Dot's in Austin
- Rob Hargrove
I just ate lunch at Dot's Kitchen for the first time. It was one of the best meals I've had since moving here in the summer of 1997. I've read about Dot's for a while now, but inexplicably I had not made the trek to industrial North Austin to sample the food myself until today. As I type this (1:14 p.m. CST) I am still stuffed; please forgive any typos.
For those not from Austin, Dot's is a soul food cafeteria. If Gene's is Louisiana Food with a soul food twist, Dot's is pure, old-fashioned soul food. I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and as a child my family and I ate at the legendary Pete Harris cafe at least weekly. With this background, I have always been highly critical of many soul food establishments, as the Pete Harris Cafe is not just a soul food mecca, but The Best Restaurant I Have Ever Been To. That said, Dot's was outstanding.
Each day, the cafeteria serves up 8 entrees, and a meal also gets you a choice of two side dishes out of a possible dozen or so. Today, I had beef tips over rice, greens, and black-eyed peas. I finished with a sliver of chocolate merengue pie. Numerous salad offerings were available, but I did not try any.
The beef tips were an absolute triumph. Fork tender hunks of roast in a legitimate gravy. That's right people, real gravy. It was as if the cook said "wait a minute! I will not succomb to Austin's lackadasical approach to gravy. I will make a real beef stock, and use it to mix with real beef drippings and lots of pepper to make a legitimate, flavorful gravy! The gravy will be massivly flavorful, and yet it will not overpower the dish as it is the essence of the dish, nothing more, nothing less." I could have eaten just a huge bowl of the gravy over rice. My buddies got fried catfish and roast beef, both of which looked good.
The side dishes were solid, but not as noteworthy as the beef tips. The pie was a fascinating story of its own. The crust was perfect. Perfect pie crust is no easy feat, and the version at Dot's speaks volumes about the cook's skill and experience. The merengue on top was also outstanding: as light as air. One bite of the pie, though, and I knew I had tasted the filling before. It tasted exactly like, and surely must have been, Jello pudding. Don't get me wrong: it was delicious, but it was Jello, or a remarable facsimile thereof. To me it was stunning. To go to great lengths to perfect the two most dificult elements of the pie, and to then trust them to Jello pudding for filling.
Since moving to Austin I've searched for a place like Dot's. The cooks simply know how to season food, an art which is sadly missing in so many Austin restaurants. I'm sorry if I've droned on too long, or if the place is so much of an institution that it has already been covered ad nauseum earlier on this board. I just could not contain my excitement at finding real soul food in Austin, and at doubling the number of Austin restaurants which I've visited which serve great gravy.
Rob, I know you won't be able to read this for a day or two, you having to digest that "sliver of pie" and all, but great post about a great restaurant. There used to be a few more like Dot's around town (Hill's down south used to be one, and I think they just re-opened under new ownership) but mostly, folks just go to Threadgills, where the food isn't so great but the advertising budget is wonderful.
Also, I don't know if you've yet been to the Frisco Shop on Burnet, but I'd rate their sausage gravy against any other gravy in town. If sausage gravy is too far from the genre you're judging, then you ought to try the beef tips and rice there. I think it's a toss up with Dot's, although it is a diner and not a cafeteria. No harm there, though.
re: Greg Spence
Frisco is yet another one of our regular stops due to a reliable tip from you. Love those cream pies and save-room-for-dessert-sized burgers. And cole slaw and onion rings.
Threadgill's is kinda dull, especially the cheesy vegetable casseroles - my taste in veggies has changed since I was 9 years old. My wife loves the chicken-fried steak which is nicely chewy and served with the angel food gravy Rob correctly deplores. Meatloaf and carrots are pretty good. The desserts are terrible. All-in-all I prefer Luby's.
Dot's was one of the 1st restaurants my wife and I ate at when we moved to Austin a couple years back. I was convinced it was real deal Southern food, never having tried the stuff before. Get out there on Friday night (only day they serve dinner) for catfish straight from the family farm - though it's served in big meaty slabs, not the thin crispy kind you've mentioned you prefer. I say it's the best in town.
Agreed - the grainy chocolate pie filling is offputting and the fruit-filled options don't look much better. The cobbler, however, is something else entirely. Oh my! It's kept back in the kitchen and you have to ask for it.