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Cactus friesJay McCarthy, president and executive chef of Jay’s Mesteña in San Antonio, often serves these fries as a side dish with shrimp or scallops, or as an appetizer with habanero-laced ketchup.

2 lbs. nopalitos
3 T. cornstarch
2 T. achiote paste (look for it in the Mexican specialty-foods section)
2/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg white about
3/4 c. ice water
Peanut oil

Remove thorns (if any) and “eyes” from cactus, and trim edges of pads. Cook cactus, covered, for 2 minutes in enough boiling salted water to cover; drain. Cut cactus in 3- to 4-inch strips similar to French fries; set aside. Combine cornstarch and achiote paste in a blender or food processor, and pulse until smooth. In a medium-size bowl, combine flour and baking powder, add cornstarch mixture, and blend well. In another bowl, beat egg white until stiff peaks form. Fold into flour mixture, alternating with enough ice water to make batter the consistency of unbeaten egg white. Chill batter. Dredge cactus strips in batter, and fry in deep hot oil (375°) 2-3 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Drain well. Yield: 3-5 servings.

This recipe was adapted from one created by chef Jean-Luc Salles of the former, Jean-Luc’s French Bistro in Austin. We made the cakes in 12 three-inch ramekins, but a muffin pan would work just as well.

2 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
18 oz. chèvre
3 eggs
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
4 T. olive oil, divided
3/4 c. black olives, pitted and sliced

Boil potatoes until tender; drain and set aside. Blend cheese, eggs, cream, salt, and pepper. Grease each ramekin with 1 tsp. oil.  Add 1 1/2 T. cheese mixture, 3 or 4 potato slices, then another 1 1/2 T. cheese mixture. Place ramekins on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350° for about 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then invert each ramekin onto a plate. Top each cake with black olives. Yield: 12 cakes.

Goat Cheese KissesThese elegant hors d’oeuvres take time to make. You can prepare them ahead and freeze them until you need them. Keep in mind that frozen kisses take slightly longer to bake.


Hummus bi TahiniJo Ann Andera, director of the Texas Folklife Festival, supplies her recipe for hummus.

Allen’s Family-Style Meals, 1301 E. Broadway St., 325/235-2060

H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop, 701 E. Yandell Dr.,915/533-1144

Cueva de Leon, 100 W. Second St., 432/426-3801

Monument Cafe, 1953 S. Austin Ave., 512/930-9586;

Sartin’s Seafood, 18023 Upper Bay Dr., 281/ 333-4040;

The Shed Cafe, 8337 FM 279, 903/852-7791;

By June Naylor

In 1952, Lizzie Allen opened the front room of her little clapboard house so travelers would have a place to eat a hot, home-cooked meal as they passed through the West Texas town of Sweetwater. Strangers became friends over platters of fried chicken and big bowls of fresh vegetables, which “Ma” Allen served family-style at a table that sat 12. A half-century later, folks still sit down to meals at that same table—and at five other large tables that now fill the building.

Allen’s Family-Style Meals


Billy Allen runs the café his grandmother Lizzie Allen started in 1952, and which his dad operated from 1968 to 1993. The restaurant’s popularity has grown over the years, Allen says, recalling how his grandmother “would knock out a few walls and add tables, knock out another wall and add more tables, until she had no house left and had to move out.”  Now the same house seats 52 people at lunchtime, while the staff serves double that number at a dinner buffet in a newer building across the parking lot.

H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop

El Paso

Brothers Ken and Maynard Haddad also took over the family restaurant, the one their dad, Najib Haddad, opened in 1958 at his car wash, near downtown. “My dad loved the old Toddle House restaurants and sort of modeled this place after that short order-soda fountain concept,” says Ken. “He thought it was better than just having people wait in a room with vending machines.” The café has evolved into an icon, making fans of such luminaries as noted chef/restaurateur Michel Richard and the late Julia Child. It even won the coveted James Beard Award in 2001 for American Regional Classic.

Cueva de Leon

Fort Davis

In 1976, Lorina Wells went from waitress to owner of a little café that was originally called Ernest’s. She opted to change the name and recruited the local high school’s Spanish class for help. The building sits in front of the Davis Mountains formation known as the Sleeping Lion, so “lion’s cave” seemed a perfect name for the new venture, where today she continues to serve Mexican dishes made from her mom Esperanza Bencomo’s recipes. A friendly, no-frills place, the restaurant seats about 90 people at inside and outside tables.

Monument Cafe


Rusty Winkstern earned his restaurant stripes at eateries in Austin and Pflugerville before finding a great location for a café in Georgetown. Capitalizing on the building boom just 30 miles north of downtown Austin, he and his business partner, Clark Lyda, opened the retro-style diner in 1995 to a market hungry for their vision. “We wanted to honor the old roadside cafés and highway diners, and we wanted a name that suggested a lasting tradition,” says Winkstern. Day and night, you’ll find the Art Deco dining room packed with locals and travelers hopping off Interstate 35 for a bite of the past.

Sartin’s Seafood

Nassau Bay

When the original Sartin’s opened in Sabine Pass in 1971, the public’s response was widespread addiction to its version of barbecued crabs. Legend holds that the recipe originated in the 1940s at a nearby seaside crab shack called Granger’s, but the Sartin family made the dish famous in the 1970s, after they opened a series of restaurants in the area. Through the years there have been more than a dozen Sartin locations, but many—including the flagship café—have fallen victim to hurricanes. The Nassau Bay restaurant opened after Hurricane Rita took out a Beaumont location in 2005 (a new Sartin’s will open in Beaumont this summer). Other locations in Nederland and Beaumont offer the same style of barbecued crabs, but they’re under different ownership.

The Shed Cafe


When you happen upon four dining rooms packed with members of the Red Hat Society and the weekend Harley-Davidson set, you know you’ve found a destination country café. Since opening in 1970 at the intersection oft wo tiny ribbons of highway winding through the Piney Woods, The Shed has pulled in big crowds, especially at lunch. If lines are streaming out through the screen doors, just sit a spell on the front porch until there’s room inside.


See full article in July 2008 issue. 

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