Old-School Lucky's Cafe Is Taking a Stab at Local, and the Regulars Aren't Thrilled

A list of locally sourced ingredients at Lucky's
A list of locally sourced ingredients at Lucky's
Scott Reitz

I haven't seen this face in a while. I tell my waitress I want the "loud puppies," an almost-funny take on hush puppies that uses jalapeño to turn up the volume. She grimaces, subtly. Without saying a word her message is obvious: Don't order the loud puppies. I get the fried mushrooms instead.

I haven't been to Lucky's Cafe since nearly three years ago, when a Reuben sandwich failed to persuade me to return. Recently, though, I received a few inquiries about the Oak Lawn cafe. The kitchen has undergone some changes and nobody seems happy about them. In fact, a recent menu overhaul has some regulars in an uproar.

My waitress tells me Lucky's is trying to "keep up with the times." Over the kitchen, a chalkboard displays a selection of ingredients, all of them locally sourced. There are chickens from Dewberry Farms in Lexington, tomatoes from Village Farms in Marfa, and eggs from Vital Farms in Austin. The new ingredients come with a number of menu changes.

OK, so they're hardly local. Marfa is a long haul for tomatoes, and Austin remains in Austin. I wish that instead of "local" the Lucky's people had picked a more appropriate tagline. Something like, "Lucky's: Some of our ingredients don't suck as much as they used to."

Because the upgraded ingredients are actually pretty nice. Eggs from Vital Farms are noticeably better than the eggs most restaurants get from US Foods. You can tell the difference even after they've been fried up into an over-cooked omelet. Those whole chickens should have a lot more flavor, but when you attach the word "local," suddenly things don't sit so well with the casual diner set. Nixed menu items are causing some friction, too.

Chicken fried steak and the pot roast at Lucky's.
Chicken fried steak and the pot roast at Lucky's.
Scott Reitz

Not being a regular, I can't attest firsthand to the changes, but I will tell you the meal pictured above seemed fair for the price. The CFS was a little bready, but I devoured those green beans. Apparently they've been upgraded, too. They used to be steamed, but now they're roasted. I tried some roasted Brussels sprouts and liked them, too.

If you've been coming to Lucky's for years and you haven't been in the last few weeks, you're in for a surprise when you finally return. If you find the menu pisses you off like a few of the other regulars, I'd recommend you do your best to approach things with an open mind. And maybe start with an omelet.


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