Country comfort

Years ago as an occasional getaway, we decorated the back of a van, furnished it with a rug, some folding chairs, and a champagne bucket, and headed down I-35 to dinner at Durham House in Waxahachie. The specialty there was peanut soup, but the real attraction was the graceful old house and the feeling you'd gone somewhere.

We found ourselves in Waxahachie last weekend, the oldest spectators at Exactly What's fashion show of vintage clothes, a twinkle-lit extravaganza of polyester and platforms, worn by white-lipped waifs and rosy-cheeked Peter Noone look-alikes. (We were the only ones old enough to get the Peter Noone reference, of course, but there's no pride in that.) And, we found, there's nothing like an hour of looking once again at Lycra bellbottoms and pierced midriffs to work up a healthy appetite and an appreciation for CP Shades' no-fit apparel. So when the din had dimmed and the hip young things had left the runway and started to party, we left the party and went looking for something to eat on a small-town Texas Saturday night.

We strolled past the courthouse to the old Rogers Hotel, where Crazy Horse has the concession in the originally elegant dining room and the high-ceilinged old lobby, floored with tiny tile and lined with windows. We were warmly welcomed and seated near the windows, and fresh homemade bread was swiftly delivered, along with ice water (Waxahachie is dry, though you can bring your own) and the menu (it changes every week). Crazy Horse seemed to have vestiges of the big city work ethic still firmly in place.

No wonder. Owners Magid and Denise Paul Shavandy are Dallas veterans--Magid's resume includes Kathleen's Art Cafe and Le Chardonnay, and Denise has worked at Kathleen's as well as Ciao II. After years of working for someone else, a classified ad for the sale of "an upscale restaurant in Waxahachie" caught Magid's eye; four weeks later, the couple owned Crazy Horse (originally located on the opposite corner of the town square). Then they moved the business to the Rogers, a five-star antique dating from the days when Ellis County was the center of big cotton business. In the twenties, professional baseball teams--the White Sox, the Cubs, the Detroit Tigers--held spring training in Ellis County; in the basement underneath where we were sitting, there's the relic of a big spa built for their benefit.

Our meal was utterly charming and even romantic; surprisingly to me, snob that I am, it wasn't just the setting that made it so. Magid drives to Dallas for his fresh seafood and meat, so there's always fish and a filet on the menu, as well as some kind of game or lamb, a pasta, and usually shellfish. Everything is made to order, and you can tell. A plate of overlapping slices of grilled, tender slices of zucchini and squash came with a scoop of comforting, sweetly coarse polenta melted with goat cheese. A thin-crusted pizza was topped with garlic and fresh artichoke hearts cut into manageable size under just a light binding of cheese. Pounded, boneless breast of chicken was rolled around goat cheese, sauteed and sliced, then moistened with ratatouille. It was all a pointe and vivid-tasting.

We were seated by the plate glass in the darkened lobby with a view of the turreted courthouse, lit intermittently and dramatically that night by lightning and the pulse-flashing lights of most of Waxahachie's emergency vehicles, which were dispatched to deal with thunderstorm emergencies. As we recalled the secondhand glamour of the fashion show and enjoyed the up-to-the-minute preparations on the plate, we felt like we were farther away than 45 minutes from the inflated glamour of Dallas. And we wished we could check in.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Crazy Horse Cafe, 103 E. Main St., Waxahachie, (972) 938-9818. Open for lunch daily 11 a.m.-2 p.m; for dinner Wednesday-Saturday 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

Crazy Horse:
Pizza with Artichokes, Spring Onions, Rosemary and Arugula $10.95

Chicken Breast with Goat Cheese and Watercress with Ratatouille $13.95

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