12/30/2007

Around the State in 40 Meals


In one of his rare, lucid moments, my father said to me as I walked out the door one night, "Don't go slummin' . " In spite of the fact that he spent 75% of his time painting in my parents' garage (yes, his hobby was being a painter, he was not painting the garage, but rather, painting pictures - landscapes mostly, in his garage) , he somehow knew just exactly what my high school buddies and I were up to.

While other kids in the 70's and 80's went to the mall and discovered Orange Julius and T.G.I. Fridays, or went the complete opposite direction, culturally, and simply had to find and hang at the latest cool "in " spot in town.......my friends and I did neither. In that very typical of bored middle class suburban teen thing, we decided that we simply had to hang out downtown, and the seedier looking the place, the better. (This, I must note, was years before the movie "Diner" came out.)

Of course, we had our own criteria. Sometimes it was that the food really was great. Sometimes we collected funny looking waiters or clientele. Sometimes, being able to play bizarre combinations of songs on the world's most eclectic jukebox was the draw. Chain restaurants with lots of "flair" and noise were a definite no-no.

I have since used my collection of favorite "joints " in Texas as a personal litmus test of new acquaintances. I will take a new friend to a particularly beloved, unusual spot. If he or she doesn't "get it", love it.....well.......what was it I liked about that person, again ? I have actually had two "friends" fail this test. Against my better judgement, I kept each on the ole' friendship retainer for awhile, sort of warily, on a trail basis. Much later down the friendship road, my litmus test proved to be useful , for the friend in question did something heinous and had to be dropped. If only I'd followed my instincts......

Here's my personal list of best funky unique spots in Texas ( please feel free to send me recs , if I've missed any). This is not the "fine dining " list, that's another post :

Dallas

The Stoneleigh P
Bar with food in funky old building, originally built in a 1930's-ish pharmacy. Burned down but re-built as close as possible to original due to huge fan base. World's best eclectic jukebox. Eclectic crowds too. Has huge magazine collection for sale, will let you sit and read forever if you order something. If a person professes to be from Dallas, but has never heard of the "P".....beware. I spent countless evenings here, hanging out with all my buddies in h.s. and college . It is my personal litmus test for any new acquaintance. I take them here, if they don't like it; out they go.

S & D Oyster Co
New Orleans style old fashioned seafood restaurant, calm and full of old style southern charm( as opposed to frenetically hyper and franchised ) .My bffs and I used to go there not only b/c the food was wonderful, but b/c we loved to observe, discreetly of course, the ferociously crusty old waiters.

Strictly Tabu
This was a 40's style live jazz bar with pink flamingo art deco decor. Sadly, it exists only now in the hearts and memories of its former clientele. I still run into folks, once in awhile, who knew this spot. It's always a good sign. Wish I still had my t-shirt from there, from back in the day.

Campisi's Egyptian
Is really a pizza place, no one knows why "Egyptian" is in the name. Some rumored mob connections, long time ago, still no explanation for the "Egyptian" thing. Famous for a square shaped pizza with everything on it. Back in the day, they never carded and we knew we teens could drink here. Once you went there often enough, you observed an unobtrusive side door where you could come/ go and thus avoid the long long line out front.

Kuby's
Originally a small butcher shop and German grocery store near SMU, I remember as a child being taken here by my father and ordering a sandwich to go. Now the restaurant is half their space and crowded all the time. The smell, when you first walk in the door , is to die for. Coffee+meat+pastry+ cigarettes......mmmmmm.

Original Herrera's
Was profiled in a 1974 issue of "National Geographic", for goodness' sake. It was a small pinkish building that looked vaguely like the Alamo. You had to stand in line forever, b/c it only had 4 tables. You had to walk through the kitchen to get to the tables. Now that building is something else, and the family restaurant lives on in several other locations. When my eldest was a baby, we used to take him to the large one, the one we call " the grocery store" ( b/c it is in a former groc store, and huge), so his messes and screams disturbed as few people as possible.) As another example of the famous eating litmus test, I recently took this same son and his gf (read "Twoo Luv" ) to the branch of this restaurant I call " the Dennys" (built in a former Dennys or Kip's Big Boy bldg) ....to check out her reaction. Guess what ? She'd already eaten there a lot, and loved it ! She passed the test !

