By Jim Ayres
On Houston’s, friendships and Thanksgiving
As I’m writing this on Halloween night, I’m feeling a little ornery, so I’ll start this column with its conclusion: As chain restaurants go, Houston’s is near the top. If your group can’t decide on a single cuisine, or is averse to independent restaurants, head to Houston’s. Yo
u’ll have a nice meal, but will you have a wonderful time?
Houston’s and I have a rocky past. The staff has always been aloof, even downright nasty when once I sent an underdone chicken back to the kitchen. My groups have twice been denied entrance, both times because someone (first a man, then a woman) was wearing a sleeveless top. I’ve been at a larger same-sex table that was all but ignored. And I may have
lost a friend over the place.
So yeah, it’s been a few years since I went to Houston’s. But I recently found myself on the hunt for a hearty salad, Houston’s was a couple of blocks away, and I thought “ why not?” Time heals all wounds, the
As I perched at the bar, the bartender was pleasant, all smiles. I asked for an iced tea. “ Certainly.” The buttoned-up veneer fell into place. Every server at Houston’s wears the uniform—a starched white shirt and tie—that must be hell to serve in. But she wore it like a champ.
A silky Tomato Bisque was soup of the day. It was garnished with little cornbread croutons that are one of Houston’s signature touches. Another one is the buttonhole in one co
rner of your cloth napkin, just in case. And there’s an actual pepper mill on every table!
Next, I ordered the Club Salad. I don’t know why crispy chicken, mixed greens, tomato, avocado, chopped egg, and smokehouse bacon suggested a big salad and bits and pieces of the rest. I got exactly the reverse. Half a dozen fried chicken tenders guarded the tiny hill of greens as if I were Dorothy trying to rescue Toto. The chicken lacked seasoning, but it was greaseless and the saltshaker stood by.
Thinking back during that lunch, I remembered getting an email one day from a former friend, raving about Houston’s French Dip. I responded akin to “ bet it was a pretty penny, too!” (Well, it is $19.) I don’t think he appreciated my thoughts. I’m not exactly sure why we’re not friends anymore—he’s never told me, and it hurt—but that email may have been the beginning of the end.
Well, I just had to go back and try that French Dip. It’s a picture-perfect sandwich, served au jus and with horseradish sauce. The pretzel-like bread and ruby-pink roasted beef promised immense flavor. Then I bit into it. As with the chicken,
it was bereft of even basic seasoning. Thank goodness for the sauces.
I guess my erstwhile friend was mostly right about the French Dip. I’m still wistful for those years. He inspired me to take risks and live in the day. He even helped encourage me to start writing this column. And this Thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for all my friends here in Houston who have truly become my family.
And to think it took a chain restaurant to help me see how much I appreciate God’s many
blessings. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
4848 Kirby Drive
Houston, Texas 77098