Sunday, June 10, 2007
Conceraunt Review: House of Blues Gospel Brunch
By and large, a tasty and fun outing especially if you have kids, but not something you'll do every week.
DALLAS I'd heard great things about the House of Blues Gospel Brunches around the country, and since I hadn't another chance to go check out the venue yet, today seemed as good a day as any to check it out.
Fortunately, today seemed like a good day yesterday, which was when I bought tickets. Otherwise April and I wouldn't have gotten in -- by early yesterday, the 12:30 seating was sold out as were both of next week's. (Fathers' Day, dontchya know.) In any event, the Gospel Brunch is a dining event and must be planned for in advance,
One nit I had with the ticket-buying process is that it's the only HOB show for which you can't buy the tickets online. You have to call in and give your credit card over the phone. Seems kind of bass-ackwards to this digital dude.
$34 gets you the all-you-can eat buffet with OJ and coffee. Drinks are extra, with smallish mimosas for $3 and rocks-glass bloody marys for $4.
We showed up at 10:00 and picked up our tickets. To our surprise, we were led to the holding area outside the Music Hall. The brunch does not take place in the restaurant, as one might expect, but in the Music Hall, which is filled with giant tablecloth-covered tables and folding chairs. We were in the back at a shared ten-top, while those in the front part of the venue sit at long 30+-seat tables. One bar is cleverly converted into a custom omelet station, while another is open for drink-dispensing. The only thing that seemed off about the setup is that house lights are very dim, making it a bit hard to see what's on your plate, a surreal experience for that time of day.
The food set-up is to the back of the venue with a long table for cold items (shrimp, salads and the like); another much longer table for the hot brunch items; a carving station and a dessert/bagel table. Even though it's buffet, drink service is attentive and friendly.
The food offering is broad, if a little uneven. Choose wisely and you're looking at a stupendous brunch. Choose poorly, and you'll wonder about the ROI on your ticket.
The hot buffet starts with fruit and mini-waffles with whipped cream. The waffles were light and puffy and quite good. I skipped the scrambled eggs, which looked fine but unremarkable (which April confirmed). Cheese grits were as they should have been -- not too salty. Hash browns were mushy and bland, a total waste of plate space. Jambalaya, in contrast was quite good. The bacon was tough and chewy for my tastes, but I'm a crispy bacon man. The fried chicken more than made up for it though. Despite the lack of white meat pieces, the breading was great -- not as good as, say Brothers Chicken, but a contender.
The biscuits were fine, but in the biggest disappointment of the morning, the gravy was stone cold (first batch, 10 minutes after opening). April avoided this tragedy by putting cinnamon apples from the dessert table on her biscuit.
The bowtie pasta mac-and-cheese with light dusting of breadcrumbs was my favorite dish. And I'm a mac-n-cheese connoisseur. I tried a little prime rib from the carving station, and it was properly cooked and tender.
I didn't get a custom omelet, but some of the family seated with us did, and they said it was quite good. April said the salad she got from the cold bar was pretty good too.
The pecan caramel sticky buns were a popular item -- the only thing I saw run low during the entire service. That's with good reason. A very tasty end to the eating portion of the brunch.
In terms of the whole experience, the thing that threw me the most was that it was less a Gospel Brunch than a "Brunch, Gospel." The band didn't appear until nearly an hour into the brunch, after everyone had pretty much been through the lines and finished eating. Every station stays open until the bitter end, but there's a definite dividing line between the meal and the show. I would have preferred to have the band performing throughout, rather than settling for the piped-in music and the (outdated) jumbotron HOB ads throughout the first hour.
The gospel band was great. There's a woman who seems to be the regular "host" who sang the first number, but then she quickly made way for Huntsville, Texas' Wonderful Harmonizers. They were both wonderful and harmonizing, playing an uptempo brand of gospel music, trading off lead singers throughout, and generally hamming it up.
The crowd was appreciative and into the show, joining in the inevitable call-and-response. The crowd participation bothered me a bit, as it was clearly scripted and forced: calling birthday celebrants to the stage to clap and bob awkwardly behind the band, calling people to stand and jump; etc. One particular stunt that also called into question the wisdom of the ordering of festivities was a repeated call for the audience to wave its red napkins in the air during the songs. After the meal. If I'd waved my napkin, there would have been some gravy debris flung back on the cold bar.
But, the show, if a little on the short side (roughly 40 minutes) was good fun. It's a very family-friendly environment, and the kids with the family at our table were dancing it up by the end of the show.
In all, I'm glad we went. It's something you have to do at least once, and will likely pull out of your hat when you have out-of-town houseguests. And with a few tweaks on the food, it'll be sold out in advance for quite some time.