Ojeda's
The food is great but none of the current locations is satisfyingly weird. This is THE PLACE that I go when I need a Tex-Mex "fix". No one else makes enchiladas the way I like them. (The old location of El Fenix is a close second. Downtown only.) Lots of warm fuzzies for this restaurant; when I was going through my divorce, my friends took me to the Maple Ave location repeatedly for emotional bucking up. It reminded me of who I was .....I was just at the location in Lewisville, and they had it all decked out for Christmas - Feliz Navidad style. I do so love Texas.

Cindy's Pancake House
Sort of a coffee shop, where my my bf Nathan used to take me to eat breakfast after we had spent the entire night making out in the back of one of his car. Maybe I'd just worked up an appetite, who knows, but that many 80 year olds with walkers can't be wrong. Soon, I'll be one of them.......

Bagelstein's
Same as Cindy's, only with bagels instead of pancakes.

the 8.0 bar
The one cool , hip place on the list. I tended to shun it on weekend nights, when it was crowded, but once spent a very memorable rainy Saturday afternoon there with Mark, watching the rain fall on the glass roof and listening to strange whale-calling new age type music. Hard to separate the moment from the location. I drove by it recently, to see if it was still there, and it wasn't. Sad.

la Madeleine
Now it's a chain, but it originated in Dallas. Sure it's a cliche, but it's also comfort food .

Houston
I realize all these spots are oldies.....I haven't lived there since 1992 . Sure, there are some new ones I'm missing out on - let me know.

Goode Co. BBQ
"You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars you are in Texas". Some of the best BBQ I've ever had , esp the sauce , ( home made, raw and chunky ) also great pecan pie served up in roadhouse tin roofed shack atmosphere. You can smell that meat cooking for miles away.

Goode C. Burgers and Taqueria, aka Good Co. Mexican
There are other, newer Goode Co's, too , a seafood one that isn't bad. But the BBQ is the original, and my fave, and the Mex is 2nd, and my next fave. Really good raw fresh salsa that is garlicky , awesome handmade flour tortillas. Not a good place for old style Tex-Mex, ( enchiladas) this is more the newer, fajitas type Tex Mex. Burgers so-so. Really nice outdoor patio.

Doneraki
The closest thing I ever found, in 12 years of living in Houston, to a Herrera's or Ojedas old style (enchiladas) Tex-Mex. (Everything in the Houston area so heavily influenced by Ninfas , which became so over-hyped it became a self-parody, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise , Nifa-ritas taste like lime flavored nail polish remover). Doneraki's is located in a satisfyingly old run down Hispanic part of town, north on I-45 , and seems to be located in a former Dairy Queen that just kept adding on and closing in various porches. Has Christmas lights and way too loud mariachi band, every single night of the year. Food is great - just don't smile at and encourage the mariachi players, or they will blare their trumpets right in your ears all night, and you will go home deaf.

Alfred's
Was an old Jewish style deli/coffee shop where we college kids loved to eat breakfast on Sunday mornings while reading the NYT . SusanFaye, David and I hung out there a good bit. They had something called "kosher bacon" that was really tasty. Sadly, they went out of business or lost their lease when "the village " ( shops near Rice) yuppified in the late 80's. I heard a rumor once that there was an Alfred's doppelganger, somewhere in south Houston.....if it ever appears, through the mists like Brigadoon, let me know.

Marfraless, aka the place with no name
There was once a bar with no name, no posted sign, nothing. You had to be brought there by someone to know where it was, like a speakeasy back in the 1920's. (I seem to recall it was sort of behind B-P's, but not connected.) It was just an unmarked door behind a building. Inside was a really great bar and restaurant. It was always full and busy and had a great smokey comfortable dark ambiance. I once was in a booth, making out with Jay, when in walked Robert, who was supposedly my bf at the time. Fortunately, it was so dark in there, I managed to escape before being seen.

