When it comes to restaurateur Shepard Ross and chef Jeff Axline, you might say I’m something of a groupie. Or maybe more like a stalker. Either way, I stalked them both last night to their new place in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, a sprawling, multi-use affair they’ve named Brooklyn Athletic Club. As always with Axline’s cooking (including the pappardelle and meatballs pictured above), the food at BAC is more likely to require a workout than to be one.
As you might know, BAC lured Axline back to Houston from Austin – especiallyfor the chance to work with Ross, who was the front-of-the-house guy during the chef’s time at Glass Wall and later, for a while, at BRC. Happily, the initials have become less sophomoric at BAC, making a better setting for the food Axline prepared at both previous restaurants. Here, for instance, is a marvelous appetizer of sweet potato gnocchi with caramelized mushrooms and apples, plus a topping of crispy fried leeks.
Just as chefs carry their own set of knives from one gig to the next, Axline carries his mac and cheese. Fresh from bubbling over in the oven, this individual portion actually features braised short ribs in the luscious mix – along with roasted mushrooms and peppers, a blend of American and Redneck cheddar cheeses and a crust of herbed bread crumbs. The serving looks like a little bit, but it’s pretty rich. And everybody at your table, or even nearby, will want a taste.
Interrogated about his cooking last night, Axline said something about Global New American. But of course, if you’re going to put that much comfort on any plate, you have to keep coming “home” to the Italian countryside. Thus we have Exhibit A: Porkobuco. The spin/pun on osso buco may be odd or clever or silly, but there’s nothing anything but great about a braised pork shank turning up with roasted Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, a potato-bacon hash, pecans and grapefruit gremolata. And yes, this being braising, there’s a fair amount of red wine involved.
Though many of last night’s patrons at Brooklyn Athletic Club preferred to simply keep drinking – and considering the number of excellent cocktails, craft beers and wines on the various lists – I can and do hardly blame them. But I wanted some dessert. To that end, consider Exhibits B and C. Above, there’s cheesecake. But it’s made with cake at the bottom instead of traditional Graham cracker crust. And since BAC has firepits outside for making S’mores, it only follows – to Ross and Axline anyway – that there needs to be S’mores bread pudding. By this point having enjoyed a pinot noir, a tempranillo and two (or was it three?) different cabernets, I was in no mood to argue.