The best little steakhouse in Texas

texas beef

Above: Now THAT’S a fine piece of meat! Bone-in rib eye is the preferred cut for steak in Texas.

Now, mind you, Pearland, Texas is not exactly on my beaten path. In fact, it’s a suburb of Houston about 40 minutes south of the city.

Last night, I gladly made the schlep with cousins Joanne and Marty to have dinner with their friend Deedee Killen at her family’s Killen’s steakhouse in Pearland. For months now, my cousins have been raving about the amazing meals they’ve had there and so last night we made the plunge.

texas beef

Above: The key to Chef Ronnie’s iceberg wedge with blue cheese was the creaminess of the dressing.

As much as Texas is known for its beef, its love of beef, and its tide of steakhouses (Dallas has its own “steakhouse row”), I have to admit that I’ve been disappointed with my own personal steakhouse experiences here. But all that changed last night.

texas beef

Above: Chef Ronnie’s crab cake is made with hand-shredded crab meat as opposed to ground. This was, hands-down, the best crab cake I’ve ever had.

The American steakhouse is like a sonnet. Using a rigid and highly codified format, the steakhouse chef is like a poet who has to assemble the same elements given to every troubadour and that artifice must be delivered within the confined space of 14 lines. The success of the poet and steakhouse owner is based on the ingenuity with which that reassembly takes places. Scanning and parsing dishes and the packed house at Killen’s on a Tuesday night, I’d have to rank Killen’s in the same league as Shakespeare.

texas beef

Above: The American steakhouse canon is happily frozen in the 1950 and 60s. Is that a baked potato the way you remember them from when you were a kid or WHAT?

Down at Killen’s, which retains the homey air of a family-friendly restaurant while allowing plenty of wiggle room for the fat cat high rollers, they’re still talking about a 2008 visit from Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle (a great guy and super fun to taste with). That meal landed Chef Ronnie and family in the magazine’s Top Ten Best Restaurant Dishes 2008 for their bread pudding.

texas beef

Above: Even I ate dessert last night. Tracie P will be the first to tell you that I rarely enjoy sweets. But, man, when it’s this good… Chef Ronnie makes the brioche in house.

There was even more than one bottle of wine I could drink on the list, which had judiciously restrained pricing on all the usual suspect Napa Valley “Cabs,” a refreshing surprise for the steakhouse category, where 300% and 400% markups are generally the norm.

Marty and Joanne couldn’t believe how much I ate. I was like that little kid, who gets taken to a steakhouse for the first time, and just can’t believe how big the baked potato is. Everything you want a steakhouse to be…

In other news…

Tracie P on Greco di Tufo…

Nebbiolo Super Freak: gulf oysters and Produttori del Barbaresco


It’s a very kinky pairing/the kind you don’t bring home to mother…

In Italian you say, ti tolgo il saluto, literally, I withdraw my greetings from you.

I imagine that’s what Franco will say to me tomorrow at the Vini Veri tasting when he learns that Tracie B and I paired Nebbiolo with oven-fired gulf oysters last night.

Since I moved to Texas last year, gulf oysters have become something of an obsession. I’ve always been a fan of the mollusk but I never thought the shucked shellfish of New York and Long Island could be beat. That lasted until I tasted my first gulf oyster in New Orleans last month.

Above: Coalminer Mark, aka Mark Sayre, aka “the best sommelier in Austin” serves 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco by the glass at happy hour at Trio, the excellent steakhouse in the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. The wine list is killer, the comfort food appetizers menu is yummy, the prices are right, and the valet parking is FREE! Run, don’t walk.

The 2007 harvest in Langa was a classic vintage and will potentially be a great one, probably similar to 96, 01, and 04 in its profile. The 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco was showing handsomely last night and I cannot conceal that I am ENTIRELY geeked someone in Austin is doing it by-the-glass at a happy hour price. Wine director Coalminer Mark of the Four Seasons and the San Diego Kid might just have to bury the hatchet.

Above: Tracie B’s boss Jon Gerber served raw gulf oysters at his annual “Shuck and Suck Crawfish Boil,” a yearly blow-out party, benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

Nebbiolo and spicy, oven-fired gulf oysters? An unconventional pairing to say the least, but the freshness of the Langhe Nebbiolo and its lighter body and acidity was delightful with savory oyster and chorizo that adorned its silky surface. Hey, Franco, call me a Super Freak… ;-) I’ll see you tomorrow in Isola della Scala.

In other news…

The Italian wine trade fairs start today and I’m about to get on a plane for Venice. Stay tuned: next post from Italia…