A Secret Favorite

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris January 24, 2023 19:30 in Dining Diary

Who doesn’t love Houston’s? I have often said that even the true gourmets out there visit Houston’s once in a while. It is the quintessential American food restaurant.

It has come up on the radio show (airs 2-4 pm weekdays 990 AM) a bit lately, because people have complained that the menu is different, and not an improvement. And in a recent conversation with Gunther Preuss, I was surprised to learn it is a favorite of his, and Gunther Preuss spent a lifetime creating memorable gourmet food.

So when our initial plans to visit Casamento’s did not work out, we went to Houston’s to get an update there. It was mid-afternoon, so there wasn’t a wait. The place was still pretty full at 3 pm.

It seemed exactly the same since I last visited pre-COVID. Same handsome darkness, same friendly and competent staff, same great food. Much higher prices, which is another complaint we wanted to investigate.

We started with a house salad, which had a lot of good things in it. Sort of a Cobb Salad, we ordered this with Buttermilk Garlic dressing. The waitress mentioned brisket chili as the soup du jour. Chili is hard to find on menus, and the mere mention that it is available is an easy sell for me.

And I was surprised to see what amounted to a mixed grill plate on this new menu. It included two links of locally made sausage and a smoked chicken thigh, which came with housemade mustard sauce and one side. All the other entrees were in the mid-$30 range, and it would pain me to pay that much for a large plate at Houston’s. Maybe Tom’s disdain all these years has colored my view, but entrees edging up to $40 at any place whose desserts center around brownies and cobblers? Nah.

When I saw dirty rice mentioned as a possible side, I had to get it. We ordered coleslaw as the side and got an extra side of dirty rice. And then I saw the baked potato, which seems like the signature side here. It is a thing of beauty. I resisted the urge to get it.

Our salad arrived and It was indeed one of the kitchen-sink variety of salads. All kinds of lettuces, along with cheese, egg, bacon, and housemade croutons comprised a large mound in the middle of the plate. A plump cherry tomato, halved, rounded out this mix. The very dark leaf of lettuce on top looked almost forbidding, but we dug into it anyway. I was surprised by the sweetness of the dressing, expecting a garlic flavor as mentioned. Maybe we got the wrong dressing. I meant to ask for a bit of it to try, but never got the chance. The waitress was never around to ask. 

That statement implies that she wasn’t around. She was actually very good, attentive, and professional, but the timing wasn’t right.

The chili came on a nice plate with tortilla chips that were so greaseless as to seem odd. They were crispy and had a real corn flavor, but I didn’t need to keep eating them. The chili was also a bit of a disappointment because the brisket was not tender. But it had that unmistakable chili flavor and was quite spicy. There was not enough cheese on top to mitigate the spice level in the chili.

We absolutely loved the mixed grill plate. Two large links of sausage were handsomely charred in all the right places, stacked beside a chicken thigh that appeared to be more of a piece of chicken thigh. This came with a side of coleslaw and a housemade mustard sauce. 

The sausages were mild Italian and chicken apple. Both were very good. Houston’s coleslaw may be the best out there. It is not traditional in the sense that you see carrots and purple cabbage. It is all green and white from intense creaminess. I could have eaten a whole plate of this. Delicious!

Tom was crazy about the mustard sauce, as was I. Every drop of this was gone. All that remained on this plate was a tiny trace of barbecue sauce from the chicken thigh.

I was surprised to see our dirty rice in this California-based restaurant chain. Their interpretation had a California spin. There were some corn kernels in it, and nuts! Huh? The meaty liver flavor was missing, but it was still really nice. Calling it dirty rice is a stretch, but okay.

We did not get dessert. The check was $60 for this. I was surprised to see that iced tea here is now $4 (a citywide high in my experience) But it was a tremendously enjoyable meal, and we will return before long. Tom even talked about it on the way home. Good thing he didn’t realize he was raving about Houston’s.