Filling the Gaps: Backstreet Café

Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
I had to put the beignets in the background, as my wife had already started attacking them.
I've lived in Houston for 22 years. It took me 16 of those to visit the Rothko Chapel for the first time. I didn't eat at Ninfa's on Navigation until I'd counted myself a Houstonian for nearly a decade. I still haven't eaten at Frenchy's. The list of glaring omissions goes on and on. Before you boot me from the city for civic negligence, or at least refuse to continue allowing me to write about Houston food, let me assure you that 2014 is the year I start fixing this problem. I'm making a list of places. Places I should have been by now. Places even I can't believe I haven't visited. This is the year I get (re)acquainted with my city. Maybe you'll find a few from your own list in these posts. And, I encourage you to follow suit.

I've driven past Backstreet Café more times than I can count. Each time, I would comment to myself or others, "We really need to go there sometime." We never did. It's hard to pin down exactly why. On a recent, semi-surprise Monday off I decided to change that.

I recently started a new job, with a new schedule, giving me midweek days off on a regular basis. My wife and I have decided that we'll use these as date days, taking the child-free opportunity for a more civilized lunch than is normally within our grasp. As we drove around somewhat aimlessly, I started throwing out names of places we'd never been to, places that would be suitable locations for impromptu fancy lunches. Backstreet stuck. I checked their website for hours, checked with Twitter to make sure our blue -jean attire would be acceptable, checked my wallet for a few bucks for the valet, and we were off.

As we made our way through the doors and to the host stand, we also made up our minds: We would prefer to sit on the patio, thank you. I can't count how many times I'd heard the Backstreet patio lauded as one of the best in the city, and we were certainly not going to pass it up on one of those gorgeous winter days that make Houston feel like it just might be the best place in the world.

The charmingly tucked-in dining rooms seemed to fan out around that patio, giving the whole place a warm, sunlit feeling on such a lovely day. A fountain gurgled in the center; a lively table of lunching ladies competed with the gentle chirping of what would turn out to be not so genteel birds; dappled light filtered through an old oak. We had chosen ... wisely. When it came to perusing the menu, we found it a bit harder to choose.

While everything on the menu sounded good, very few things really stood out. In a way, it probably speaks to the restaurant's longevity. This is a menu that seems to focus on solid execution -- find things that work, and do them well. This is a very good thing to find in a restaurant.

For me, the eye-catchers were split between the small plates, offered as "Beginnings," and the seafood plates on the main stage. Lately, I find myself more and more drawn to the appetizer section of many menus, where chefs seem less beholden to the status quo mind-set on display in the meat/starch/veg format that still dominates main courses.

This story continues on the next page.

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Love this series, but, honestly, you've yet to have the true Backstreet experience until you've had their brunch. One-of-a-kind, both in terms of menu and atmosphere. My first ever bloody mary was from there at 29 and I'm not sure I've ever been the same. :)


Nicholas - loved the story, very very well written and the imagery was spot-on! Looking forward to more stories in this series.

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