Category: American Fare
Price Range: 20$-25$ per person.
Area: Montrose/River Oaks
Phone Number: 713-521-2239
My grandmother was in town for the Holiday, and every time Grandma is in town, the family takes her out to a nice dinner. My parents had planned to go to Pesce on Kirby, but I hadn’t heard great reviews of it. So of course, the honus was put on me (the ever faithful blogger) to find a better alternative.
My criteria were as follows: It needed to be a nice place (because it was Grandma’s special dinner). It needed to be relatively quiet (because Grandma doesn’t like loud places). It needed to not be Italian (because we had Italian on Christmas Eve). It needed to not be the obvious choice, Mark’s (because my folks had a bad experience last time they were there). So I started perusing Urban Spoon’s top 100 list for somewhere that wasn’t too chainy, and fit my criteria, and the first one I came to was the Backstreet Café. I ventured over to their website, and was looking through the menu, when I saw it: The meatloaf tower.
Now, I know that some people prefer their beef in fancy filets and succulent steaks, but I will take my meat loafed any day of the week. And to see a nice restaurant serving something called a meatloaf tower, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Plus, there was an added bonus that my Mom hadn’t eaten there, as we have an on-going challenge for me to find a good restaurant that she hasn’t yet been to.
I pulled up with my significant other, and called my parents, who were already seated. As we walked into the walled-in back porch of the restaurant, which appears to be a converted old house, the first thing my Mom says to me is “Actually, I have been here before. I forgot until I saw the restaurant. I have a friend who lives down the street, and we came for brunch one time.”
So I failed on that part. But I still was excited in anticipation of the meatloaf tower.
The restaurant is really pumped up by their wines. The first 8 or 10 pages of the menu are all wines. The Sommelier, A.K.A. the wine guy, Sean Beck was supposed to be very good. We had one of the selections off of his recommended list, a Wrath Sauvignon Blanc (get it, like Grapes of Wrath?). After describing what we were looking for, a white that was neither too dry nor too sweet, he said that it was exactly what we would want. It ended up being fabulous. Sean himself was a little dry at first, but loosened up as the evening went on. We thoroughly enjoyed the selection of local cheeses that came with the wine, and he was kind enough to scribble down the names of them so that we could find them ourselves. He definitely knew his stuff, and described the wines in a way where we didn’t feel stupid from his descriptions, but where we could figure out what he was talking about.
The great wine recommended by Sommelier Sean Beck
We ordered appetizers: spicy meatballs, mussels, and the aforementioned cheese plate. All were good, but I’m going to skip past them so that I can get to the meatloaf tower.
So for dinner, I bet you can guess what I ordered. That’s right, the meatloaf tower. I got a side of Mac ‘N’ Cheese to really complete that retro-vibe. The meatloaf was EXQUISITE. The slice was individually cooked and had a nice crust on it. The mashed potatoes were also delicious, and the presentation was beautiful. The sauce was kind of a red-wine beef sauce, which was also wonderful, with spinach in it. I don’t even like spinach, but when combined in a single bite with the potatoes and the meatloaf, it was great. Although it seems like meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and spinach all combined in a bite would be a mush overload, the way the meatloaf was cooked gave it a great textural feel in the mouth. It was just incredible.
At last, the elusive Meatloaf Tower!
The macaroni was also very good. It had a hint of bacon in it, and was homemade but managed to keep the cheese creamy. Anyone who’s made macaroni at home knows that there’s a risk of getting that weird coagulated cheese curd thing going on. It also had enough sauce to where it wasn’t dry, but stopped short of being soupy like when you make it out of the blue box. The individual was perfectly baked and had a great crispy shell on top.
The Mac 'N' Cheese, a huge step up from the Blue Box Blues.
My brother had the seafood risotto. A risotto is similar to rice-a-roni, but creamier. And fancier. It was loaded with shrimp, crab, scallops, lobsters and mussels. Now, my brother has not been to every fine restaurant in the world, but we’ve been lucky enough that our parents have taken us to many fine restaurants, both in the U.S. and in other countries. After he took his first bite, he stopped, considered, turned to the table, and declared that it was probably the most delicious thing he had ever eaten. And that is that.
My mom and grandma (like mother, like daughter) both ordered the Pistachio-crusted Rainbow Trout, in a tomato herb sauce, with corn pudding on the side. The trout was very light, and scrumptious (I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel for synonyms of “tasted good”). The corn pudding is like the jiffy-corn pudding that everyone’s mom makes, only not as sweet.
My dad ordered Shrimp and Grits. It was nicely grilled shrimp with a little spice to them, served over classic cheese grits. Very simple, but very good.
And lastly, the girlfriend ordered Pan Seared Sea Scallops, served on a Lemon Risotto. After the Meatloaf Tower, this dish probably had the best presentation. The scallops were perfectly cooked, and the risotto was again cooked perfectly. Anyone who has cooked scallops and risotto knows that neither of these is easy to accomplish.
Pan Seared Sea Scallops on a perfect Lemon Risotto
The entrees were just totally fabulous. We decided that when we come back, the way to choose our entrees will be based on the side dishes they come with. The food was perfectly priced for the quality, and the portions were solid. The food was everything you could ask for, but had familiar enough tastes that there probably wasn't anything on the menu that would scare off even picky eaters.
The place was still a little loud for grandma, but nothing out of the ordinary for a Midtown/River Oaks restaurant. The restaurant was nice, without being snooty. Most people were dressed in “business casual,” but there were ties and blue jeans there too, without being out of the ordinary. We had reservations, and you can actually make reservations through their website, but it was a late arriving crowd, so if you get there before about 7, you'll probably be ok without.
Backstreet also had what looked like a fabulous brunch menu, and we’ll have to be back for that sometime.
Overall: Backstreet Cafe is a great restaurant and offers a gourmet experience without the tiny gourmet portions or snooty gourmet atmosphere. We short it just a touch for the appetizers, but it's as close to perfect as we've had for a non-dessert restaurant. One of our new favorites, and already have plans to go back.
Positives: Every single one of the entrees was fabulous, priced right for the quality, service was attentive but not intrusive
Negatives: The appetizers, while not BAD, where not as good as the entrees; maybe a touch too loud, but that's being nitpicky