Like Dr Pepper as a cooking ingredient, frito pie is one of those Texas things (yeah, Oklahoma too, but who cares) that outsiders find kitschy-charming, at best – but if you mention it to Texas natives, particularly those of a certain generation, they get a Homerian glazed look and drooly half-smile as they moan-drawl back, “Friiiitoooo Pieeeeee.”
It’s really fun to watch, so Chow, Baby has been talking a lot about the great frito pie ($5.25) it had last week at Dutch’s (3009 S. University Av.). Not being from here, Chow, Baby doesn’t know if Dutch’s version is “authentic,” but dang, it’s good ‘n’ hearty: spunky housemade chili over corn chips, topped with queso, grated cheddar, and a spoonful of tingly pico. Chow, Baby is drooling just thinking about it. Everything on Dutch’s burgers-and-bar-food menu is both good and hearty. Chicken wings ($4.75 for seven) in something called “tiger sauce,” were crispy, meaty, and lightly tangy-sweet. A bacon & blue cheese burger ($6.75) was a flavor-symphony of good beef, smoky bacon, blue cheese with actual blue in it, and a nice chipotle mayo.
Funny, at first the beer-battered onion rings ($2 side) didn’t seem all that great, but Chow, Baby couldn’t stop chomping them down, one right after the other, and was pouty when they were all gone. Dutch’s, which recently took over the Jon’s Grille space next to TCU, is named for and decorated with posters of Leo “Dutch” Meyer, the legendary (presumably; Chow, Baby never heard of him) TCU football coach. The creative team is the legendarily droolworthy cowboy chef Grady Spears and his old Reata buddy Louis Lambert, who’s been living and cheffing in Austin, which may be why this college-hangout-in-the-making gave Chow, Baby such flashbacks to its own glory years along the Drag. (R.E.M. on the stereo helped, too.)
Amid fresh paint and lots of ceiling fans, Dutch’s has those comfy-if-you’re-young wooden booths, the “my future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades” overprivileged clientele, and cuisine that only teenage metabolisms can digest on a daily basis. Collegiate, yes, but fogeys like it too. Choosing Sides If Old Neighborhood Grill (1633 Park Place Ave.) has a slow time, Chow, Baby hasn’t found it yet. It’s open all day, but even at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon, the only free table is the one right under the KLUV-blaring radio. The bigger problem is that Chow, Baby, who suffers from both nearsightedness and choice-making anxiety, can’t read the daily-specials board until it gets up to the order-counter, so snap decisions must be made with a line growing behind.
The easy solution: “Give me one of each, please.” This works because there’s no such thing as a bad choice at Old Neighborhood Grill. It’s mostly homestyle comfort-cooking, and it’s all fresh and good. Daily plates like perfectly seasoned pork chops, crunchy chicken-fried chicken, and lemon-pepper grilled catfish (most in the $6-$7 range) are Texas-classic. But it’s the sides – you have to choose two for each plate from the list of dozens, argh – that really sing, from plain ol’ buttery mashed potatoes to down-home pickled green tomatoes. Crispy-outside, juicy-inside fried zucchini. Fresh-cut thin curly fries. Rich, thick macaroni and cheese. Obviously Chow, Baby could go on, but it’s time for orgasmic blackberry cobbler. Or maybe peach. No, apple pie. What the heck: Give me one of each, please.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org.