Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Slow food

As a sweet but pudgy kid in the mid-1970s, one of my least favorite recess activities was Tag.

In my memory, at least, I was consistently the easiest target in the school playground, so incurring the designation of "It" meant that I'd spend the entire outdoor period desperately trying to grab a stray flailing limb from one of my classmates.

Ah, mem'ries. They light the corners of my mind.

Mercifully, in the 21st-century blogosphere, I am not forced to eat dust under a blazing Mississippi sun.

However, I am still the slowest pudgy kid when it comes to a rousing game of Tag. Because Jenny nabbed me nearly one full month ago with a request to itemize my five favorite local restaurants... and still I sit, stewing in front of my keyboard, anxious to shed the mantle of "It."

Now, after hours pondering the many scrumptious menus that Dallas, Texas, has to offer, I've at last narrowed the list to five fine contenders.

I tried, I did, to keep my choices representative of the Big D by discarding all chain eateries, but as I'm fond of reminding Shigeta: I HAVE THREE CHILDREN. Precious few of my meals these days aren't accompanied by a thick stack of thin paper napkins.

Having said that, I offer this:

1. Surprising no one who knows me, Chuy's takes top billing in my book.

Six years ago, when we learned we'd be leaving Chicagoland for J.R. Ewing's hometown, my sweet Midwestern friends threw me a "Well, it was nice knowing you" party. (What can I say? My correspondence skills leave much to be desired.)

The highlight of the evening was when I was presented with a neat pile of gift certificates from Chuy's. Never in my life have I felt so wealthy.

Minutes after Trey and I crossed the Texas state line, we started peeling through those suckers. Sure enough, the stacked enchiladas were just as delicious as when I'd regularly savored them as a freshman Longhorn. The Chuychanga tasted even better than when I'd first consumed it as a young married in Houston.

In short order, only one certificate remained. And Trey can vouch for me: I have it still, and although we dine at Chuy's with some regularity, I absolutely refuse to cash in my last chit. Part of my resistance is that I'm a sentimental fool, and looking at that lone, yellowing certificate always reminds me of that last Chicago night and those kind and generous friends.

Also? Like an old lady with money stuffed under the mattress, I sleep easier knowing that, if the sky were to fall tomorrow, I'd be able to enjoy one last bowl of Chuy's queso.

2. Moving along, and hopefully gaining a bit of speed in the process, I claim Ali Baba for slot number two.

I'm so sorry to report that their surprisingly kid-friendly far North Dallas location is now shuttered, but the brothers promise the same great Middle Eastern food in a revamped Richardson outpost soon. In the interim, we won't mind jostling for elbow room at their original Lowest Greenville spot in the interim.

You can go without me, of course, though I may hold it against you. Best to invite me along and permit me to order for the table. We'll take the mazza plate to start, with the creamiest hummos you've ever slathered on a wedge of pita. A bowl of favo modamos? Oh, why not? Shish tawook, an extra helping of rice and a platter of gyro meat with cucumber sauce on the side ought to round things out.

That should be enough for me. What would you like?

3. There's not one thing about S. & D. Oyster Company I don't purely adore. The sweet brick building that vibrates a bit when the trolley rumbles by. The genteel waitstaff in starched red aprons, who call even semi-regular patrons by their names and ask how the grandchildren are doing. Old John, who keeps an eye on your car in the parking lot, and doles out gifts to kids who take the time to say hello.

And have mercy: the food. Small melamine bowls of finely diced coleslaw. Frosted glasses of iced tea, served with sprigs of fresh mint. New Orleans Bar-B-Q shrimp, served with warm crusty bread to sop up the puddle of seasoned, melted butter. And a truly fine slice of homemade lemon pie, topped with a quiver of meringue.

Praise the Lord and pass the hush puppies. (Try 'em with a dollop of Matagorda sauce. Trust me.)

4. When my birthday rolls around and I get to choose a spot for lunch, everyone knows we're going to Cafe Lago. If we've got the kids in tow, we'll hope for a nice day so we can camp out on the patio and let them run semi-wild 'round the fountain.

But no matter where we sit and no matter how tempting the diverse, eclectic menu may be, I know what I'm ordering: Peruvian chicken, smothered in green cilantro sauce and served with a simple, delicious side salad. Perfection.

This meal saved me one dark and stormy night, when my friends Mimi and Karen saw that I was so overwhelmed by the demand of producing enough milk for two tiny, fussy babies that I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't form coherent sentences. They drove across town with a tray of Peruvian chicken and ordered me to eat. And... what was that I saw? Yep, light at the end of the tunnel.

5. I can't and won't wax rhapsodic about Chip's. It's the kind of sturdy, reliable neighborhood place any decent town should have, and I'm sure many Dallasites would argue that other spots are superior. (But for the life of me, I can't divine the appeal of Snuffer's.)

A mighty fine cheeseburger? Check. Above-average fries? You got 'em, buddy. A salad with a calorie count that should be illegal? Sure, if that's your cup of tea.

It's not EZ's and never will be (a pox upon you, 7-11), but the kiddos dine well here, and the menu offers a little something for everyone. Might I recommend the Big Pig (a shredded-pork sandwich resting beneath a dollop of barbeque sauce and a poppyseed bun) with crispy onion strings? As the name implies, it's a filling meal, but if you leave a little room for a fresh-banana milkshake, you won't be sorry.

And with that, this pudgy kid's work is done. This never works for me, but I'm going to tag my non-blogger friends and family next. Sister Sarah, Shigeta, TraBilCobb, Trey, Mom: tag, you're "It."


Anonymous Minivan Mom said...

I always hated tag also. I was the slow pudgy one also...until you got me in a pool.

I actually became the goalie on my field hockey team in high school because I was the slowest runner.


Love that you blogged!

7:30 AM  
Blogger anniemcq said...

Your comment about being the slowest at tag kind of brought tears to my eyes. I, too, was always the slowest, and now it's Joe-Henry's turn. But he runs his heart out and does his mightiest and laughs all the way.

Darn you Franklin. I read this at bedtime, and now I'm gonna lay there and listen to my stomach grumble! Great post - you should be a food writer!

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

now you have me worked up all over again at the "pox upon you" 7-11. ah ez's...and chuys, and s&d and chips and i haven't been to the other two, but am now intrigued.

thanks for putting your favs to keyboard so we can be exposed to some new fabulous food!

p.s. 7-11 at least entertains these days with their realization of the ez mart...

8:07 PM  
Blogger Franklin5 said...

Oh, SK! A sister in arms!

I actually wrote an overemotional letter to the Evil Convenience Empire after they bulldozed EZ's, in which I announced my personal boycott against them.

I'm sure my missive caused much fretting and gnashing of teeth over at Cityplace.

I've broken the boycott twice now: once, a few months ago, when I literally coasted up to the pumps with an empty gas tank. Could not be helped.

And a second time, last week, when curiosity got the best of me and I ventured in to check out the Simpsons goodness.

Verdict: it was pretty funny, actually. Krusty-O's, to Carter's dismay, are just Fruit Loops with nary a worm enclosed. Haven't broken into the Buzz cola yet. But I did get my picture taken with Homer.

Mighty hugs to my now faster-than-the-speed-of-light sisters Tracey and Annie! We overcame the stigma of Tag, so I know J-H will, too. And then he'll become President.

1:48 AM  
Blogger I, Rodius said...

Ali Baba in Richardson is now on my list for the next time we go to visit the Old Folks. Thanks for the tip!

1:17 PM  

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