Walking into the crisp, white linen-and-dark wood decor ofRockwall's Restaurant Ava
on Sunday morning was a welcome change from my weekend of fireside beer-swilling in East Texas. It's not that campfire kebabs and Jiffy Pop don't make for a great meal, but it's nice to go from one extreme to the other--from slow-cooking meat on sticks between sips of High Life to a handsome waiter asking how he can make your gastronomical life easier, one fluffy biscuit at a time.
I love camping. But part of that love comes from treating myself to a fine meal after a weekend of roughing it--of course, by "fine meal," I usually mean a stop at Olive Garden on the Interstate drive home. What can I say, when I'm there, I'm family. This weekend, however, the Man O' The Hour and I did it up proper, with a stop at Ava on our way in from Lake Tawakoni, one of East Texas' least gentrified, most bird-ified, middlingly nature-ified, lakes.
Taking a local, slow-food page from Bolsa, where Ava chef and owner Randall Copeland worked before opening his Rockwall place, Ava sits halfway--physically and philosophically--between southern-suburban goodness and greenified, hipster-urban dining. Their Sunday brunch menu features a burger, French toast and quiche, but also grits, pulled pork and chicken-fried steak.
But you know it's real southern when you see a pickled okra garnish in your Bloody Mary. Oh, be still my Texan heart, but the sight of a pickled "o" in a 'Mary sends me back to my childhood. (The vodka does not. Really. Promise. We're Shiner drinkers anyway, my people.) If you like Hattie's and Smoke--and lord knows I do love some fancypants home cooking--Restaurant Ava ought to be your next destination.
Between the shrimp and grits, Benedict with a smoked poblano Hollandaise and two tall brunch beverages, Restaurant Ava certainly put the "yum" back in "southern." What? There's no yum in southern? Sorry, I'm distracted by the photo I know is coming up after the jump--it's of Ava's shrimp and grits, easily one of the best individual dishes I've had in years.
Say "white cheddar grits" and most Texans will come a-running, but pair it with oven-roasted tomatoes and house-cured ham, and you've got a recipe what echoes across the land with its deliciousness. Topped with girthy gulf shrimp and arugula, these grits were the grits that escaped their troubled home life to get a scholarship and become a respected local doctor who gives back to the community. I am saying, these grits were doing big, big things. Things your mama's grits only dream of. Not to disparage your mama's grits. But seriously, these grits. Doing a thing.
"If only we'd been at Red Lobster, so they would've kept bringing more," joked the Man O' The Hour, who says the dish was an unlikely choice for him, what with him being a godless California liberal and all, but it was "well worth going out on a limb for."
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Enough grit-fawning. We're embarrassing the grits. Let's talk about my Rock City Benedict. Atop a cheddar biscuit that would rival those of the aforementioned Red Lobster (don't get all high and mighty on me now, you guys, because you know how good those Red Lobster biscuits are) sat Ava-made breakfast sausage, a jiggly-poached egg and a spicy, creamy Hollandaise plentiful enough to sop up the very last of my Benedict biscuit. The accompanying hash browns were spicy and tiny-chunky. Would've made a great movie snack, actually. Even after I'd finished the meal proper, I was drawn to snacking on the tiny potato cubes with my fingers. Uncouth? Don't care.
And, of course, the Bloody Marys. At $7, a little pricey but also thoroughly garnished and spicy. I forgot to ask about the origins of the mix--to be honest, it coulda been Zing Zang with a little added twang--but in the salt-rimmed glass with pickled okra, lime and olives, it was perfect. The spice kind of snuck up on you, lingering after a sip or two, but was hardly overwhelming. We could've had more, but were anxious to get back on the road home for some epic post-camp, post-brunch napping.
We managed to avoid the after-church crowd (but for a large group of grey-haired ladies brunching and a Stetson-hatted cowboy at the bar, we were the only ones in the restaurant until a little after noon, when the old folks and young couples with kids started wandering in.) It wasn't the cheapest brunch I've had in a while, but it was certainly worth the money paid--entrees ranged from $10 to $20, and those Bloodys would add up after a while, if one were so inclined. But for an affordably special treat--in fact, a treat that tastes much better than the mid-range price would indicate--Restaurant Ava serves up perfection.