Nautical touches—a nod to the real Gulf Coast—abound on the cozy, flower-box-lined patio of the Park Boulevard restaurant. An upturned rowboat shades the front door, and the smooth, well-worn wood planks that form the patio tables (and even the wooden salt and pepper shakers sitting atop the tables) look like they're from an ancient sailing vessel.
It's a comfortable place to rest for a spell as I wait for my friend Bethany, who's en route. She's in the process of relocating to San Francisco, a city that's lately been luring away a lot of my good friends. Since I tend to commemorate most of life's events, be they happy or sad, with a meal, Bethany and I are catching an early-afternoon Sunday brunch to get in one last meet-up before she leaves. It's nearly 2 p.m and I haven't eaten yet—a true rarity for me—but it's been a while since I've been to Gulf Coast and I've come primed to indulge in the three B's of brunch—beignets, biscuits and bacon—from this Southern-influenced spot.
Gulf Coast Grill's menu hails mostly from Louisiana, with credible renditions of Cajun and Creole-centric dishes—classics such as hushpuppies, gumbo and jambalaya. Now that my preferred local place for New Orleans eats, Bud's Louisiana, has recently closed, Gulf Coast will likely become my go-to place for these comfort favorites. This being the land of fusion, though, the restaurant insists on slipping in a handful of West Coast-inspired plates, including a crawfish chile relleno and a sesame-crusted ahi tuna.
We'd hoped to start with a plate of beignets—little diamond-shaped donuts made from a mix flown in from the French Quarter's legendary Café du Monde—but all the early brunchers have gobbled up the last of them. Undeterred, we dive straight into the main event. Maybe it's because I loved mashing my food all together as a kid that I can't resist any kind of hash, so I go for the chicken and sweet corn hash with grits, topped with two poached eggs and a gently spicy chipotle hollandaise. Though there's a shortage of both chicken and sweet corn in the mix, I was too busy enjoying the savory grits—befittingly luscious and creamy—to notice much. Bethany, who knows her grits, had a few bites and gave her approval.
If you're a fellow bivalve fan, you'll like the fried oysters benedict with ham and whole-grain mustard hollandaise or the spinach omelet, fat with bacon and cheese, that comes with a side of fried oysters. The entrée plate of biscuits and gravy, featuring jalapeño cheese biscuits smothered in country sausage gravy—with an additional artery attack of either bacon or sausage on the side—calls to me, but, at the last minute, I exercise a modicum of restraint and order the smaller portion, which is still two good-sized biscuits smothered in gravy, just without the extra pork.
The biscuits, which have a nice little chili kick, are a tiny bit dry on their own, but cloaked with their blanket of rich, peppery gravy, all is forgiven. Although I usually crave salty over sweet, my friend's sourdough french toast, with fresh fruit and whipped cream, looks pretty good, especially with her side of thick-cut hickory smoked bacon.
When it comes time to replenish our liquids, we debate between two boozy brunch stalwarts—the mimosa and the Bloody Mary. The mimosa wins out with its promise of bottomless delights. We each sip down a couple of mimosas and are ready for another round when we find ourselves at the tail end of brunch and, distressingly, the end of the free mimosa ride. We order one more drink, a lip-numbing cocktail of chili pepper vodka and hot sauce for me and some kind of spiked root beer for her, in order to squeeze in a few more minutes of chat time.
Bethany and I end our meal saying “Good luck” instead of “Goodbye,” knowing that we're bound to share more good food together again, no matter where we're located. Gulf Coast Grill, 4130 Park Blvd. in University Heights, serves Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.Monday through Saturday; dinner hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.