Restaurant loyalties run deep. Look at the scads of eateries that have drawn devotion for decades in the Park Cities, Preston Hollow, and environs.
Some have burrowed into the cultural DNA and risen to the level of way of life.
Go to a place often enough – especially when you’re young – and it takes on an attraction that transcends the food. Reliability is part of the appeal. So is tradition.
For some, the destination is El Fenix on Northwest Highway at Hillcrest. Mexican food may be abundant all over town, but come Wednesdays, enchilada specials have long made this institution a place to be.
For others, it’s Burger House in Snider Plaza, renown for seasoned salt, old-school burgers, and shakes that hearken back to its early ‘60s roots. Longtime customers have made introducing the next generation a rite of passage, documented these days with photos on social media, as one fellow Highland Park High School grad recently did with his granddaughter.
For me, the draw is in Snider Plaza as well: Kuby’s, the German sausage and sandwich house. I’ve been going since the prices were accurate on the handpainted menu hanging over the dining room entrance. From my college years on, it’s been the backdrop for numerous personal rituals, starting with occasional Friday lunch escapes from SMU’s cafeteria, instigated by one friend or another in a noon-hour class passing a note that said only “Kuby’s?”
I moved away decades ago to Houston, then NYC, and now New Jersey. When I come back, Kuby’s tops my shortlist. Bratwurst has made it onto my schedule during every high school reunion (one of which, by the way, officially featured Burger House catering).
The waitstaff no longer menaces (the original crew of waitresses had a towel at the waist and an attitude that hinted they wouldn’t hesitate to whap you). Sandwiches no longer come with a tiny paper cup of dangerously delectable, mayonnaisey chopped luncheon meat called Wurstsalat.
The important parts remain, though, and now with the bonus of beer.
Time was, the Park Cities were dry, meaning restaurants could not serve alcohol. The workaround was a private club, a notion that eventually found its way into Snider Plaza. I keep my Kuby’s Lifetime Private Club Membership card in my wallet as a memento of the milestone. And I make a point to order dark beer on every visit – because I can.
There’s a quiet magic in these places. They connect us to something more than the meal of the moment. Each visit creates a link in a chain to the past, to previous companions, and, most importantly, to the people we once were.
Come for the food; stay for the memories. Come for the memories; stay for the food. Who cares? As they say in Jersey – shut up and eat!
Award-winning food writer Kathy Biehl, a graduate of Highland Park High School and SMU, breaks her primarily plant-based diet to enjoy Kuby’s and a Whataburger bacon cheeseburger whenever she returns to Dallas.