Smith: Texas diner big on flavor, not frills

DALLAS | Perhaps not Chicago or Detroit, Minneapolis or Seattle, and certainly not in New York City would you find a place like Bubba’s on the edge of an exclusive neighborhood like Highland Park in Dallas.

 

Even with all the ranching, western and Hispanic influence, Texas remains imbued with a traditional southern culture and nowhere will you find it in greater abundance than at a place called Bubba’s on Hillcrest Avenue.

The menu proudly proclaims: “Imagine a good ‘ol country boy who moved to the Big City but never could shake the hankerin’ for ‘down-home’ food like his Mama cooked for him. That’s the inspiration for Bubba’s. You’re gonna like our real good food. It’s not fancy and we serve a lot of it … in a casual and comfortable atmosphere that will remind you of a small-town café from the past. You gotta try it … we hope to see you soon!”

The architecture smacks of a designer who grew up in a lean-to. Nonetheless, it is pleasing for those who take good food seriously, but not themselves. There are Formica table tops and tile flooring, booths and an atmosphere of hospitality that makes you feel at home, even if you normally wake up 900 miles away.

Outside, a patio attracts the hearty in the dead of winter and Big D’s debilitating humidity in summer. Young couples with jogging carriages often show up here on the weekend. During the week, you see business professionals, Southern Methodist University students, a drifter or two. For every Lexus and Mercedes, there is a Ford Exhibition, a Range Rover or a Chevy Tahoe. When it comes to food at Bubba’s, nobody is checking IDs, bank statements or net worth. The helpings are ample, the food is hot and the service is timely.

Arriving early on a recent Saturday, I found a table outside on a sun-kissed morning with an atmosphere that was as down-home as Yesterday’s Cafe in Greensboro. The pace was benign and the view offered a shimmering reflection off the downtown Dallas skyscrapers, which had the illusion of being within arms-length.

My table made me feel at home in that I was between a couple of rows of hedges. Everything was red except for the burnt orange logos of Texas aficionados, the maroon of Texas A and M, the red of Oklahoma and the blue hues of Mustang advocates – the SMU campus literally a stone’s throw away.

An elderly gentleman approached with an Irish Setter on a short leash. “Could you allow some space,” he asked as he pulled up a chair before an answer was forthcoming. I not only felt accommodating, but also sentimental. An Irish Setter is canine royalty. My favorite book dating back when was an outdoor story of a dog named “Big Red,” also the title of the book. While written for kids, I am sure I would enjoy a re-read, but only by an indolent fire with autumn leaves turning and a harvest moon showering reflections of faith, hope and charity.

Soon the setter and his master took leave, with a nod and a thumbs-up wave. I wanted Big Red to stay. My disappointment was ameliorated as a mocking bird symphony, which had caught my ear upon arrival, sounded forth with lift and stimulation. You can find the Northern mockingbird most anywhere, but it is doubtful that you will find more anywhere than in Dallas. They never stop singing, but what’s there not to like about that? Especially at breakfast.

Oh yeah, the food at Bubba’s. That’s what we came for. Bubba’s “cooks country” seven days a week, from 6:30 a.m. till 10 p.m., specializing in breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, grits, hash browns and muffins. At lunch you have a choice of mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, baked beans, yellow squash, green beans, pinto beans, lima beans, corn-on-the-cob, candied yams, okra and tomatoes, yellow squash, black-eyed peas and fruit salad. Many of those dishes accompany the dinner menu, which is headlined by fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, chicken livers, catfish and chicken-fried steak.

There is football talk year-round and you can find a leading conversationalist in Mark Vincent, a savvy local lawyer who started his football career at SMU. Then came the notorious death penalty in 1987. He subsequently distinguished himself at Georgia. “If SMU and Georgia ever played in a bowl game,” Mark grinned, “I would wear my Georgia cap.”

Big Red would have been disappointed with me if I didn’t buy breakfast for my Dawg pal. Not to worry – Bubba’s offers economic incentive and they don’t charge extra for the mockingbird symphony.

 

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