Crandall Cotton Gin
1500 E. Hwy. 175, Crandall
You know you're pulling into a special restaurant when the motorcycle parking section is labeled "Hog Pen." But Crandall Cotton Gin has reason to push such quaint crap--and, to their credit, there are no "chile today and hot tamale" signs around.
The restaurant occupies a spacious corrugated structure that housed an honest-to-goodness gin back in the 1920s, or so the story goes. The town supported both a gristmill and cotton gin since the 1880s, a few years after the railroad came through.
That's about it for history. It's Crandall, after all--a town created in some parson's backyard that has always clung to the edges of Dallas.
And that's also the beauty of this restaurant.
It feels authentically small town, as if the metro area were hours away. Well-fed guests waddle in for fried foods and lively recaps of Crandall Pirates games. Waitresses warm to you quickly and apologize for little mistakes like not setting out butter with the bread by saying "well, it's no good without butter--I'll bring you some," while reaching over to the next booth for a basket of butter packets.
When we ordered the catfish, our waitress blurted "oh, I want to sit down and join you"--and for good reason. As long as you order the catfish, you've ordered well.
Crunchy on the outside, firm and murky underneath the crust, seasoned with intent so pepper and salt surge across the palate...this is the old, poverty-stricken South, a culture that understood bottom dwelling fish and otherwise unwanted greens.
Yeah, the cornbread is dry and hushpuppies can be undercooked, but at least they're savory and warm. One of the entrees is listed as hamburger steak, though it's more of a pounded flank cut, stringy yet meaty in flavor, covered in grilled onions with a bowl of nondescript brown gravy on the side--a reminder of honest, hometown meals. The meat isn't necessarily all that good. When I was a kid, however, I loved this dish.
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Of course, back then I'd never had a thick slab of rare prime beef.
Aside from catfish, the best thing on Crandall Cotton Gin's menu may be the cheese tater tots. In fact, it's hard to imagine a side dish so simply and expertly prepared--which merely means they cook up the tots until a crispy edge develops and use cheddar sparingly. This last is the key. So many places selling cheese fries or cheese tots ladle on mounds of melting curd until the potatoes practically disappear. But Crandall's tots soak up most of the cheese, so you're rewarded with crunchiness and chewiness at the same time.
OK--a minor pleasure, at best. Still a rare one, though.
If you happen by, go ahead and stop. If you own a Harley and there's live music out back, there's plenty of designated parking. It's quaint appeal doesn't seem out of place.