-of-the-plate in fine dining restaurants everywhere (quite often slow-cooked sous vide). BFD‘s Rhubarb Glazed Pork Belly ($15) stands tall proudly as if to claim (rightly) that it’s on the level of Filet Mignon and it’s presentation, taste and creativity back that boast up. There is pork belly that is 70% fat and there is pork belly that’s 70% MEAT. This is the good one! Atop a bed of creamy organic grits, adorned with charred scallions and hickory nuts, the rhubarb glaze is playfully drizzled across it for sweet & sour notes and a gorgeous presentation. What a fun dish!
While I’m on “comfort food”, it’s time to talk about a dish that everyone in America will quickly claim is a favorite! The aroma of pot roast permeating the entire house as it slowly cooks in the oven is a fond comforting memory in most families. That’s how Bradley’s Yankee Pot Roast ($28) teased my senses when placed in front of me. But, it didn’t really LOOK like pot roast! More formal, I thought. Perched atop smooth Yukon Gold/radish mashed potatoes, it was complemented by baby carrots and English peas. Who would’ve thought of blending the horseradish we have grown to enjoy with pot roast into a creamy puree of potatoes as a bed for the beef?
HELP! I was really full and looking for a dessert when the Pan Roasted Atlantic Black Cod ($38) was proudly placed on the table. With sweet coconut Carolina rice and a rich green curry sauce enveloping Gulf of Mexico shrimp, I was happy eating a little of it all in each bite… yet I was constantly treating the shrimp curry as a separate entree then savoring the huge moist flakes of cod likewise. Each component was fine as a standalone dish, I thought. Playing with my food, I knew after a few bites that it would be in front of me on my next visit.
As an afterthought, one might remember back in 2010 when Esquire magazine did a list of the best burgers in the U.S.. At that time, Chef Bradley Ogden was busy wowing diners in his restaurant in Las Vegas. Indicating that simple is simple and less is more, Esquire picked Ogden’s burger as the “Best Burger in America”. Served here at BFD as Bradley’s Oak-Grilled Chuck Burger (on the Bar Menu) is his local Akaushi beef, caramelized grilled onion burger. Served on a house-baked bun and accompanied by BFD hand-cut fries, tangy house-made ketchup, house-made bread & butter-style pickles and buttery bib lettuce, this burger is all about the beef purist who is more interested in the quality of the beef than whatever salad one might pile upon it in a burger.
Finally, in the nick of time, came a Dark Chocolate-Banana Cake, drizzled with caramel… sprinkled with hazelnuts and accompanied by malt ice cream. It was a decadent treat, served with a cup of cappuccino to top off a truly a roller coaster ride of exciting offerings. Oh, did you know that sometimes a little amuse bouche shows up at the end of a meal, also? That would be the smooth, creamy butterscotch cups with little rosemary short breads tucked into them. My life was complete and so was the meal.
See you again… I promise.