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 hip, 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 cornbread to my meal. But it didn’t matter what I ordered, it was always lip-smacking good.
When Luby’s celebrated its 60th anniversary, two books were published to commemorate the occasion. First there was Luby’s Recipes and Memories Cookbook, which has many of its recipes, from lime congeal to the very popular fried fish. It’s now out of print, but (very expensive!) used copies can be found.
There was also a 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 pounds beef liver, cut into 4 steaks
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Place the liver in a mixing bowl. Cover with water and let it soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, while stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned. Remove from the skillet and season to taste with salt.
In a shallow bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs until well blended. Place the bread crumbs on a plate.
Rinse the liver under cool running water and then pat dry with paper towels. Lightly season each side with salt and pepper. Dip into the milk mixture, then into the bread crumbs, coating evenly.
Pour the oil into the skillet that you used for the onions, and turn the heat to medium heat.
After the oil has heated, add the liver and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Top with the onions.