Sunday, November 20, 2011

Whimsical Sweetness at Chez Zee

For many, Chez Zee seems to be an Austin habit. A monument in Central Austin, if you will. It's hard to believe, but in my 10 years of Austin living this was Breakfast In Austin's first time to experience Chez Zee - an old world bakery, infused with American cuisine. I've heard good things from many! Originally called Chez Fred, Sharon Watkins purchased the old dive in 1988, re-opening in 1989 under her new whimsical brand called Chez Zee. The concept? A place for all to enjoy baked goods & varied foods, the arts and an occasional board game on the outdoor patio.

A new approach for Breakfast In Austin, I asked my 12 year old to do the selecting. I gave her a choice of 3 venues and asked her to eyeball the menu's. I had a hunch she'd pick Chez Zee if only for the pancake, waffle & french toast selection. She's a sucker every time for the sweet breads!

Upon our noon arrival, the 12 year old & I were met by a most friendly female hostess who graciously sat us immediately. No lingering at Chez Zee! The first thing I noticed about Chez Zee was it's understated charm. Crooked chairs hanging on the walls, cushy couches and lights strewn throughout. Think cute & cozy but slightly dated.

Once seated we were then met by our server, Thomas. Thomas' introduction? "I'm Thomas, at the bomb dot com!" Catchy catch-phrase, Thomas! Asking if it was our first time visiting Chez Zee, Thomas provided a complimentary triangle of their #1 selling menu item - Creme Brulee French Toast with Meyer's Rum Sauce. Nice touch, Thomas at the bomb dot com who described the dish as a deconstructed Challah bread, soaked in a Creme Brulee custard and then slow baked for 4 hours and cut. This little piece of sweet & decadent magic was served warm with rum sauce and whipped cream. We held onto our forks for dear life and nearly licked the plate. Really a perfect way to start our meal! (Note: Chez Zee happily sells loaves & kits of their #1)

Drink orders? Continuing with the sweet theme, the 12 year old ordered a tall Hot Chocolate with a hugely significant pile of whip cream. The verdict? Delicious. Who doesn't like an ultra sweet hot cocoa? I went on to order an alcoholic beverage, the Chez Zee Bloody Mary for $5.95. A definite kick due to the tabasco splash and a jalapeno garnish but ultimately a bit watered down.

Brunch orders? Two 8-inch Buttermilk Pancakes for $5.95 topped with a strategically placed strawberry and served with warm syrup and butter whipped. The 12 year old had also ordered a side of fruit but that didn't make it to our table. I should say that this 12 year old is a pancake expert and orders them up all the time! Her verdict? Amazing, the best ever, sweet, fluffy and she'll happily return again and again...

Ever addicted to the Classic Eggs Benedict with Canadian Bacon, Breakfast In Austin forced another choice. Today's Bennie? With 10 choices ranging from a Smoked Salmon Benedict to a Portabellino Benedict topped with an array of veggies, I decided on the Commodore Sausage Benedict served with Country potatoes. The Commodore was equipped with a grilled and rather salty sausage patty, a small toasted English muffin, perfectly poached eggs and a respectable Hollandaise sauce. Frankly less isn't always more. If I wore a sticker on my head that said "Breakfast In Austin loves a ridiculous amount of hollandaise, don't be shy" I'd likely not complain again (unless the balance of taste wasn't there). But I don't announce. I'm just a regular bloke dining on morning fare and prefer all dining establishments and servers read my mind! In any case the hollandaise was balanced but by virtue of there being only a meager amount of sauce & too salty of a sausage patty, the overall Bennie was just average for me. Every bite had me wishing I'd ordered the Classic with extra hollandaise. Side Note. Do you ever ask for ketchup or tabasco so that you can spice up your potatoes? Mine never made it to the table. Darn you, Thomas at the bomb dot com!

Without offending Chez Zee faithfuls, I wasn't hugely impressed with the overall plated food. That said, this was my first time and there are so many other menu choices. Chez Zee clearly understands the word sweet! Baked goods like their Creme Brulee French Toast and sweet breads like their Pancakes were major hits. This is indeed where Chez Zee shined today!

Interested in trying yourself? Weekend Brunch is served both Saturday & Sunday from 9am to 3pm. For parties of 5 or more, contact Chez Zee for Reservations.

It's all about the feast, not the famine!

View the Brunch Menu:

Pros: Extensive Brunch Menu, Complimentary Creme Brulee French Toast was a nice touch, Pancakes, service, year round Christmas lights, full service coffee bar, ample seating
Cons: Forgotten - our sides of fruit & ketchup (not a big deal but this Breakfast In Austin thing is a test!), watered down bloody mary
Suggestions: More hollandaise on your Bennie or offer to provide a side of extra sauce, exterior & interior are dated - I get the Chez Zee vibe but a facelift or an update to modernize the venue might go a long way

Chez Zee ~ 5406 Balcones Drive, Austin, Texas 78731 ~ 512.454.2666