Special Day. Special Place.

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris July 03, 2021 08:12 in Dining Diary

It was Father’s Day, and in this house this father would want to celebrate over dinner in a place that was the best place available to him. And the best place we can think of currently is Tchefuncte’s in Madisonville. Luckily we live close, so the best is not a Herculean effort.

Since it was a Sunday, that meant brunch, not a favorite menu for us anyplace, but we have come to appreciate the possibilities of this popular hybrid meal. 

The last time we had brunch at Tchefuncte’s was in December, and the occasion was my birthday. We go to Tchefuncte’s for dinner at the food bar, and lunch sometimes, but mostly we are downstairs, (like every week,)  at Anchor, because we can sit outside by the water. It is very pleasant.

It is also very pleasant, a different more glamorous kind of pleasant, upstairs at Tchefuncte’s, and I love the room they have selected for us. It is through the bar and on the edge of the building, with enormous windows which make me feel almost outside. The views of the Tchefuncte are stunning. The room I reference also has a great view of an outdoor patio with fire pits that would be a marvelous place to spend a romantic evening over drinks.

This is a cool, very upscale restaurant that just makes you feel elegant sitting there. Michael Gottlieb, the Executive chef whose skillful imprimatur is everywhere here, came over immediately with his giant donut. Michael is a master baker, having grown up in a Savannah bakery whose family ran it for 100 years. Everything out of the bakery corner of this restaurant’s stellar kitchen is divine. 

Except the donut. But that is only because I have no sweet tooth, and this was a cinnamon roll donut with chocolate filling and a heavy donut glaze on top. Tom polished off half of this himself. At this brunch we were not served Michael’s house bread, a rustic boule with sesame seeds on top. This bread is definitely worth the carb remorse.

We surprised ourselves by saying yes to bottomless mimosas, and Tom had his first of maybe five cappuccinos? But who’s counting?

The brunch menu is substantially larger than I remember it from December. As is typical at Tchefuncte’s, it is tough to decide. The corned beef hash caught my eye until I noticed the most beautiful dish I’ve seen in awhile delivered to a neighboring table. I was told it was the duck confit popover. I’ve had the confit here and loved  it, so that became my entree. Mary Leigh got the burger and Tom a crawfish Benedict, but we ordered a lot before these.

A housemade sausage appetizer with country gravy caught my eye. I’ve always considered country gravy the domain of Midwestern diners, frequented by eaters as opposed to diners, but if Michael Gottlieb can’t make a tasty version of this pedestrian classic, I would put my curiosity about this curiosity to rest. I ordered it. Mary Leigh liked the idea of debris grits, and I asked to add a sunny egg to a side of corned beef hash. Tom was deliriously happy hacking away at that donut and washing it down with cappuccino.

The debris grits were exactly what we had hoped. The beef was tender, the grits plumped, with an au jus of nice beef flavor. It appeared in a small container which belied the size of the portion. This was a very nice side.

The other two “sides” could have been entrees. The chive biscuit was open to reveal a very pretty (if that word can be used for sausage) inch thick housemade breakfast pork sausage patty seared on both sides. It was partially obscured by a very generous mound of locally foraged (by Michael) chanterelles, coated in the butter used to saute them. I asked for the white gravy on the side, but I needn’t have worried. Smooth and not too thick, this herbed gravy was delicious. The sausage patty was exactly the right grind for my taste, meaty and firm. I would like some of this for home breakfasts. The chive biscuit got lost in all these flavors, which is a pity. Michael’s chive biscuits are also part of the incredible baked goods stream coming out of this kitchen.. 

The corned beef hash was exactly what I wanted. Chunks of salty cured corned beef intermixed with small cubes of potatoes, onions and the like, this hit the spot for my relentless corned beef cravings. A single sunny egg on top of the mound made it a full breakfast for me. I should have stopped there, but the atmosphere was so pleasant, the view so captivating, the mimosas so refreshing, I needed an excuse to linger.

Tom was nursing his third cappuccino when the entrees arrived. My popover was a true thing of beauty. It was perfectly shaped like a popover, caved in the center, forming a vessel for mushrooms and duck confit, with a demi glace that had that sensually sticky mouthfeel and intensely rich flavor. I have had the duck confit here before and loved it, but this was not as braised as in the past. I liked this well enough, but didn’t love it. But I really think that could just be me. No more popovers, no matter how exquisite looking.

Mary Leigh got the hamburger, which I have had and warned her about. It is an unusual burger, quite unlike any other, and is frankly somewhat homely. But I love this burger. The bun is round and toasted with sesame seeds (always extra points from me with that), but most important, it is sturdy. The meat is perfect. Well formed, clearly fresh, it isn’t flat and round but balls up in the center. The overall image is dark, maybe from the charring and onion marmalade and colorless Gruyere. I don’t like the gourmetization of something that shouldn’t be. I’d like to see this perfect burger patty and great bun with some colorful cheddar and green lettuce and red tomato with lots of pickles, though I’m sure there are none in the house. This gourmet burger was served with small fried potato cubes.

Tom’s crawfish Benedict was just what he wanted. It was served on a plate alone with no sides. The crawfish was presented in a stuffing patty with plump poached eggs napped generously with a perky Hollandaise. This was classic.

Tom had half a giant donut and five cappuccinos, and the Marys had mimosas and too many courses, and we passed on dessert. There were two other tables occupied in this four table dining room. A cute family of three was enjoying a leisurely Father’s Day. I watched the mom savor her lobster Sardou until every bite was gone. They contemplated dessert and the honoree of this day, Dad, mentioned what a cheesecake fan he was. We stayed long enough to see his selection arrive, and both Marys wanted to sit again and have cheesecake. It was gorgeous! A chocolate cookie crust with ivory filling that was impossibly light and fluffy looking, this dessert was seriously tempting. We will go back for this.

Father’s Day 2021 started out a bit hairy. But our meal at Tchefuncte’s proved beyond a doubt a theory Tom has espoused throughout his life: A great meal makes everything better. This great meal definitely did, and I don’t think any place we could think of could have soothed us quite so well.

The environment itself is soothing, the views awesome (and I never use that overused word) and the food elevating. It was exactly what we needed.

I continue to be impressed with one thing above all others at Tchefuncte’s. The first-class everything and the extra steps taken are not reflected in the price. It is on par (at least the food is  - I’m not a drinker) with any other restaurant of this stature, most of which don’t go to nearly the heights reached here.

Our enthusiastic fandom continues.