On Monday I took the M-Line from the D Magazine offices to Max’s Wine Dive and didn’t get lost. That may not mean much to most people, but for the directionally challenged, like myself, it means I got to the media dinner 25 minutes early where about six bigInk PR staffers (who represent Max’s) sat for an informal brain storming session.
They waved me over to join them while they finished, and I did so happily after I got an ice cold El “Hefe” Weizen put in my hand. I sat there as they talked about different possible ideas for drinking-related party fun with anything ranging from wine cork Legos to painting a glass to take home. “No ideas gets shot down here,” said Jeffrey Yarbrough, bigInk’s CEO, who soon after showed me how to twist the two bones out of a chicken wing he was eating from the happy hour menu, leaving only the meat behind. Apparently, it’s all in the wrist.
Max’s is based out of Houston and each location has a set menu of classics. In addition to the base menu, the on-site chef makes a seasonal menu unique to the restaurant. We tasted Chef Patrick’s summer menu that had dishes like purple hull pea hummus, blue crab mini corn dogs, and diver scallops and Texas caviar.
I tried about 10 different things and without a doubt the “can’t miss” item is the chanterelle bolognese. It’s listed as having “braised wild chanterelles, hand-rolled garganelli pasta, chilies, and pecorino Romano cheese,” but once I tasted it I didn’t care about the fancy names. A sweet, slightly acidic sauce covers the meaty mushrooms and the thick, chewy, hand-rolled pasta like a warm, loving blanket. The pasta is made on site each day and isn’t dried before it’s cooked like store-bought pasta is. The result is a thicker, more al dente pasta that fit perfectly with the hearty bolognese sauce. There were four of us sharing plates that day and I think we all went back as politely as we could to get a few more of those noodles. More than once.
While the bolognese tried to eclipse my memory of the day, there was more food to be had. The shorty roll, which is made of braised beef short ribs, smoked tomato, and pickled onion sat nicely atop a challah roll. The braised beef was so tender it melted in my mouth and there was a sweetness that balanced out the big meat flavor. The challah bread proved a fitting light, flaky host for the combo.
A renovated classic was the brats & beer. Beer-braised house bratwurst, pickled sweet peppers, and Lone Star beer foam made this the go-to meal for hotdog lovers. I tasted the perfect amount of beer, making it almost unnecessary to drink one. Almost.
Following the theme of classics with a twist, the wagyu “bacon” BLT is built with Korean BBQ-glazed wagyu “bacon,” Spicer’s greens, and fried green tomatoes with a cucumber-mint aioli all served in between sourdough bread. Our waitress warned us the bacon meat was more fatty than most expect, and she wasn’t joking. Aside from the aioli, all the ingredients were heavy and filling.
After we all sat there, stuffed and complaining of full stomachs, we did the only thing we could do—get dessert. Actually, we got two desserts: the half and half (part-brownie, part-bread pudding served with a scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream), and the huckleberry shortcake (which is served on top of lemon curd with red wine poached huckleberries and served with the house-made coconut ice cream). Definitely go for the latter if you’re a fan of tart things—the shortbread soaks up the syrup-like flavors on the bottom of the plate. If you’re like me and love what some call “sickeningly sweet,” go for the half and half. It’s like four different desserts on one plate and every one of them can stand on their own.
More items on the menu to look out for:
Blue crab corndogs: Crispy on the outside, smooth on the inside – and with the curry mayonnaise – they pack a kick. They weren’t as greasy as I expected, but they also didn’t taste very crab-like.
Arugula & peach salad is served with a peach vinaigrette and Texas pecans. The secret about the pecans is that while the chef candies them, a little barbecue flavor is also mixed in. How Texas can one nut be?
The purple hull pea hummus came with grilled pita bread and bacon jam. That’s right. Bacon jam. Overall this one sounded and looked more interesting than it tasted. It came out as a generic tasting hummus with more of a bean flavor.