Home-away-from-home cookin'

Talk to me a minute about this term "home cooking." When is the last time you had this kind of food at home? Fried chicken, wilted greens, chicken-fried steak with cream gravy, chocolate pie, sweet biscuits, mashed potatoes? I don't think so. Even if you allow yourself a thousand fat grams a day, you don't cook this way at home. Surely it isn't just at my house that "home cooking" means pizza, boneless chicken breasts (does anyone have a cookbook called 100 ways to cook a skinned chicken?) and pasta, pasta, pasta? Home cooking these days is that which can be prepared in less than the Domino's delivery time. Old-fashioned home cooking takes time--lots of time. Time to bread and fry, time to mix and bake, time to stew. Instead of a two-minute blanch, you have to slo-o-ow way down and cook those vegetables hard. Pour off the grease, make a roux, whisk the gravy. "Home cooking" demands attention, it's a full-time job and most of us already have one, thank you very much. No, "home cooking" is restaurant food. And Gennie's Bishop Grill is the immortal grandmother of Dallas' home-cooking restaurants, everyone's home-away-from-home. Just like dinner at home, the choice is minimal: meat and two veg, meat and three veg, an all-vegetable plate. You eat what's served. Or you'll see it the next day in a casserole. The meat and vegetables themselves vary--it might be fried chicken, or macaroni and cheese, it might be liver and onions, or chicken and broccoli casserole. It's always chicken fried steak and greens. The cafeteria-style line starts with desserts, then blends into salads, such as they are--how can you tell that the gelatin and fruit is a salad but the bananas and pudding is a dessert?

There are those who swear by Gennie's chicken fried steak, and though I've been disappointed in it occasionally, on my last visit, it was as fine as chicken-fried can be--the crust still crispy under the pasty, peppery gravy. (The best is still made at home.) Liver--I didn't say calf's liver--with its deep brown, not too thick gravy poured over the mashed potatoes, too, was surprisingly tender, and a disgusting looking mixture of broccoli (cooked till its little florets disintegrated) and stewed chicken was good if you closed your eyes. The greens were bright, not, thankfully, boiled to quite the point of limpness that the strictest southern veggie cooks demand. Yeast rolls were airy and sugar-sweet; jalapeo cornbread, heavy and hot. Of course, you can't miss the peanut butter pie made nationally famous by Jane and Michael Stern, though I actually like the chocolate pie just as well. And if you didn't mistake it for a salad course, the banana pudding is pretty good, too.

I've heard lots of grousing lately about Gennie's Bishop Grill. There are those who complain that since Gennie's move to new, "fancier" digs, the food ain't what it used to be. (That's the "old grease" theory of restaurant kitchens. You know, the kitchen gets new pots and pans and the food is never the same again.) Everyone in Dallas complains, of course, if an institution changes. They don't like the new Farmers Market, they liked the fume-filled fruits of their youth. They lament the decline of Fair Park, but they never heard the symphony till it had a designer building. For a city that loves to tear down old things, we sure do complain about the new ones. Gennie's has also gotten some national recognition over the years; Yankees like the Sterns have "discovered" it, and no one likes it when their secret's been discovered. Lots of people--especially North Dallasites who felt adventurous just crossing the Trinity--thought Gennie's was their secret. I don't think there's that much difference between the new Gennie's and the old; it is, to quote another Yankee, David Byrne, the same as it ever was.

-Mary Brown Malouf

Gennie's BIshop Grill, 321 N. Bishop, 946-1752.Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Gennie's Bishop Grill:
Vegetable Plate: $4.10
Meat and One Vegetable $4.10
Meat and Two Vegetables $4.35
Meat and Three Vegetables $4.65
Desserts $1.25


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