Brent’s Fine Food has a weird slogan: “Where the elite meet to eat.” Of course, it’s kind of odd that a restaurant has a slogan in the first place, and even stranger how Brent’s bandies theirs about without so much as a whiff of irony. But whatever.
The bigger problem is how value-laden the slogan is based solely on the use of the word “elite,” which is as much of a staple in the sneering conservative vernacular as “teleprompter,” “intellectual,” and “arugula.” I never really did understand how being “elite” was a bad thing, unless we’re all supposed to be striving for mediocrity lest we get uppity (now that I think about it, Rick Perry’s popularity might actually validate that view – why be excellent when you can be vaguely clueless?).
So, is Brent’s some snooty leftist hangout for middle-aged communists thumbing their noses at the great unwashed masses from their perches in the two-block-long downtown Hampton? Not by a long shot. Brent’s just has a slogan with a word that got hijacked by the mouth-breathing dolts who are paid to wander aimlessly around the Fox News studios and shout useless talking points into a camera every few minutes. It happens.
As a restaurant, Brent’s is a tough nut to crack due in no small part to the wild swings in the dining experience from visit to visit. I’ve been eating at Brent’s for the past couple of years, and it seems like when the food is good, the service blows. When the service is good, the food is off. The décor is – more or less – streamlined and modern, and the bar itself is a cool blue backlit affair. The clientele? Well, let’s just say they aren’t going to be accused of being hipsters anytime soon.
I’d say the service is “inconsistent,” but I’m not sure that does the word justice. I mean, on one early visit, the waiter acted like I’d keyed his car. On another, the same waiter excited and effusive. Yet, on a third visit, I stood at the door – the only patron in the restaurant – and waited for him to finish a text message before he stood up from his barstool to acknowledge me. Apparently the “elite” message hasn’t trickled down to the waitstaff. On the upside, this means that if you have an off experience with the waitstaff, it isn’t because they think you aren’t elite enough; it’s just the way they roll. I did, however, see the bartender reading “Bartending for Dummies” one time, so there is a promising glimmer of ambition from time to time.
When it comes to the food, I see creativity, drive and a flair for the artistic. I also have the distinct feeling the kitchen is trying to operate several steps outside of their capabilities, much like watching a NASCAR driver piloting a Formula 1 car straight into a wall on the first turn (you have to actually turn the steering wheel, champ).
I also think the kitchen folk fail to taste the food they’re preparing, because many of the blunders should never have made it out of the kitchen. Take, for example, their “soon to be famous salmon cakes.” You get two. When I ordered them, one had flaked salmon perfectly balanced with onions and stone-ground mustard. It was great! The other had no perceptible onions, mustard or seasoning – it was entirely bland. Not so great. What we have here is a failure to … stir? The Hollandaise sauce for an Eggs Benedict was well executed, but the eggs were sadly overpoached to the point of having solid yolks. But the dish looked beautiful – a total A for effort.
Brent’s riff on jambalaya is similarly pretty on the plate, perhaps the most attractive jambalaya presentation I’ve ever seen (and I’ve spent more time in Louisiana than I care to admit). It came in a tight cylinder topped with one oyster, one shrimp and one very teeny crawfish. It looked cool and modern. But one crawfish? One? It should go without saying that crawfish are food because they are a stupidly plentiful and cheap alternative to shrimp and lobster. They call them “mudbugs” at my family reunion, fercryinoutloud. You just cannot, I repeat, you just cannot serve a single crawfish on anything without giving folks the feeling your last job was in a prison kitchen. Despite the miserly crawfish ration, the jambalaya is quite tasty with a respectably spicy kick.
Weekend brunch is usually enjoyable, and Brent’s is one of the very few restaurants in Hampton where you can get a cup of good coffee. In fact, it may be the only place (and, no, Starbucks is not a restaurant). At two bucks, the coffee is a steal. The breakfast hash is no slouch, either – it’s made up of applewood smoked bacon, eggs, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes and Asiago cheese and is cooked to order in case you want the kitchen to omit any of the components. The asparagus and shiitake omelet offered on one visit was also well prepared in a classic French style. Before the food shows up, you’re treated to little miniature muffins and butter. All in all, it’s a great way to start the day.
Dinner dishes, on the other hand, tend to narrowly miss the mark somehow. Take the pork chop with the red onions, asparagus and shiitake mushrooms and herb reduction, for example. The vegetables and their sauce was great – flavorful and rich. They went perfectly with the super-creamy polenta. The “pork chop,” on the other had was actually three half-inch slices of pork that had been sadly overcooked to medium-well, yielding dry and slightly tough cuts of meat. The vegetarian penne is billed as coming with roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives. On one evening, this dish arrived not with Kalamata olives, but with the generic black olives that are the bane of crudite trays everywhere. I just can’t understand how a place that serves mascarpone polenta would plate canned black olives, and it’s precisely that kind of disconnect that confuses me about Brent’s. The presentation is great, the food is mostly good, the service is a crapshoot. I guess when I think “elite,” I expect a good show across the board, and Brent’s hasn’t ever delivered that for me.
Address: 9 East Queensway, Hampton
Phone: (757) 722-1185