The Food & Wine writer just had to stick around for the souffle pancakes at UB Preserv. (Photo by Julie Soefer Photography)
Nick Wong helms UB Preserv. (Photo by Julie Soefer Photography)
UB Preserv may have the most interesting brunch in America. (Photo by Julie Soefer Photography)
The brunch covers all different kinds of ethnic inspirations. (Photo by Julie Soefer Photography)
After this Nebraskan hot pocket, you'll never be the same. (Photo by Julie Soefer Photography)
Brunch is the broken-in blue jeans of meals. It doesn’t require a lot of thought. Most places are the same as any other. Brunch is a constant, a comfort, but it’s hardy an experience. Usually.
But in the case of one of Houston’s best restaurants, brunch is an exercise in adventure. Ordering off this eccentric menu is truly taking a leap of faith.
And foodie fortune favors the bold.
UB Preserv’s stunning dim-sum style brunch — neither traditional brunch, nor traditional dim sum — has been a hit ever since it launched.
The menu is dizzyingly diverse, offering up all kinds of spins on ethnic delicacies, ideal for sharing community-style. The philosophy: everyone shares and everyone tastes.
Now, Food & Wine is jumping in to add its praise. The prestigious food publication hasn’t pegged UB Preserv’s brunch, replete with unique and varied dishes like bacon sausage fried rice and smoked lamb scrapple, with a simple superlative. It’s not simply labeled “the best,” or the “the greatest.”
Nope. UB Preserv’s brunch is dubbed the Most Interesting Brunch in America.
Momofuku veteran and Chris Shepherd compatriot Nick Wong is at the helm. He honestly didn’t see this accolade coming.
But with dishes inspired from everywhere from Vietnam to Nebraska, how could the most interesting brunch be anywhere else?
UB Preserv has turned the very concept of brunch on its head, so of course it’s turning heads.
Wong made an impression with his once-weekly brunch — Sundays, from 10:30 am to 3 pm — turning Food & Wine writer David Landsel from an avowed brunch hater to a “devout believer” over the course of myriad dishes, from soufflé pancakes to Thai spiced fish dip.
That may not scream “brunch” to you, but that’s just how Nick Wong does it in The Bayou City.
“I do not know if, deep down in his heart of hearts, Nick Wong truly loves brunch, but it’s been a long time since I’ve met someone who seems to enjoy building a brunch menu as much as Wong does,” Landsel writes.
For Wong, crafting the brunch dishes is all about exploration, trying to translate his own Houston epiphanies into delicious and surprising, even challenging, eats.
“It definitely requires an open mind. The menu — for me, it’s trying to discover Houston more. Whether it’s the Indian markets off Hillcroft or exploring Bellaire and the Vietnamese community there,” Wong tells PaperCity.
The California native made his way to New York before settling in Houston. He admits he just had queso for the first time last year.
So Wong’s still cutting his teeth — and filling his belly — on a lot of Houston’s culinary traditions. He’s a student of the Bayou City’s food underbelly, thanks to his friendship with Underbelly’s Chris Shepherd.
“We try to do our best to represent Houston’s diversity, to get a little bit of what Houston’s like all in one shot. It’s all new to me,” Wong notes.
UB Preserv Brunch Innovations
In some ways, UB Preserv’s brunch will always be new. There are the core dishes that are forever staples, like Wong’s beloved bacon sausage fried rice — a hearty take on the classic BLT and a surprisingly loyal one, considering it’s topped with mayonnaise.
The boudin siu mai isn’t going anywhere either, with juicy sausage tucked into the perfectly thin dumpling wrapping.
But there will always be innovations.
The menu’s constantly evolving, thanks as much to Wong’s voyages across the city as to the experiences of the UB Preserv chefs he nurtures. He encourages spontaneity just as much as introspection.
“I’ve been trying to encourage them a little bit more. As young cooks coming up in restaurants, mainly it’s just you’re told what to do. More like a robot, you just execute,” Wong says.
“This is my trying to ask them, what’s something you’d like to do for your future restaurant? Or what’s something from your past, your childhood? Something you’ve always wanted to try and do now that you have all these extra skills to refine it, to get to the crux of what your childhood dishes are.
“Our brunch being called ‘interesting’ is really nice, and kind of like a testament to my cooks.”
Brunch is Wong’s and all the chefs’ creative outlet, where it’s lower-stakes than dinner service and most dishes come in at under $20. “Houstonians get to try something that’s maybe a little bit out of their comfort zones, but not with a high price of admission,” Wong says.
At UB Preserv, brunch isn’t just another meal, and it’s not just a cap on the weekend.
“It’s more of a celebration of Sunday. Congratulations! You made it. Come to brunch to have a good time, to have a party. That’s kind of the way I run the kitchen,” Wong says. His enthusiasm on Sundays is both palpable and audible to the chefs, as he’s been known to belt out Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” in the kitchen.
After diving into almost every single dish the menu has to offer, Landsel ends his review with this: “I might need to go back.” To Wong, that’s the highest praise he could get from any diner.
“Having people come back regularly for brunch — that speaks volumes to me. That our menu can change so dramatically week to week and yet people come back for the staples, or also because they’re excited to see something new and they trust us enough to be say ‘Oh, well, I’ll get the smoked lamb scrapple. I haven’t had that before, I don’t know what it is, but let’s try it.’ It’s their patience and their adventurous spirit,” Wong says.
Interesting is an understatement.