I grew up in a frugal household. After witnessing Houston's boom and bust in the 70's, my parents were classic penny pinchers—they clipped coupons, insisted I bring my lunch to school, chose the library over a bookstore for fresh books, flew Southwest Airlines, championed the benefits of a free education and encouraged me to earn and save my own money. And no fancy restaurants for my family—instead you’d find us every Wednesday walking the line at Luby’s. Why? Because on Wednesdays, kids could eat for free.
While Luby’s was never cool, I actually enjoyed my weekly meal there. The possibilities were endless, a 30-foot long buffet of whatever you wanted. You’d start with the Jello, lettuce and fruit salads, then slide your tray along the rails to the meats (where there was always a whole nicely browned turkey and juicy hunk of prime rib just waiting for carving), then the vegetables (yes, macaroni and cheese is a vegetable), the breads (clover rolls, cornbread and Texas toast), the desserts (cream pies, cobblers and more Jello) and the drinks (Coke, milk and iced tea). I’m stuck in my ways, so I always ordered the same thing, a Lu Ann Platter with fried fish, mashed potatoes, green beans and a roll. When I became a rebellious teenager, however, I switched from fish to liver and onions and added fruit salad and corn bread to my meal. But it didn’t matter what I ordered, it was always lip-smacking good.
Luby’s recently celebrated its 60th anniversary and there are a couple of new books to hallmark the occasion. First there’s Luby’s Recipes and Memories Cookbook, which has all of its recipes, from lime congeal to the very popular fried fish. There’s also a new book from the University of Texas Press called House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby's Cafeterias. This fascinating look at Luby’s is one-part business primer, one-part Texana, one-part food history with a little bit of true crime to keep it spicy. It’s scintillating reading even if you’ve never been to a cafeteria. Not only do you learn how to treat your staff, you’re also made privy to Luby’s recipes (reprinted as they were originally typed) and discover why Texas allows concealed weapons.
Of course, all this reading doesn’t beat the real deal—making a trip to the local Luby’s—but it satisfied my yearning just enough until the next trip home.
I leave you with Luby’s recipe for liver and onions, my old badge of youthful insurgency. You may be asking, “Why not the fried fish? Everyone loves those perfect rectangles of crunchy, moist, flaky fish!” to which I reply: when was the last time you saw a recipe for fried liver on a blog?
Luby's liver and onions
2 1/4 lbs beef liver, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 large onion, sliced 1/4 inch slices
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1 cup milk
2 extra-large eggs
3 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Soak liver in cold salted water for 15 to 20 minutes.
In 10-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat.
Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned.
Sprinkle with salt.
In a shallow bowl, whisk together milk and eggs until well blended.
Place bread crumbs in separate shallow bowl.
Rinse liver under cool running water.
Pat dry with paper towels.
Dip into milk mixture, then into bread crumbs, coating evenly.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.
Add liver and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
Top with onions.
What are your favorite dishes at Luby's? Do you have any Luby's memories to share?
Thursday, January 04, 2007