OWNING A RESTAURANT for 40 years is no walk in the park, even when it’s in an idyllic, forested setting along White Oak Bayou. It takes creativity, stamina, true devotion to service staff and guests, and the flexibility to evolve with the trends. “And maybe just a touch of magic,” says Donnette Hansen, founder and owner of the Rainbow Lodge.
Magical is just how her rustic hunting lodge feels during the holiday season. Tucked away on an acre of lush grounds with a rock-lined creek on the banks of the bayou, the entire lodge sparkles. With three stone fireplaces glowing and tables set with fresh greenery, flickering candles and red roses, it’s one of the coziest dining rooms in the city—especially during this time of year. Year-round, it’s also a popular spot for proposals, weddings and private parties. On a nice day, you can’t beat the sunny deck perched high above the herb gardens, fig trees and citrus grove.
The interiors, featuring Hansen’s collection of hunting trophies and antique fishing collectibles, have an old-world feel, but the elevated American menu—spotlighting game, seafood and regional Gulf Coast favorites—is modern and ever-changing. “Menus are driven by the seasons, our garden and local ranchers, fisherman and farmers,” says Montana-born and Texas-raised Hansen. The quality has peaked under executive chef Mark Schmidt, who blends influences from his upbringing in England with German and Texas twists.
Some of the dishes, like the smoked duck gumbo with andouille sausage and wild rice pilaf, have been on the menu for 30 years. “I’ve [also] added newcomers such as Southern fried Texas quail bites over organic cheddar cheese grits and bourbon bacon gravy,” says Schmidt. Hansen adds: “Constant refinement is critical. You can’t rest on your laurels, and after 40 years, you certainly don’t want to become stale.” The restaurant even has its own beehives that nurture crops and produce honey featured on the menu seasonally.
Robust dishes like tender grilled North American elk chop, which tastes similar to beef but has richer, wilder notes, burst with layers of complexity. Schmidt amps up this dish with root vegetable enchiladas blanketed in charred-tomato ancho mole and a sprinkle of queso fresco. He also shows admirable restraint with precisely cooked, delicately seasoned red snapper served on a bed of fresh wilted spinach with roasted cherry tomatoes that pop with each bite. No fusion or confusion—each dish displays a rustic elegance.