Dubbed “America’s Native Spirit” by Congress in 1964, bourbon still enjoys great popularity in the South, and Houston doesn’t buck the trend. Home to the Reserve 101 (site to the largest whiskey selection in Texas) and Yellow Rose Distilling (the first legalized whiskey distillery in the city), Houston has its fair share of bourbon enthusiasts. Some of its strongest advocates of late? Area chefs. Bourbon has been making its way from the bar to the kitchen in the most delicious of ways in America’s fourth-largest city, five of which are detailed here.
Named after chef Chris Williams’ grandmother, Lucille’s serves as a tribute to Lucille Bishop Smith, a Texas culinary legend whose fans included Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson and heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis. The cuisine here is progressive Southern, which might explain why Williams decided to infuse pickles with bourbon as an accompaniment to his house burger. The bourbon-spiked topping turned out so great that he wanted to turn it into its own dish, coming up with a bourbon-dripped duck liver mousse. A Southern take on a classic French liver pâté with cornichons, Williams now serves pickles and the mousse (made with Old Grand-Dad bourbon from Jim Beam) in separate four-ounce glass jars, accompanied by toasted ciabatta slices, Dijon mustard and a housemade curing salt.
Brennan’s of Houston
“Bourbon is such a Southern thing,” says Javier Lopez, executive sous chef of Brennan’s of Houston in Midtown, where the specialty is Texas-Creole cuisine. “We try to do as much as we can with it. We’ll do a bourbon chicken or quail, or use bourbon syrup for pancakes. We love to drink it, too. We like to use Bulleit Bourbon. [Owner] Tom Bulleit is our good friend, and whenever he’s in town, he dines with us.” When you stop by, you’ll notice at least five dishes on the menu that utilize bourbon as a key ingredient. The star of the moment is Hunter’s sorghum roasted duck, which is prepared in a special oven until the skin is crispy like a Peking duck, then served with a Bulleit Old-Fashioned sauce made with cherries, bourbon and orange over a crawfish fried rice.
Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Mark Holley is no stranger to Southern cooking, nor is he unfamiliar with preparing high-end creole cuisine. The talented toque spent years at both Brennan’s of Houston and New Orleans’ famed Commander’s Palace, before opening the now-shuttered Pesce and the critically acclaimed Holley’s in Midtown. Looking at the chef’s past, it’s no surprise that his menu features dishes made with bourbon. For seafood with some bite, order Holley’s crispy redfish with bourbon-smoked short rib agnolotti, sweet corn succotash, caramelized fennel, peach pickle and tasso.
At Revival Market in the Heights, the meat counter has always been a star. Pasture-raised, antibiotic-free proteins and housemade charcuterie fly off the shelves almost as it is stocked. One of the most popular items, and a staple in the charcuterie case since Revival opened, is the house-made American whiskey pâté. Created by chef and co-owner Ryan Pera, the recipe is a classic French terrine with a Gulf Coast twist. Pera substitutes the cognac with bourbon whiskey, marinating the ingredients overnight to give the pâté a nice, full flavor.
Del Frisco’s Grille
One of the most beloved entrées on the menu at this Upper Kirby eatery is executive chef Jeff Taylor’s mesquite-smoked pork chop, which is served with hand-mashed potatoes and tobacco onions. The selection gets that added oomph from a bourbon-apple glaze. The impressive dish features a 12-ounce, bone-in premium chop that is smoked in-house with mesquite wood before being finished on the grill, and topped with the thick, sweet, syrupy dark brown sauce.