Birra Poretti's aka B-P's
"One heck of an Irish bar, one great Italian restaurant".In spite of this corny slogan, the food was actually pretty good, (esp liked the crab and cheese stuffed mushroom caps) and the Irish bar part meant you could order anything and they had it. ( We used to get Irish coffees as a sure fire cure for the cramps.) It was a big collegiate hang-out, and I once went there in my pajamas on a dare. One summer, I lived in Houston, and shared a ratty apt with gf's Viv and Spud, which had a/c, but we were too cheap to pay for it. We used to go to B-P's, instead, every night and order summertime drinks like Mai Tai's and nurse them all night long, absorbing their a/c.

House of Pies , aka "House of Guys"
A traditional 60's style coffee shop, famous for 100's of kinds of pies, all made on premises, and also for eccentric gay late night crowd ( waiters and customers). I really liked all the food they made, traditional diner fare, and it was cheap and quick. Still has tacky 60's diner decor, oddly, which is exact match for The Frontier , in Albuquerque, another fave. My senior year of college, I ate here about once a day with bf Chip. I've visited it each time I've been to Houston since, and it still is pretty good food. Better than your avg Denny's.

Treebeard's
Wonderful Cajun fare - gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, etouffe, po' boys. I first discovered the location held in an old downtown church courtyard, then other ones around town. Now it has a branch in Dallas, too.

Vietnamese place # 1
I used to eat a lot of Vietnamese food in Houston, which I have missed since I moved away. My fave place, my "local" had a name that was written in Vietnamese and not translatable for English alphabets. It was between West U and Bellaire and the owners knew me and my dish preferences . It was not a noodle house , just an all-round little mom and pop family owned hole in the wall and I loved it. I came back looking for it recently and it was not there any more. There is, however, an entire district of Vietnamese restaurants , just south of downtown, and I've tried many spots down there and haven't been disappointed, yet.

Black Lab
Is a traditional English pub. A great place to go for 100's of good beers, and fish and chips. Oddly, I go there for the trifle - a dessert made here of raspberries, cake, whipped cream, kind of like strawberry shortcake. It is to die for. Trust me.

Ouisie's Table
Perfect neighborhood salad , sandwich spot for the lady who lunches.

Zimm's
Martini and wine bar, has a great cold duck salad and other foodie offerings. Friends Gretchen and Brett both worked there for awhile, and we all used to meet and eat there frequently in spite of that.

Mark's American Cuisine
Used to be a little hole in the wall bar, with a name like Angeline's or something , but has changed owners , now the chief draw is not just the food, but the fact that it is housed in an old church. It is a very romantic location.

KimSon
Vietnamese, two locations : one downtown, one suburban west out in the Memorial area. The downtown one is fancier, more upscale, the suburban one has more offerings, and better food, in my opinion.
*
The Great Greek
My fave Greek restaurant in the whole world - and as hubby #1 was Greek-American, we knew them all b/c we'd eaten at them all, from LA to NYC to Knossos, Greece. The avgolemono ( lemon chicken soup) is the true test for any Greek restaurant, ( as my former f-i-l used to say), and this one had awesome avgolemeno, and many other wonderful dishes. We had our wedding rehearsal dinner here, for wedding #1, and ending up dancing "Zorba the Greek " style all night long, into the parking lot. Sadly, this restaurant - who can explain it ? it was always busy ! - exists no more.

Lockhart
Several BBQ joints are located all in a row in this town, they all duke it out for "best in Texas". Definitely worth a special trip , to try them all, see for your yourself. I like the one with the open fire pit when you walk in the door,which used to be called Kreuz's....till the family split and now there are 2 of them and its all confusing. My friend Bill likes to point out that the knives are chained to the table , so no one can stab anyone else ( so he thinks). I think they do it that way so no one steals them. Check it out for yourself - just don't trip and fall into the fire pit, on your way in.

Austin
My knowledge here is a little weak, as I never lived there. I'm counting on my friends to give me the scoop.

Chuy's
I do like this one, on Barton Springs Rd, maybe b/c it's the first one I went to. More funky than tasty, but who cares ?

