Saturday, August 30, 2008

10 Houston classics from my childhood

Tomorrow I turn 40. So I have been remembering my favorite Houston foods and restaurants from my childhood.

These are my 10 favorite Houston classics -- 5 still here, and 5 that only live in memory:

Houston classics you can still get

1. James Coney Island Chili Cheese Dog. Thankfully, JCI is still here. For 85 years, JCI has been serving amazing chili dogs. The secret is the chili. Apart from the cumin, there must be something wickedly decaden in that chili to make it so good.

2. Antone's Po Boys. Antone's is a little older than me. Their po boys -- and their stores -- may seem ordinary now. But in the mid 1970s, stepping into the Antone's on Taft or South Main was like being transported to Europe. And the classic po-boy was one of the most exotic sandwiches in town. Even now, there is something very unique about the mixture of sweet and sour chow chow, sweet pickles, and salty meat and cheese.

3. Triple A Cafeteria's rolls. I had very good cafeteria rolls at Luby's, Picadilly, Black Eyed Pea, and Cleburne Cafeteria. But it is hard to beat the basket of rolls and moist, unsweetened corn bread that they have served forever at the Triple A. The Triple A has been around since 1942, and I assume they have been overcooking their vegetables ever since then.

4. Barbecue Inn's stuffed crab. Houstonians have always gone nuts over crab. The stuffed crab at Barbecue Inn is the first crab dish I learned to love. It is not much more than a casserole of bread and crab stuffed in a crab-shaped tin shell. But it it is comfort food that brings back many memories.

5. Ragin Cajun's oyster po boy, boiled crawfish. I did not know cajun food before I found the Ragin Cajun. Now it is owned by the Mandola's and has become a 4-location chain. In the late 70s, this was undoubtedly the best cajun food in town.

Houston classics now lost

1. Alfred's Deli bagels and lox and eggs. I have never had bagels that came close to their unique, egg-washed bagels -- sweet, chewy, absolutely delicious. It also was at Alfred's that discovered the joy of eggs scrambled with lox and onions. Like the bagels, I have never found a better version. Alfred's made me want to be Jewish -- except then I might not have had the JCI chili dogs.

2. Monterrey House's tamales. Ok, maybe this was not a Houston classic, but a nationwide chain. Still, Monterrey House was my first Mexican food, which I remember better than my first girlfriend. Over time, the quality declined seriously. But when Monterrey House first appeared in Houston, its dense beef tamales with chili gravy taught me to love Mexican food. Plus, I dug the brown sugar candy at the bottom of the basket.

3. Felix's enchiladas. I was in mourning for a week after Felix's closed. Felix was where I learned to love the classic, Tex-Mex, cheese enchilada with gravy. My friends and I would collect yard-mowing money and ride our bmx bike to Felix's just to get those enchiladas. Today, Mexican food in Houston is much, much better than the ground-meat and American-cheese based Tex Mex of the 70s. Still, when Felix's closed, we lost an icon.

4. Britain's Broiler Burgers. This burger store across from Memorial City was quite possibly my first burger. It had a merry-go-round that moved slowly so that kids would not throw up. It also served a remarkable flame-broiled burger with sharp cheddar cheese. It was a unique flavor that I rarely see replicated. Just like I rarely see any more spinning rides in kid's restaurants.

5. Asian Restaurant. This mostly-vegetarian, mostly-Chinese restaurant and Weslayan and Richmond served remarkably tasty, restorative food. Almost every dish was completely different from food I have had in any Chinese restauarnt. Plus, prices were cheap.

runners up:

mashed potatoes and brown gravy at Picadilly Cafeteria (closed)

crepes at the Magic Pan (closed)

chess pie at Luby's (open)

breakfast at One's-a Meal (1 location still open, but not quite the same)

enchiladas at the Mexicatessen on Crosstimbers (closed)

pepperoni pizza at Antonio's Flying Pizza (open)

eggrolls at North China near Memorial City (closed) [Correction: it's still open. Woo hoo.]

fish at Monument Inn (closed)

fried fish and fries at Alfie's Fish 'n Chips (closed)

27 comments:

sheeats said...

Easily the most enjoyable food post I've read all week. Good choice of topic for your birthday, old man! ;)

I remember both Magic Pan and the original One's A Meal. The latter was an enormous source of comfort food for me during my high school years; my friends and I would meet there on weekends and chow down.

I do, however, miss the two-story JCI on Post Oak. I still can't believe there's a condo there now...

Oh, and..."Asian Restaurant" is the most hilarious name for a restaurant ever. Was "Oriental Restaurant" taken or simply politically incorrect by that time? :)

Anonymous said...

North China closed!? It's been ages. ...darn.

Sigh.

callie

Justin said...

North China? Closed?

Not when I was there a few weeks back.

The one off of Kingsride, correct?

Hopefully this is an early birthday present to you.

Misha said...

There is a better than good chance Alfred's did not make their own bagels. I worked at Three Brothers Bakery for over 7 years and we supplied bagels to vast majority of delicatessens in Houston. Three Brothers bagels are steamed, rather than boiled, and if memory serves me right they do use an egg wash to get the crusty texture.

The only bagel in town better than Three Brothers is NY Bagel Shop (they go through the trouble of boiling theirs), but they have always been mostly a retail operation.

