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Sunday brunch, done right, perfects the weekender experience

Posted 9:32am on Wednesday, Sep. 05, 2012

Thanks to the genius of Tre Wilcox, Sunday brunch just got a whole lot better. Wilcox, the Top Chef (Season 3) star, rules the roost at Marquee Grill in Dallas, where he's drawn wide acclaim since the restaurant opened last year next to a vintage movie theater in the Highland Park Village. But I'm willing to bet his cred will just continue to grow as he routinely introduces ramped-up menus as the seasons pass.

We happened by just as Wilcox rolled out his new brunch menu, which only reinforced my belief that brunch - properly done - is the finest possible of all meals. As my lunch date so eloquently put it, you want "an experience that warrants an entire afternoon to languish in the deliciousness of the moment." I second that. A sublime brunch should be the crowning moment of a great weekend and banish any possibility of Sunday blues.

Arriving at Marquee a few minutes before our reserved table was ready (this is a busy place on Sunday), we cooled our heels on a pretty lobby banquette while sipping the signature Bloody Marquee, blending Aylesbury Duck Vodka (newish from Canada, performing very well in tasting competitions) with tomato juice, worcestershire sauce and roasted chiles tempered in an inspired way with pineapple juice ($11).  We'd barely made a dent in the drinks before our sunny booth was ready.

Tucked into the downstairs room that most recently housed the Escada boutique, we had a perfect view of the kitchen, where Wilcox and his team whip up some killer meals, and of the sidewalk traffic where movie-goers file into the theater to see mainstream (The Bourne Legacy) and indie movies (It Is No Dream The Life of Tehordor Herzl). The black-and-white room with clean, modern spins on 1930s decor ideas is so serene that I was able to (almost) forget that this space housed my childhood dentist's office.

A team of attentive servers pointed us to new items on the just-unveiled brunch menu, as well as to favorites that Wilcox can never remove, lest he endure endless complaints from his legion of fans. For each dish we considered and those we eventually ordered, a new signature cocktail was suggested by the staff, realizing a willing duo was just waiting for such hints.

The food orgy began innocently enough with a bowl of fresh berries arranged over a mound Greek yogurt, all topped with sliced marcona almonds ($9); as well as a small iron dish piled with beignets, little pastry pods dusted with powdered sugar, each of which we split open to reveal a dab of apricot filling ($8).

Those we nibbled while reviewing a most ambitious menu. And while sandwiches don't typically grab me at brunch, the Marquee selection was impossible to ignore. After wrestling with decisions, I had to try the Hung Pig, the carnivore's ultimate dream: Between two pieces of toast spread with horseradish-spiked mayonnaise, there was a layering of thinly sliced smoked ham, barbecued pulled pork, bacon slices and a fried egg - and I'm not kidding ($13). Sides options included Cajun fries and truffle-parmesan fries, but my conscience only allowed me to order mixed field greens.

That was a dish we paired with the The Scarf Dancer, a deeply purple concoction made with vodka, black currants, lemon juice and St Germain ($11) for an effect that was bursting with freshness while not registering as too sweet.

The entrees list proved even more confounding. Pork belly with waffles and huckleberry maple syrup tempted me, as did the salmon croquette benedict and the chilaquiles. But it was the poblano chicken omelet that called loudest, and we were ever so pleased: Within a perfect, thin egg envelope awaited a blend of slow-cooked, pulled chicken tangled with melted Oaxaca cheese, spinach and chipotle sauce with a drizzle of chorizo oil ($14), a lovely melding of flavors that spells brunch with a capital B.

The omelet begged to be enjoyed with The Kicker, a twist on a margarita, blending Milagro Silver Tequila with roasted chile and pineapple juice, ginger liqueur and fresh lime ($11), a tongue-tingler with spicy, tart notes that bounced beautifully off the creamy elements in the egg dish.

But because we couldn't do without a little taste, we talked the servers into bringing us a half order of Texas shrimp and grits ($17 for the whole order), one of Wilcox's signatures that will never disappear from the menu. Jumbo, firm shrimp teased with a translucent tequila lime sauce rested atop a rich cream pillow of grits riddled with chipotle-Jack cheese. Surely it's one of the more sinfully divine things one can enjoy on a Sunday - but that can be said about practically anything you'll find coming from Wilcox's kitchen.


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