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Taking On Punky Food Writers

Old school Houston restaurants take a stand against young punk food writers: Bringing back the classics

Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Chicken Tortilla Soup
Grace's believes in old school dishes. Photo courtesy of © Todd Parker Photography/STP Images
Frank's Americana Revival crowd in restaurant
Frank's American Revival is another Houston restaurant that doesn't see itself catering to the "young food writers" any time soon. Frank's Americana Revival/Facebook
Kate McLean of Tony's Restaurant Houston
Even  Tony's chef Kate McLean appreciates a good old school restaurant blast from the past. Photo courtesy of Tony's
Grace's on Kirby October 2013 Chicken Tortilla Soup
Frank's Americana Revival crowd in restaurant
Kate McLean of Tony's Restaurant Houston
News_Marene Gustin_columnist_mug_head shot

After my recent rant on old school eats Vallone’s posted a blog about its French onion soup. The meat stock is cooked for four days and although it sounds delicious I am reminded of the staple old school dish at Tony’s: Those incredible souffles.

Those lighter than air cakes of chocolate or vanilla drizzled in fudge sauce and topped with real whipped cream are always the perfect way to end a celebratory meal at this classic restaurant. But last truffle season chef Kate McLean seriously upped the ante and made an amazing white Alba truffle souffle that was possibly the best dish on any menu last year.

And you can get a cheese souffle there any time of the year. If you haven’t tried a savory souffle you really need to add one to your bucket list of dishes.

 "My sons are always saying we should try some new attention-getting dishes. But that’s not who we are. I know it would attract some of the younger food writers, but our customer base loves the standards." 

And while some eaters always gravitate to the new and trendy, a lot of eaters in Houston do love the throwback dishes. Case in point has been the reemergence of beef Stroganoff on two local menus.

Frank’s Americana Revival recently added this classic Russian dish as a Monday night special. Here it’s made with fresh mushroom demi-glace, a white wine sour cream sauce and chunks of filet mignon.

“My sons are always saying we should try some new attention-getting dishes,” says owner Mike Shine, who owns a restaurant consulting company and was a past president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association. “But that’s not who we are.

"I know it would attract some of the younger food writers but our customer base loves the standards and the beef Stroganoff has been our most popular special.”

Shine got the idea for beef Stroganoff last year when a famous patron asked him to host a birthday party for her daughter and asked for a special dish and he came up with beef Stroganoff, which turned out to be the daughter’s favorite dish from her childhood.

Beef Stroganoff (sometimes spelled Stroganov) is a dish of floured and sauteed beef chunks or strips served in a sour cream sauce over noodles or, in some places, rice. Since the mid-19th century it has spread around the world to Asia, America and Europe. I prefer it over fat egg noodles instead of rice and the last time I had it, before recently, was when I made it at home a few years ago.

It’s actually an easy and hearty dish to prepare on your own, but it’s also nice to see it turning up on restaurant menus again.

Stroganoff Mania?

Grace’s has introduced weekly specials as a way to refine their opening menu and last week — surprise! — beef Stroganoff was one of the specials. Along with a shrimp cocktail of spicy sauce and giant shrimps. Add a stiff whiskey sour and you could be dining at a fine restaurant in the 1960s.

 Add a stiff whiskey sour and you could be dining at a fine restaurant in the 1960s. 

Owner Johnny Carrabba says he was visiting New York City last year and dining out with his then 12-year-old daughter when he saw the dish on the menu and decided to order it on the spot.

Which prompted his young Mia to ask: “What’s beef Stroganoff?”

Yes, it is an old school dish, but it’s seems to be having a bit of a revival and I applaud that.

The great thing about Houston’s food scene is that there are restaurants for every taste. There's something for those who are seeking the next new thing, the trendy, the fusion dishes, the wonderful James Beard Award-winning gourmet food. And there's something for those who just want old-fashioned comfort food. Houston has it all.

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