Chez Nous is a chef-driven restaurant, with owner and chef Gerard Brach working in the kitchen alongside Executive Chef Stacy Crowe-Simonson. Both have trained and worked in France, exporting time-honored classical techniques to Humble, Texas. The team constructs rich foie gras with caramelized apples and dijon-rosemary-crusted lamb—all made with veggies and herbs picked fresh from the backyard garden. With these commitments to freshness and technique, it’s no wonder that even after more than 30 years Chez Nous still garners praise, whether in the form of multiple Citysearch awards or a spot on OpenTable’s 2013 list of the top 100 restaurants in the country.
Although Chez Nous’s former sous chef Scott Simonson now spends most of his time at the front of the house or huddling over wine catalogues, he’s completely comfortable slipping back into the kitchen when needed. This intimate knowledge of Chez Nous’ cuisine gives Scott an edge when stocking the house wine cellar—he knows just what culinary flavors to draw out with his carefully selected pairings.
Zagat notes that you just might see a fellow diner pop the question at one of Chez Nous’ white-clothed tables. This makes perfect sense, given the restaurant’s location inside a former church. Combined with the first-rate cuisine, Chez Nous’s quaint country dining room, which features wicker chairs and light-blue accents, make it well worth the 20-minute drive from Houston.
The chefs at La Pâtisserie by Oven-Fresh Delights satisfy sweet and savory cravings with a menu of handcrafted French-style pastries, sandwiches, and desserts. The Paris-Brest is a traditional dessert inspired by the Tour de France that fills a ring of pastry dough with rich hazelnut cream to resemble the tire of a bicycle or the donuts on strings used to train cyclists. A thick crust bookends raspberries suspended in whipped cream in the framboisier, and long prisms of succès praliné embed sweetened nuts in buttercream sandwiches. Letting influences from French kitchens shine through all the while, cooks stir pots of rich béchamel sauce and assemble croquet-madames, open-faced stacks of brioche, black-forest ham, and three types of cheese. Butter twists into savory dough for croissants, and from the oven drift scents that hint at spinach and leek quiches.
There’s literally no mistaking a Guru burger: the buns are branded with the restaurant’s logo. But more than that, the kitchen sets itself apart by using health-conscious ingredients, including low-cholesterol Akaushi beef that’s free of nitrates, and sides such as fresh, housemade beet chips. Bonus: the craft beers on tap can be ordered as to-go growlers.
The chefs at La Mia Cafe assemble an arsenal of Francophilic sandwiches and crêpes alongside cups of fresh-brewed coffee in a charming atmosphere. In the panini meals, savory ingredients such as tomato and mozzarella or spinach and goat cheese are hugged in the toasty embrace of flatbread while a jealous house salad looks on from the side. Alternatively, turkey, swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato pile themselves upon the sandwich parisien baguette, and the sandwich viande hachée features an ensemble of ground beef, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese that reenact the plays of Molière upon a long, thin loaf of french bread. Groups of diners can then seal their meal with simple sugared crêpes and fresh-brewed coffee as they lounge in the inviting dining room or in the open air of the patio. La Mia Cafe also does not charge a corkage fee for BYO adult beverages, though they may charge an appraisal fee if the guest's bottle contains an antique miniature schooner.
Born in France to a second-generation butcher, Philippe Verpiand spent his childhood surrounded by fresh meats and produce. It should come as no surprise then, that his upbringing instilled an early passion for cooking, a passion that inspired him to attend the French Culinary Institute in Avignon, where he graduated first in his class. After honing his craft in restaurants throughout France and San Diego, Chef Verpiand decided to bring his version of unpretentious French countryside cuisine to Houston, founding Etoile Cuisine et Bar. Although the menu takes its inspiration from Old World recipes, Chef Verpiand allows the seasons to truly dictate the direction of his creations, which he assembles using classical French techniques. Braised beef short ribs, for example, are paired with seasonal vegetables and butternut squash mousseline, while house-made burrata cheese is paired with fresh heirloom tomatoes. And while ingredients like foie gras and duck a l'orange may seem borrowed from the stuffy French restaurants of yesteryear, Chef Verpiand's unpretentious approach to cooking ensures his dishes represent the accessible, home-style side of traditional French cooking. While Chef Verpiand mans the stovetops, his wife—Monica Bui—carries out the couple’s shared mission by running the front of the house. She was even the visionary force who helped design the restaurant’s simultaneously rustic and refined décor. An expanse of weathered wooden paneling covers one entire wall, gleaming in the light of the elegant chandeliers dangling from exposed ceiling beams, all elements contributing to a warm, inviting atmosphere that mimics the interior of a French farmhouse or Donald Trump's second favorite shed.
Nearly 30 years ago, chef Alex Brennan-Martin was a student at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris. He frequented the city's cafés, drawing inspiration from their quaint atmospheres. Blending his memories of these neighborhood meeting places with his Southern upbringing, he founded Bistro Alex, where he designs seasonal menus of creole- and French-inspired cuisine.
Alex and his culinary team use local ingredients whenever possible, building dishes from Louisiana turtles, local Texas pork, red snapper, and strawberries; harvesting oysters from a nearby port; and only culling cheese from earth’s closest moon. They also apply a DIY approach to the dishes' basic elements, making their own tasso ham, andouille sausage, mustard, and meat stocks in house, as well as carving their own charcuterie meats. An on-staff pastry chef devises all desserts, such as white-chocolate bread pudding and peanut-butter chocolate mousse.
Cuisine aside, the beautiful dining room warrants patrons’ admiration on its own. Real mesquite tree planks form select walls and portions of the ceiling, lending guests a feeling of being tucked inside a treehouse—albeit an elegant treehouse with plenty of wine. Airy drapes, curvaceous chairs, and modern jazz melodies anchor the environment in sophistication. Additionally, complimentary parking is available to patrons for ease of visiting.