Ever since the serpent tempted Eve into eating the forbidden apple and giving some to Adam, there’s been great debate through the centuries on where and what was the tastiest dish to eat.
Like most things, it’s a competition.
I remember in my 20s and 30s, perhaps the biggest challenge among men was to find the best chicken fried steak. That would have been in the 1960s and 70s.
Interestingly, that challenge is still ongoing, and has spread to comparisons of a variety of menu items. Who has the best?
In some contests, it’s also who serves the biggest. If you’ve ever eaten a “saddlebag,” that means you’ve had a chicken fried steak that hangs off the sides of a serving platter.
Sometimes fries are sprinkled on top or served on a separate plate with a bowl of cream gravy.
Or if you’ve had a “hubcap,” that means you’ve had a double jumbo-sized hamburger.
Trying to find the best Mexican food restaurant has always been a hunt and seek.
Tastes and memories always run together in my culinary categories. So, Moreno’s Mexican always stands out as my favorite.
It was located against a freight rail line leading into the Humble Oil & Refining Co.’s refinery in Old Baytown.
It was a family operation that sated enough Baytown families to send son Willie to Rice Institute where he received his architectural degree.
Then there was Pace’s Place in Goose Creek, across the street from Commerce Food Market.
Mr. and Mrs. Pace made tamales at home each night, and if you didn’t get to their small dining room with eight counter stools and three tables by 11:30 a.m., you were out of luck.
The Paces sent three daughters to college out of what Mr. Pace called our “little joint.”
I was more of a hamburger kid growing up in Baytown, and we had a great variety of burger palaces to choose from.
Shorty’s Little Snack Shack was down the street from my house. Being generous, it was in a building about 15 feet by 30 feet, including the kitchen, counter and three tables.
There was usually a line outside waiting for “go” orders. It was worth the wait.
Shorty’s and Murph’s were both junior sized and both had a delicious, fresh hamburger aroma that lingers through the decades. Murph’s was across the street from Ashbel Smith Elementary School.
All you needed was a note from your mom to the principal that it was “okay for Bill to go to Mrs. Murph’s for lunch.” To this day, I sincerely believe Mrs. Murph’s first name was “Mrs.”
Then we had Brown’s Chicken Shack, Someburger, Trainer’s Drive-In and Vel Mar, which was a smaller drive-in with root beers in frosted mugs. Adam would have liked them, too.
We had Speedy’s Cafe (Speedy Hruby), Tri-City Cafe (Albert and Frenchy Kiber), Tyler Cafe (Perry Britton was the early leader in the chicken fried race) and for finer dining, it was the Tower Restaurant (Mayor Emmitt Hutto).
I’d be remiss without mentioning Gonzales Family Mexican Restaurant and the Manteres’ Rebel Inn for seafood.
The only way I’ll get into the dessert debate is to mention the Phoenix Dairy and the San Jacinto Creamery. Those two places introduced me to chocolate malts.
I’ve been letting my belt out ever since.
For a community of around 23,000 schoolboy sports fanatics, we had a long list of eateries.
When I was back in Baytown this spring for a 60th high school reunion, I made the rounds of all the above.
I’m sad to report all have vanished, replaced on every other corner by chain-named frozen food parlors and a population sign showing 70,000.
Thank goodness for my storeroom of memories (and aromas).
Reach BH at firstname.lastname@example.org.