Sixth Street
I once went on a road trip to Sixth Street in college with a gf, MaryEllen ; we decided on the spur of the moment to drive here from Houston, eat dinner at some Mexican restaurant on this strip, and drive back (all in one night) , even after having had several margaritas. At one point in this great adventure we got pulled over by a cop on HWY 290, b/c the gf was driving about 90 mph. Somehow she managed to talk her way out of a ticket and the cop never noticed the alcohol on her breath. Lucky us. Those were the days.

The Nighthawk
My mom always talks about eating here in the 1950's when she was in grad school at UT. Does it still exist ? Is it any good ? She liked the pies, I think. Like mother, like daughter.
*
San Antonio
Mi Tierra
The closest thing to a Mexican diner - it's a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a bakery. When you are finished eating you can shop at the Mercado next door. The food is great and the ambiance is not typical touristy crap but wonderful. Lots of locals eat here , too - always a good sign. Open 24/7/365.


Denton
We have a saying in my 'hood, "northside, northside".( Means, support the businesses on the northside.) Denton has a subtle divide - the southern sector is newer, yuppier, full of mega mini McMansions and chain restaurants. The northside is older, funkier, college profs, large lots, big trees, family owned mom and pops. Support the northside, so those mom and pops will stay in business.

International Food
No "s", ( as in, International Foods) ,the owners do not speak English as their first language, and are a little shaky on subject-verb agreement. Not sure if they are Pakistani or Iranian, too embarrassed to ask. (Too embarrassed to admit that I am a little rusty as to whether they are speaking Farsi , Hindi, or Urdu, etc.) This spot,with a hard to read small print sign located behind a tire store, started as a groc store, eventually added a few tables, then scrapped the groc store part and now are all tables (with a few groc). Really good Mediterranean food - the sign does not steer you wrong. Gyros are best I've had in Texas. Spanokopita, dolmades, salad, lamb dishes all hand made and cooked from scratch. The husband cooks and the wife rings you up. One of my "locals", they know my table and my order when I come in.

Frilly's
Cajun food in a former Pizza Hut. Best seafood ( fried shrimp, gumbo , esp) in this little town, red beans + rice, really large wonderful salads and a bread pudding to die for (I used to never like it, but they got me hooked.)

Mi Casita
Another one of our "locals", we started eating here on Fri nights, years ago when they were only open for lunch and on Fri nights, and never got out of the habit. Now they know my children by name when they come with their Uncle Bill. Tex-Mex. I don't like their enchiladas, but I like everything else. I discovered this place when we first moved here - one day saw a college kid walking down the street , eating a giant burrito. It looked really good. Asked him where he got it, this was the place.

Sweetwater
Funky indoor/outdoor bar restaurant that will remind you of someplace in Austin. Eclectic menu, some Tex-Mex, some southern, random gourmet. Nice patio.

Sukho Thai
Used to eat here, all the time, it was a buffet near UNT advertising "99c" per item (then "$1.99 "per item, then "$2.99", etc) . Good blend of Thai and Chinese, really liked their curry. Horribly ratty hole in the wall location, uneven floors, full of scruffy college kids b/c so cheap. Kids and I used to stop by for lunch in the summers, daddy would meet us there, we'd all share stuff. Recently, it suddenly got yuppified - sort of. Prices went up , a new coat of paint, (but the floors were still uneven, walls zigzag like crazy, some rooms have no air, some have too much), the buffet went away and now you have to order off a menu, prices went up, quality/quantity went down. Don't like the changes.

Thai Ocha
Current favorite, our neighborhood gang eats here frequently. Food is really good and you can bring your own booze. Pleasant ambiance.
*
Tina's
Neighborhood Italian and pizza joint. Their Italian dishes are ok, but I really like the pizza. Closest thing to Napolitan pizza around - really fresh sauce, the best pie is just simple cheese. I absolutely loathe chain store pizzas, with sauce that tastes like too much bitter tomato paste. Also lets you bring your own booze, and needs to get a cappuccino machine ! (To go with their fairly decent tiramisu.)
Taco Lady
Wonderful hole-in-the-wall real Mexican ( not Tex-Mex) taco shop. Only open for lunch. The best is the barbacoa on a soft corn tortilla. Located behind a washateria, you gotta know where this place is, to find it.

The Loop Hole
Great bar , with beers and bar food. We go there for St Patty's.

