100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 22, Roasted Pear Salad at Backstreet Cafe
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Groovehouse Who needs meat when salad is this good?
Every now and then, I write about how happy I am when I encounter an amazing salad that can hold its own among other, generally more substantial, and often more intricate dishes. I happen to love salads. I prefer them to steaks. But so often, salads get the boring treatment. Tear up some lettuce, splash on some dressing and voila! You have something green to eat with that 2,000-calorie bowl of pasta.
Backstreet Cafe's famous roasted pear salad is an exception to that rule. It's so great, it's on the cover of the Backstreet Kitchen cookbook, which also features gems like shrimp and grits and pecan-crusted chicken. But featuring a salad on the front of a cookbook that's largely upscale soul food with bits of Mexican, Italian and French cuisine mixed in just shows what a great dish it is. In fact, though the Backstreet Cafe menu changes seasonally, the pear salad isn't going anywhere.
What makes the salad such a standout is the gorgeous (and mouthwatering) poached pear stuffed with nuts, cranberries and blue cheese that serves as the centerpiece of the dish. The pears are poached in a sauce of olive oil, butter, garlic, star anise, allspice, green peppercorns, port and red wine for 45 minutes until the outside is lightly caramelized. Once they're cool enough, they're cored from the bottom and stuffed with the fruit/nut/cheese mixture, which takes on some of the heat from the pear.
Photo by Groovehouse You can order the dish halved to share. But I doubt you'll want to.
The pear alone would be quite a dish -- slightly spicy and with a bit of heat from the peppercorns, juicy with butter and red wine, earthy from the nuts and cheese -- but when served in salad form, it's even better. It's possibly the only thing that could get me to eat salad for breakfast.
Baby greens surround the pear on a plate that also incorporates blue cheese crumbles, dried cranberries and chopped walnuts. The dressing goes perfectly with the dish because, well, it's what made all the flavors what they are. In lieu of traditional salad dressing, the greens are drizzled with the leftover poaching liquid. Sweet, rich and oh-so-delicious. It's like Christmas in salad form, but it's wonderful any time of year.
For the record, the poached pears are in the fall/winter section of the cookbook. But as I said, the salad is too good to take off the menu. You can find it at Backstreet Cafe year-round.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.