12th ave in Congress Park is one of those areas I quietly confess my love for on a regular basis. Amidst a surplus of large, historical homes and offering an eclectic spread of local, charming businesses, it's almost a sort of rustic Pleasantville to me. Neighbors are always sitting with their dogs on Chef Zorba's patio, cooling down with some ice cream at Daily Scoop, or stocking up on liquid courage at Madison Street. The mile long drag has almost everything for life's essentials, and the thought of being able to walk everywhere makes all the more sense to me. Especially when you need to walk off a meal at 'Shells and Sauce'.
It had been quite a while since we stopped in to the humble neighborhood spot- despite driving by it one too many times to count. It's always slammed, with hungry locals filling out the small 60 seat dining room, and the comparable rooftop patio. Needless to say, on this Saturday morning there were a few empty seats in the house especially considering that most of Congress Park was probably on their way to their kid's soccer games or hiking with the family. Us DINKs seemed to get the benefit of a late morning lull, and sat down quickly.
Shortly after, I found myself drooling over a promising menu and wolfing down a spicy bloody mary (laced with house-infused habanero vodka). And though commonly noted as 'A Neighborhood Italian Bistro', the brunch offering was more traditional, with more than anything a Southwestern flair.
After being humbled by a spur of the moment decision to sit on the patio and watching the clouds roll in on us, the staff was more than accommodating to move us inside quickly to a more comfortable spot. I was gracious, because not only did we get the opportunity to warm up a bit but also got a bit more of the experience. Watching dishes fly quickly out of the kitchen, overhearing suggestive 'mmm's' coming from other diners and maybe even getting a cheat peek at their plates led us to our own sublime entrees.
Sitting down with 'Matty from LA' sparked a heated discussion on who pumped out a better dish: Roscoes House of Chicken and Waffles, or our local S&S. Though the verdict was split (and likely biased) I opted for the latter of the two: a crisp waffle and lightly-battered chicken topped with bacon and Stranahan's Whiskey butter. Don't get me wrong, Roscoes does plenty right in a quintessential sort of way, but what really connected me to the local flavor was the balance of sweetness, salt and smoke. And not just your typical smoke from the bacon, but also a slight complexity brought to the table with the Stranny's butter that just melted layers of cinnamon and caramel into the dish. I won't even to begin to discuss the health implications here, but let's just say this one's well worth every unhealthy bite.
|Fried chicken and waffles with crumbled bacon and Stranahan's whiskey butter ($11)|
As Jess and I normally opt for the sweet and savory spread at brunch, we also took advantage of the Crab Cake Benedict over brioche with homemade hollandaise and a colorful pico de gallo. Adding a bit of southwest flair to a pretty traditional dish was genius, and in turn we didn't have a ton of trouble finishing this off. A kick of freshness and acidity from the salsa cut through the creaminess of the hollandaise, and I kind of felt like I was the victim of some culinary magic trick. Chef Marcus Jimenez boasts (in an unpretentious way) some sound gastronomic principles at his restaurant: don't be fooled by the simple exterior, there's something cooking inside.
|Crab Cake Benedict over brioche, with pico de gallo and hollandaise ($11)|
Avg. brunch entree: $9
Btmls Mimosas: $10
$3 mary's, screwdrivers and mimosas
Happy Hour daily from 3-6 and 9-close
Vegetarian and gluten-free menu options
Avg. dinner entree: $14
Rating: Very Good (3 dishes out of 4)