Wine Safari,Banter
Wonderful, funky little wine bars near the Denton square. In a role reversal of most dry places, they let you bring your own food.

Jupiter House
Really great coffee bar, makes Starbucks taste burnt and bitter. Free wi-fi,open 24-7. Pastries from Ravelin's.

Ravelin's
A wonderful boutique French bakery - used to be on the north side of that imaginary dividing line ( past which I rarely go) , aka the Denton square. Recently re-located a few blocks south of it. I fought it, fought it , for a year or so, but must - can feel it pulling me - must - go- across - that - line, to get pastries, cakes, artisanal breads, cookies, tarts, croissants, etc.

MG's
Burger joint and bar, good food. Too smokey.

New York Subway
Independent little sub shop, authentic subs. Not that OTHER subway. This one gives you lots of meat, and a #20, short, all the way, is a potent cure for a hangover. (Maybe with a bloody mary.)

China Garden
Has a buffet, and also delivers. When the kids were little and I was tired from work, delivery was where it was at ! More dish offerings on the delivery menu than the buffet, but the buffet is a pretty good one, as these things go. I still prefer steamed ( on delivery menu) pot-stickers to fried ( on the buffet), but there you go.

The GreenHouse
For such a little town, we are blessed with some truly awesome restaurants. This one is eclectic American upscale, and also has a separate bar which is very cozy. I had a nervous breakdown one night last spring, and some good friends met me here so I could get over it.

Hannahs
Defying my desire to keep this post only to casual places, Hannah's is 3 or 4 star nouvelle American/French cuisine upscale restaurant, and I love it. I eat here any chance I get. Fortunately, we take everyone, esp visiting profs from out of town here, so I get to eat there, a lot. Lunches are more reasonable, and an entirely diff menu. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.....
*
Beth Marie's
Is that old fashioned cute ice cream parlor you 've only imagined in your dreams. Dozens of homemade premium flavors. Black and white floor, marble counters, wire chairs, old fashioned floats, sundaes, grilled cheese, etc. Open late nights and packed. Nice place to stop and rest up after shopping on the downtown Denton square.
*
The Cupboard
Feel a cold coming on ? My cure is to eat a healthy vegetarian meal and have a wheat grass smoothie. I am sure this does the trick. The Cupboard is an independent organic / health food grocery store, and has a little cafe that makes wonderful sandwiches, soups, salads, etc. Also really great take out salad bar, where you can pick up a copy of UTNE Reader or Shambala Sun on your way out. Nice wine and gift selection, premium chocolates. Kind of like "whole foods", but better.
*
Fuzzy's Taco
New wave taco / burrito diner. Nice fish tacos, migas, mole, tortilla soup. Very chi-chi but in a retro way. Extremely cool hip college crowd and great people watching.
*
Sanger
Sanger is only 10 min up the road. Of course, soon I'll have to include other spots, like the Duck Inn in Lake Dallas, or Cattlemen's , which is in Decatur, or Krum, or someplace west.
*
Babe's Ooriginal Chicken Dinner House
While I generally eschew national chains, I will make exceptions for small mom and pop type spots that morph into small, local chains as their business continues to grow. There are a few Babe's restaurants around the DFW metroplex, and everyone I have ever met thinks each one is magical. The one I frequent, in Sanger, has a giant 10 foot tall chicken statue outside, next to a blinking 20 ft tall marquee on the roof, so if you are lost, way out here in the country, you can just head your car towards the lights and readily find it. The decor is what I call "Hee Haw" , but the food is worth the trip. Folks rapsodize over the friend chicken or chicken friend steak, but I personally think the fried catfish is the best I've ever had. You dine family style; they bring out huge platters of veggies and biscuits better than your grandma ever made. There is a grilled chicken entree available for that one family member who is on a special diet. Singing waitresses make it even more special. Not to be missed.
*
What are the asterisks for , you ask ?For some reason, I cannot get this blogger program to space my postings as I wish. Yes, I have spent HOURS re-doing various sections, to no avail. This is the only way I can think of the bend this technology to my will.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing, so much food! Where to start? I love it. Hope to taste all those stuff.

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