I was supposed to meet friends for supper at 7 that evening, leaving everyone time to do their laundry later. But my meeting ran late, then my after-meeting ran late, and then I found out my car was threatening me with that irritating fuel light which means that, in reality, you could drive to Oklahoma but not without worrying yourself sick the whole way.
Even though I was only going a short distance, I caved in and stopped for gas. Plus, I was coming across town, which means I had to cross Central, which is sort of like fording the Mississippi in a Mazda.
So I didn't get to the restaurant until 7:30 p.m., and when I finally did slide into a booth, I was in what my mother calls a "tizzy."
Lemmon Avenue Bar and Grill is as unpretentious as a restaurant can get. They don't really even advertise themselves as serving "home cooking" (which, when you think about it, is one of the more pretentious claims a restaurant can make), though that's how they're categorized in publications that list by cuisine category.
Neither are they that pious kind of home-cooking place that pretends to purity by not having a bar. There's an area set aside just for those who want a brew and view of someone else's TV. But they're not just in business for that alcohol mark-up.
It's plain that food comes first here. And there are no fake-Mom waitresses; the staff are friendly but businesslike and seem satisfied to keep a professional distance. (Gosh, I can't even remember if our waiter told us his first name.)
This was a mid-week dinner anyway; a glass of wine or a beer was all anyone wanted. Pot roast was more to the point, and that's what I ordered: a pile of stewed beef, sliced, chunked, disintegrating along the grain, covered in stiff shoe-brown gravy with thick winter carrot chunks and potatoes.
We ordered substantial fare all round--not a salad trio or plate of pasta in sight that night. Instead, chicken and dumplings, a shallow bowl of pleasantly pasty strips swimming in soupy sauce. A little lacking in the chicken department, but our cooperative waiter carried it back to the kitchen like Oliver Twist and asked for more.
A special, the ribeye steak, was not an expensive grade of beef but was red within, salty and dark without, with a satisfying chew. Sides were plain--almost too plain; we all reached for salt and pepper on the corn, beans, squash, potatoes, and salad. Baskets of corn muffins and yeast rolls disappeared, sopped with butter and honey.
And we even indulged in a chocolate milkshake, definitely not an at-home dessert in the Cleaver stereotype, but soothing and thick enough to stand a straw. On the more homey side was a stellar piece of chocolate cake.
So I left, too late to do the laundry, but soothed, comforted by nothing special.
LA Grill (as it calls itself with tongue in metaphorical cheek because no place in Dallas could be less glitzy or glamorous) does not serve fabulous food. And it does not try for nostalgia, either. Heck, it's not even cute.
Still, our meal there made life seem manageable again. Even if nothing had changed except maybe our definition of home cooking.
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After all, what is important? Friends and food together. That's home cooking. It has a lot less to do with lard than attitude, more to do with atmosphere than decoration, more to do with the company than, well, the food.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Lemmon Avenue Bar & Grill, 4330 Lemmon Ave., 521-4730. Open Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Lemmon Avenue Bar and Grill:
Pot roast $6.95
Chicken and dumplings $6.25
Ribeye steak $12.50
Chocolate milkshake $1.25
Chocolate cake $3.25