“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Well I’m no man, but that is the one characteristic I share with many of them. I love food, all kinds. From junk food to Italian food to soul food to any food, I am truly an equal opportunity foodployer!
Eating, and especially eating with those that we love, is such a seamlessly surreal experience. Many of us never bother to put into words how joyous, complete, nurturing, and inspiring it is to share a meal with the ones that we love. We merely do as we are accustomed to doing. We simply enjoy.
I was raised by a wonderful group of women that believed the way to anyone’s heart was indeed through their stomach. Having an empty refrigerator was not the norm for my family. Not seeing a pot of something cooking, no matter what time of the day it happen to be, was always a sure sign that something was not right or that something needed to be tended to. We are all cooks. I, my sister, my mother, my grandmother, my aunties and my great grandmothers, we are all women that put their hearts into the meals that feed those we love. After all, when we feed others we are nurturing their souls with love from our hearts and ingredients from all of God’s gifts.
My mother was raised in Dyersburg, Tennesse, the small town in which I spent many of my summers. During that time, Dyersburg bragged a population of less than thirteen thousand.
It always was and still is a very interesting town. All the whites stayed to the north of the railroad tracks. Their homes were usually made of brick or some type of modest vinyl siding. All the blacks stayed to the south of the railroad tracks. Their homes were usually made of old used wood. They were small and box like. The porches often doubled for extensions of the kitchen. It was on the porch that the extra refrigerator sat alongside a table or two. There in Dyersburg, Tennesse, I first learned to love not only food, but the people who prepared it.
From smelling fresh growing tomatoes in the neighbor’s yard as I made my way to my grandmother’s house on Fair Street – the one that her father built for her and his other two daughters – to introducing myself to my summer neighbors as Joyce Jean’s granddaughter, merely to ask for a plate of smoked pork that I could smell smoking on their grill. Food holds such a special place in my heart, in my soul.
So in the spirit of continuing my journey to make Houston my home and “find my heart,” for my first blog inspired outing I chose to find a new Sunday brunch venue in Houston.
Everything is big in Texas. This holds true for their restaurants as well. I remember when I first arrived in Houston. It was no Dyersburg, although, I’m discovering Dyersburgish areas all the time. It was no Chicago, yet there are many areas that reminded me of home’s beauty, diversity, urbanness, and unfulfilled potential. I was blown away by the number of restaurants that surrounded this great city. Traveling along highway 59, it is virtually impossible to count all of the restaurants waiting to feed locals and tourist alike. Still it was hard to find a great breakfast spot that was not commercial but instead was like being at home.
Finding a great breakfast kitchen at home was as easy as going to 79th street, 87th street, 75th street, or anywhere on Western Avenue. I think of the smothered pork chops at Izolas, served with eggs over easy – just like I like them so that I can drown them in ground pepper and just a little salt. At Army and Lou’s I remember the enormous pancakes and homemade sausage. I was never able to finish a plate there. And on hurried mornings when mom and I had very little time, we’d hit White Castle on 79th street to grab a great “just like grandma would make” egg sandwich, always with two strips of bacon.
There is no Army and Lou’s here. No Izola’s, and definitely no White Castle. But those flavors still remain on my pallet. The aromas still tickle my nose. The remnants of fullness continue to haunt my heart. The taste of home still lingers in the private place between my tongue and my frenulum (fancy word huh! I googled it).
But my stomach is empty! Really!
After writing last week’s blog, I immediately began to look for a new place to experience and share. I knew that I’d be dining alone, so I began to work early on accepting the fact that there was no mom to call, no sister to call, and no last resort friend to treat just for the company. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be alone at all. My son DeVon had flown in from Dallas and he was all too willing to go grab a free meal with his mom. So off we were to Rio Ranch on Westheimer in Houston for Sunday Brunch.
Rio Ranch was technically about twenty minutes from my house. Since I’m more familiar with where things are in Houston, but not necessarily how to get there, the trip took us about forty five minutes and a half of a quarter’s tank of gas, much more than necessary. Still, the ride was really cleansing.
DeVon is approaching twenty years of age and is on his own for the first time in our lives. We’ve both hit a rather rocky road towards his manhood, but we are starting to come upon the more scenic and enjoyable parts of our trip together into his own. The extra twenty minutes gave us time to talk about his new home near Dallas, the friends he’s met there so far, and his progressing plans. It was nice, talking to the son I’d raised, the one that disappeared on me for a short time.
Rio Ranch offered an enormous buffet selection. I’ve had to get used to the idea of breakfast tacos since I’ve been here. They’re actually pretty good, and Rio Ranch does a wonderful breakfast taco station with refried and charro beans, guacamole, salsa, huervos, pico de galo, and flour tortillas. Then there was my favorite station at any brunch buffet, the waffle and pancake station. In addition, there was the omelet selection, where the gentleman dressed in chef’s white with a black baseball cap, made whatever type of omelet one could imagine. In the middle of the breakfast area sat a vast array of sweet and ripe fruits, yogurts, cereals, potatoes, pastries, bagels with cream cheese, lox, capers, and Bermuda Onions and an assortment of meats.
We sat close to each other and just like he used to do whenever we went out “cheating” on his brothers, he waited for me to go to the buffet first. I returned with just a few fruit items, my half of a waffle with strawberries, and an Activa. I really need that these days. Then it was DeVon’s turn.
In true DeVon fashion, he returned with a plate full of pancakes and French toast, both drowned in berries, pecans, whipped cream, and maple syrup. His other plate contained a couture omelet full of his favorites; bell peppers, onions, ham, jalapeno peppers, bacon, tomatoes, and chives. Then of course his meal wasn’t going to be complete without his two meat selections. He chose both sausage and bacon.
I topped off my meal with a great $4 mimosa. As for Devon, me being the wonderful mother that I am, I ordered my growing almost man an ice tall glass of milk! And finally . . . we talked.
While the waiter cautiously, politely, and considerately monitored our table to see when we were in need of anything, I listened to the son I’d worked nineteen years on. As the manager came and asked us if we were okay, I looked at the son I admired with all my heart. As we overheard the couple seated next to us and laughed about how nurturing the woman was being to her husband, almost motherish, I looked at my growing manchild and remembered that Dyersburg feeling. I recalled that feeling of eating collard greens cooked with smoked meat and served with garden fresh tomatoes. I remembered that feeling of watching my grandmother Joyce slowly sip on her second Pepsi of the day, before 3pm. I lingered on that feeling of knowing that while grandma kneeded her dough, I’d have to wait until the next day to actually eat what was to become freshly prepared yeast rolls. I recalled what eating was and what it wasn’t. It’s never really about the food at all. It’s almost always about the company. Thank you Rio Ranch for a great Sunday brunch. Thank you DeVon for the great company.