European Restaurant in Katy Has Wholesome Food & Charm to Spare

Copenhagen restaurant in Katy.

Pernille Reck, owner of Copenhagen European Restaurant & Bakery at 981 South Mason in Katy, may be the area’s busiest restaurant owner — because she’s doing a lot in a modest space that anchors a big front corner of a strip center. She’s a baker, as evidenced by the beautiful stack of big, round loaves of bread near the entrance. She offers catering. She rents out the space for parties. She hosts steak night on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a ribeye or sirloin with two sides and a sauce for $25 — and open-to-close happy hour on the same days. (Grab a beer for $3.50, wine by glass for $6 or a whole bottle of wine for a mere $20.) 

The lounge area stocked with plenty of games at Copenhagen in Katy
The lounge area stocked with plenty of games at Copenhagen in Katy. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

The right side of a sunroom has been outfitted as a cozy nook for reading, playing one of the many available board games or sipping wine or cocktails with friends, while the left is set up for private dining. On the far wall is a long buffet that serves as a gift display with candies, bags of granola, cookbooks and some adorable Viking figurines — a nod to her homeland of Denmark. However, the most important thing she does in the sizable main room is serve wholesome breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as Sunday brunch.

pork roast at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy
The pork roast entrée at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy is a dish of pork loin with pickled cabbage, roasted apple, gravy and Copenhagen potatoes

Our first visit to the restaurant was for dinner, and it was an evening of many surprises. One was that, despite the city that’s prominently in the restaurant’s name, the menu features cuisine from all over Europe, not just Denmark. Slices of dense Scandinavian rye bread appear in several dishes, sometimes as a base to catch the juices of roasted meats, such as in the $28 pork roast entrée, a dish of pork loin with pickled cabbage, roasted apple, gravy and Copenhagen potatoes, 

Copenhagen's gift display includes well-made aprons, tablecloths, Pernille Reck's cookbook, candies, cute Viking figures and much more
Copenhagen’s gift display includes well-made aprons, tablecloths, Pernille Reck’s cookbook, candies, cute Viking figures and much more. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

Secondly, Reck is one of the fastest cooks I have ever seen; a one-woman show executing one dish after another. (The dishes hit our table with such rapidity that it was a little overwhelming.) It turns out that, before a detour into a technical field, she worked in restaurants in her native Denmark and in Athens.

Third: did you know she co-authored a cookbook? I sure didn’t. It’s called “The Kitchen Secrets of Expat Women”, and she wrote it with fellow ex-pat Melinda Roos, a Filipino writer, while living in Malaysia. The book is a smorgasbord of their recipes, as well as fellow expats hailing from 30 different nations, including Australia, Indonesia, France and Portugal. Reck contributed recipes beyond Danish fare, such as Greek and Italian. 

The Petite Taste of Copenhagen sampler at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy
The Petite Taste of Copenhagen sampler at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

Our tour of cuisines began with the Petite Taste of Copenhagen, an appetizer sampler of bacon-wrapped dates (listed as “dates in blanket” on the menu; I’ve also heard these called “devil’s on horseback”), slices of her dense housemade rye bread topped with smoked salmon and other nibbles. (The selection changes periodically.) The cost is $15 and you can share with one or two others. There’s a larger-sized sampler as well. 

shepherd's pie at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy
When it comes to comfort food, shepherd’s pie is among the best. This version at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy has lamb and beef cooked in red wine sauce, root vegetables, mashed potatoes and a goodly amount of grated cheddar. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

Shepherd’s pie is among the most comforting of comfort foods, and Copenhagen’s is an excellent rendition. Reck includes both lamb and beef, which are cooked in red wine sauce along with root vegetables before being covered in mashed potatoes and a goodly amount of grated cheddar. 

Shooting Star, a signature entrée at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy, includes a beautifully fried flounder filet topped with salad shrimp and asparagus
Shooting Star, a signature entrée at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy, includes a beautifully fried flounder filet topped with salad shrimp and asparagus. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

Some entrées need a little adjustment. Shooting Star is a signature dish at Copenhagen, and it features a beautifully fried, flaky, tender and thick flounder filet. It’s noteworthy unto itself and benefitted from the perkiness of the lemon slice garnish, while the addition of white asparagus contributed a textural contrast. The cold salad shrimp distracted from the perfectly fried filet (if the shrimp had been sautéed, that would be a different story), and didn’t think the supporting plank of dense rye added much, either. 

