Some friends wanted to take me out to a steakhouse for my birthday recently and suggested Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine (4259 Bryant Irvin Rd.). Bonnell’s a steakhouse? I don’t think so. I know it may have a bit of the look, with animal heads on the wall and rustic décor, but Bonnell’s is anything but. The kitchen uses mostly locally sourced ingredients, and its menu casts a net like Noah’s ark.
Our appetizer course was a great example of that menagerie on the menu. The fried green tomatoes topped with a generous portion of lump crabmeat ravigotte –– a classic French sauce made with vinegar ($14) — was a spectacular starter. The batter on the tomatoes was just thick enough to provide a crunch without overpowering the delicate flavors of the crab and tomatoes. I couldn’t go to Bonnell’s without sampling what might be my favorite appetizer in the world, the elk mini tacos ($12), with pico de gallo and queso fresco. It was the perfect fusion of haute Texas and haute Mexican cuisines. The lean elk was not gamy in the least and was an explosion of juicy, cheesy flavor.
When our entrées arrived, my jaw dropped: The server was putting a v-v-vegetarian plate down at our table. Was a friend of mine actually celebrating my birth without an animal having to die? Yes! And the fire-roasted chile relleno ($22) was amazing. The giant poblano was stuffed with local veggies, pesto, goat cheese, and Veldhuizen Texas star cheese, a cheddar/Swiss mix. The pepper was cooked al dente, and the gooey, colorful dish tasted creamy and rich. I ordered the grilled quail ($30) with red chile barbecue sauce, roasted garlic grits with Brazos Valley cheddar, and a spicy slaw with shaved fennel, jicama, and serrano peppers. The bird was crispy without being overcooked. The slaw was a little on the bland side, the only miss of the night.
Even though I’d already sampled one flavor of grits, the roasted green chile grits ($8) were too tempting. They were buttery smooth and spicy without being abrasive.
It wouldn’t be a birthday without dessert, and the crème brulée ($9) topped with blackberries was a sensuous, simple dish of vanilla custard coated with a thin layer of caramelized sugar. Every bite was the perfect balance of hard candy-like sweetness and cool, silky cream. The elegant banana split ($9) was pretty without being overly composed. It was served with caramelized bananas and enough chocolate and caramel sauce to send a normal person into a euphoric coma.
I’m glad my pals suggested Bonnell’s, but I was even happier to set them straight on what the restaurant really is — or more to the point, what it isn’t. It may serve a lot of different critters, but please don’t call it a steakhouse.
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