BTW, doing a quick search shows that Kahn's is owned by the same family that owned Alfred's.

Food Princess said...

Happy Birthday!

Anonymous said...

Britain's burgers, we always fought for the black horse. Another Houston classic was Panjo's Pizza in Town and Country. Nice crisp crust that always had some char.

anonymouseater said...

Wow. North China is still open. I'm going to have to go there and write about it. That was where I learned to eat Chinese food.

Also, I forgot to list both Panjo's and Pipe Organ Pizza.

Misha -- I have had Three Bros. bagels for years. They are different from Alfred's. For Alfred's bagels, there was actually dried egg wash dripping off some of the bagels. Khan's is owed by Afred's son. I believe they don't make breakfast foods.

John said...

How about Uncle Tai's on Post Oak; didn't he come to town about 1978 or so?

My first Chinese as a kid was at Ho Sai Gai (spelling?), Post Oak at San Felipe, and I am embarrassed to say that I started with Moo Goo Gai Pan....

By the way, it is Kahn's Deli (a deli named Khan's might be slightly different!).

-- John C

sheeats said...

Khaaaaaaaaaan!

...sorry, had to be done. :)

raiderdav said...

Wow - haven't thought about the after-church family trips to Piccadilly in a long time. Carrying my own tray was such a luxury.

lambowner said...

Ok, about Felix, what's going on in there?? I've driven by twice in the past month on a Saturday afternoon, and all the lights, inside and out are blazing and folks are roaming about inside. Any intelligence on this, or did it not really close?

Tellicherry said...

The Magic Pan! I was just talking to my mom about that restaurant the other day. It was a special treat to go there.

I also remember going to this cool German deli in Greenspoint Mall. It smelled of pickles and mustard and I think the tables had red umbrellas. Does anyone else remember this place or its name?

Anonymous said...

Loved Panjo's Pizza, too. We used to go there all the time.

There was another restaurant chain - on 1960 - family place, sort of TGI Friday-ish but had great chili dogs. I think it opened around 1984 and closed 1986? Anyone remember the name? (I know this isn't very specific!)

Anonymous said...

Check out the Facebook group "Who Remembers FM 1960 When It Was A Two Lane Blacktop Road?" - lot's of discussion about the restaurants on FM 1960.

Steve from Seattle said...

anyone have a recipe for that little round piece of brown sugar candy from Monterrey House mexican restaurant?

Anonymous said...

Monument in is still open, but not the original building (burned down).
Alfie's fish and chips still has a location open in Texas City. Same greasy, delicious, vinegar sodden seafood as when I was growing up in Galveston.

Anonymous said...

Panjo's was fun. You could watch the cook toss the dough up in the air. There's actually still a Panjo's Pizza in Rockport, Texas. It's in a long shopping center right in the middle of town. Brittain's Broiler Burgers was an institution. Us kids would eat there after baseball games over in Town and Country. I "think" was called MRS. Brittains Broiler Burgers but I may be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember Ruby Red's on the Katy Freeway? Funky burger joint with peanut shells all over the floor.

Pipe Organ Pizza in Memorial City was a birthday party must. Great memories.

Also for birthdays, Ferrels Ice Cream in the Galleria? The ragtime theme and big bass drum they'd bang for birthdays. It was every kids birthday favorite.

Barb said...

Ok, was going down memory lane with my class photo from Bendwood Elementary and I thought I'd google Panjos Pizza, and this was the first result I got.

I remember watching them toss the crusts, standing on the bench by the window, and the long tables there. They had good pizza!

And THANK YOU for mentioning Britain's Broiler Burgers. I also loved that place, that place being the merry-go-round in the restaurant, lol. I was talking about that place with my parents over Christmas, and it brought back fond memories.

Kaytie said...

Hello, surprised anyone remembers Alfie's Fish and Chips. I worked there for about a year. I think there was only the one on S. Shepherd. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed working with 2 guys from St Thomas. Good fish and shrimp, better then the 2 that are left.

Anonymous said...

Panjos rocked for pizza .. anyone remember Across The Street up on Voss .. best burgers and loved ordering on the phone from the booth!

Anonymous said...

I remember Panjos pizza at Town&Country village. That place rocked. Pipe Organ pizza at memorial city mall. El felix in the galleria was a good mexican restuarant i miss too. Charlies hamburgers at addicks and hwy 6.Best burgers ever. i think they had a charlies on kty freeway too for awhile. Casa martinez was another good mexican restuaraunt located at Town&Country

Cyn said...

I miss Mama's PoBoys. I was so sad to hear that the owners had both passed away. They were wonderful warm people!

Anonymous said...

Monument Inn is still open. I think you might be thinking of San Jacinto Inn, which was right next to the battleship, a lot older, and better.

Anonymous said...

There is a branch of the original Monterrey House in Beaumont.

See here:

http://examiner.1upprelaunch.com/main.asp?SectionID=9&SubSectionID=57&ArticleID=3967

Anonymous said...

The Cheese Man (Fondu) in Westbury Square and Roznozki's (sp?) burgers

Caius Cosades said...

I remember Panjo's in the old Town and Country-the best pizza, ever! And there was the Cheese Market, Prince's Hamburgers and Alfred's, and the Smorgasbord!