Another surprise at Copenhagen ended up on my table in a bottle. I was thoroughly pleased to find that Reck carries Isastegi, a Basque cider that I rarely get to enjoy. (Apparently, the ¡TXOTX! Basque Weekends in Houston are no more. Someone should revive these.) If you’ve not had it, know that you are missing out on one of the most food-friendly alcoholic beverages ever. It’s bubbly, light, mildly bready and subtly sweet — and at Copenhagen, a 25-ounce bottle will put you back a mere $20. (All prices cited from here on out exclude tax and gratuity.) Some of the wines got me excited, too — especially among the whites, which included Tokaji, Sancerre and Chablis

Copenhagen UK is a traditional English breakfast
The Copenhagen UK is a traditional English breakfast. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

We returned for brunch, and like the dinner menu, it’s a world tour that includes the Copenhagen UK, a traditional English breakfast with two small rounds of excellent fried black pudding (I regret not ordering an extra side of it so I’d have leftovers), back bone bacon (smoked meat from pork loin), two bangers (British sausages), crispy potatoes, Heinz baked beans and two eggs to order. It also comes with a plate of thin-sliced housemade bread, jam and butter.

The Copenhagen Texas is a riff on a chicken and waffle breakfast. The waffle — is the thinner kind, which I preferred to some of the thick, overly bready kinds. It’s cooked on a heart-shaped iron and scented with what I believe was cardamom. Rounding out the plate were some toothsome, savory Danish sausages — sourced from an artisan who specializes in such things — and some bacon

For brunch, there are three different mimosas for $4 each: orange, cranberry and my selection, elderberry, made with an elderberry syrup. I loved it, and only propriety kept me from ordering another. 

A sampler of the many desserts at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy. Clockwise from the top: almond cake, almond paste cookie, coconut macaroon (my favorite), a Danish træstammer, or tree log made with marzipan and dipped in dark chocolate, a Bite Of Love with dark chocolate and raspberry and half a rum ball
A sampler of the many desserts at Copenhagen restaurant in Katy. Clockwise from the top: almond cake, almond paste cookie, coconut macaroon (my favorite), a Danish træstammer, or tree log made with marzipan and dipped in dark chocolate, a Bite Of Love with dark chocolate and raspberry and half a rum ball. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

Do not miss out on the coconut macaroons, which were the best I’ve ever had. (I’m putting myself in jeopardy by saying that, as my husband makes macaroons with dried cranberries every Christmas. Sorry, dear.) These pieces of perfection were lightly sweetened, perfectly tender and yielding on the inside and slightly toasty on the outside. I made a grave error upon departure; I should have purchased a half-dozen to enjoy at home. All of Reck’s sweets are excellent, though, including multiple types of almond cookies and I think this is where her heart really shows. 

The space, as my son said as we were leaving, “has charm to spare” — but it also feels like Reck is doing too much within it. It’s symptomatic of trying to please everyone, but that often comes at the expense of a laser-sharp focus on what you do best or is most profitable. Reck could pare down Copenhagen’s “personas” by at least three, focusing only on the most lucrative parts of the business. It would help strengthen the restaurant’s identity. 

The other challenge I see is pleasing a typical American palate with European cuisine. So many of us are used to heavy salt, strong sauces, heady spices and gooey cheeses that the more restrained seasoning characteristic of most European dishes don’t evoke the same sort of cravings. I mentioned this to Reck, and while she’s well aware of the issue, she’s not compromising on cooking wholesome food to which diners are likely to add a dash of salt. (To Copenhagen’s credit, there is black pepper and Himalayan salt on the tables, thus avoiding the whole embarrassing exercise of having to request these.) 

After asking Reck about the Medusa-like aspects of her business, it is clear that she’ll continue pursuing these paths. She’s happy doing several different things. As she explained to us during our brunch visit, she’s always wanted to own a restaurant. She’s living her dream, and as a fellow business owner, I know that work doesn’t seem as hard when you do what you love. 

I admire Reck, and she is working really hard for her customers. She’s an underrated talent in the Greater Houston area, and I hope that Katy’s diners are rewarding her efforts with their patronage.  

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