Don’t jump when Humphrey Bogart brandishes his Colt 1903 at you. Brandy’s on Main, the new upscale restaurant filling the vacated Square Root spot, aims to be charming with this rather startling Maître D’. The life-sized figure is a kitschy foil to owner/chef Lance Brandenburg’s own Master-styled oil paintings, hanging elsewhere in the low-lit 100-seat space.
For decades, this Renaissance restaurateur ran high-end joints in South Florida, and he brings his background in American/French cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh seafood, to his new, eponymous culinary endeavor, having chosen Hendersonville over possible spots in Asheville and Waynesville. With his business partner, chef Cindy Amias, Brandenburg offers a classic upscale steakhouse that’s unstuffed by a lighthearted aura. His variable approach to décor is seconded in the menu and in the ambience. The long array of dishes carry fanciful titles — some honor Old Hollywood stars, e.g. the “Fred & Ginger” filet mignon with shrimp, and other names, such as the Torksheena Burger, are of less certain origin (Spongebob, reincarnated as chicken and fries, makes a welcome appearance on the kids’ menu).
The place was reasonably full on a recent Monday night, the service cheerful and open. Brandy’s is proud of its extensive, curated wine menu, and its list of specialty cocktails is also on point. The drinks include a Moscow Mule that’s served, as it’s supposed to be, in a copper mug, and the New Orleans signature Sazerac in an absinthe-washed glass. Undoubtedly, Brandenburg — who has studied literature as well as art — appreciates the anise liqueur’s place in poetic legend.
In smart French fashion, Brandenburg and Amias are all about the sauce. Their list of sauces even has its own place on the menu, and trills up the whole scale from the simple (brandied garlic butter), the expected (béarnaise), the trendy (truffle butter), and the pride-of-house (Maytag blue-cheese sauce, green peppercorn sauce au poivre). Even the appetizers are dressed in various sauces — the Bavarian pretzel appetizer, for instance, comes with the usual mustard but also with a warm side of the delightful Maytag preparation; it also shows up in the lobster mac-and-cheese, a “Lighter Fare” option on a list that also includes pork tenderloin and a seasonal vegetable plate.
“Sauces are critical to French cooking,” notes Brandenburg. “The basic ingredients to create a memorable sauce are fresh herbs and vegetables, also known as a mirepoix [“vegetable chop”], and fresh protein to create the basic stocks. Our process is slow … these are our ‘foundation sauces’ from which many of our sauces can be made.”
Brandenburg favors select cuts of aged beef, offering filet mignon, New York strip, and ribeye, served alone or in many surf-and-turf combos with mussels, crab, and shrimp. The Black Jack — filet-mignon chunks and shrimp with macadamia nuts in whisky butter — is perhaps the culinary pinnacle of these combos. But the more basic Humphrey Bogart, a filet grilled with mushrooms and brandied bordelaise, shows off the quality of the meat with quiet dignity.
The restaurant is pushing an option for every taste, evidenced in the spectrum of side items that go from a no-questions-needed baked potato to the excellent garlic-truffle steak fries to the unexplained Bubbles & Squeak (a down-home British dish that’s basically mashed potatoes baked with mixed veggies).
It’s pretty rare to find a full paella on the menu, and Brandy’s version is generous and replete with seafood — scallops, shrimps, and mussels mix with the chicken and sausage in this beloved Spanish dish. A spicy red sauce swerves over the more typically delicate flavor of saffron, an innovation that might trouble paella purists.
Overall, the restaurant seems to be settling well into its new locale. Brandenburg sources from Gusto Seafood in upstate SC (which offers next-day delivery from the coast), from unassailably local Sunburst Trout Farm, and from area farmers’ markets in season. He calls it an “honor and a privilege” to be part of downtown Hendersonville.
“We were never looking for a location driven by a high tourist season,” he says. Rather, Brandenburg and Amias sought an area where residents and vacationers blended smoothly — as in a successful sauce.
“We have always tried to be ‘casual gourmet,’” he says. “A great environment, but not snooty. Our restaurant is for all people.”
Brandy’s on Main (111 Main St. in Hendersonville) is open for dinner Monday through Saturday, 4-9pm. Reservations accepted. 828-513-1240. Look for more information on their Facebook page and at brandysonmain.net.