Feeling at home, for me, means knowing my favorite wine bar and my go-to restaurant, and having a handful of cafes that I can count on for a pick-me-up chai. The equation seems about right; wine + food + coffee shop = home. After transplanting to Houston about a year ago, I finally feel at home.
One restaurant that has made Houston home for me is the classic, Backstreet Cafe. I visited Backstreet Cafe a number of times before moving to Houston. Back then, I was juggling a long-distance relationship and busy job – it was hard to feel at home anywhere. But, at Backstreet Cafe I knew the menu, the always-gracious servers became familiar faces, and slowly, I started to feel at home. The fact that Backstreet Cafe literally is a quaint two-story house makes it all the more a symbol of “home.” The cooks still use the original tiny kitchen, and the back-yard is an expansive patio, perfect for a long lazy weekend brunch under sun rays and lush trees.
Executive Chef Hugo Ortega is a Houston legend, and Backstreet Cafe has been his home for a long time too.
“He began his career in the restaurant business at Backstreet Cafe, first as dishwasher and busboy and later as a line cook before graduating from Houston Community College’s culinary program and later becoming its executive chef and owner, along with wife Tracy Vaught.”
Chef is a three-time finalist for Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious James Beard Awards. Chef also has other restaurants in Houston including Caracol and his namesake Hugo’s. Chef inspires not only with his story, but also with his food.
I know, I know, I am about to get to the good part, the FOOD. The menu changes routinely, but there are a number of staple dishes. I recommend going with “off the menu” specials. The off the menu fish dishes have never disappointed me. And, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you are still a priority guest at Backstreet – there a number of on the menu and off the menu options for you.
Here are some highlights from my last visit:
Seared Scallops ($32)
roasted corn puree, zucchini, pesto, herb dressing
This entrée scallops dish comes with four large scallops, perfectly seared. The plate is loaded with the roasted corn puree, which makes this dish quite filling considering how light scallops can be. The corn pairs perfectly with the scallops, and the other elements on the dish (pesto and zucchini) add a variation of flavors so you can modify each bite as you please.
Off the Menu Special: Red Fish (MKT)
As noted above, when there is an off the menu fish entrée, you should order it. This was as delicious as it looks. The fish had a nice crisp layer, but flaked away with the touch of a fork. The puree was somewhat similar to the scallop dish, but included spinach and potatoes.
For vegetarian options, we had the mushroom risotto and the penne pasta (pictured below) and both were delicious. I have also had the vegetarian enchiladas (you can ask for them – only the chicken ones are on the menu). Even as an omnivore, sometimes I prefer the vegetarian ones.
I shared this meal with my family when they visited me in Houston. I was proud to call Houston home.