Blog of an aspiring foodie

When men were men and queso was tasty

Posted by beer_chris on 11-June-2009

Last week a post on the Eating Our Words blog at the Houston Press documented the news that the fellows over at El Patio have licensed a number of recipes from the Tijerina family’s now defunct Felix Mexican Restaurant and have hired a former cook from the old place on Westheimer and Montrose.  I’m pretty excited about this news, as Felix is one of the places I grew up eating at with my family. I still remember going there as a kid, eating cheese enchiladas and getting my cheeks pinched by Mrs. Tijerina at every visit.

However, the post inspired some vitriol. Included was a picture of the famous Felix queso. Admittedly, it looks gross. It’s made with lots of grease (rumor has it they used drippings from the chile gravy), and has a runny, red tinge to it. Comments on the blog post ranged from ‘unappetizing’ to ‘sucks ass’ to ‘fucking nasty’.

I felt I had to intervene, and so I posted a defense of Felix queso.

A lot going on in my reply, but it inspired some additional negative comments in response. What’s been rattling around in the old noggin is a response to a remark made in one of the following posts. I’ll quote it here because I think it’s a bold statement:

… Felix’s might represent Houston Tex Mex from the 1950’s, but Houston has changed a bit since then. There is much better Tex Mex around now …

I really, really question this, and I think it gets to the heart of my point. One of my issues with Tex-Mex restaurants ‘nowadays’ is that the queso (and other dishes – another blog post there)  is downright boring – and I’m not entirely sure anything else is better either. One thing I can be sure of – most menus are all the same. Sticking to queso, I’m no Velveetist, but paying $5 for a small bowl of Velveeta/EasyMelt and Ro-tel tomatoes is **NOT OK**. Maybe some of these more ‘modern’ Tex-Mex places have got some new dishes right – but good, unique restaurant specific queso has been lost to history. In my opinion, when queso had recipes, it was better. When queso had character and secret ingredients, it was better. Like it or not, these original Tex-Mex places had really tasty queso because they worked at it. Nobody does that anymore. It’s all the same stuff.

As we all try so hard to find the next little hole in the wall place that has great tacos or tamales or whatever, I worry that our Houston Tex-Mex heritage is dying a little bit. Is Houston’s Tex-Mex to be forever relegated to books and old school restaurants that everybody disdains simply because they are old? Are we destined for a future when every Tex-Mex place in Houston is a clone of Gringos or Lupe Tortilla? Thank goodness for El Patio, Thank goodness for the recipes from Felix and thank God there’s finally a queso to argue about.

We’ve all been missing it for a while, whether we knew it or not. The 50’s were a long time ago – but it was indeed a time when men were men and queso was tasty.

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3 Responses to “When men were men and queso was tasty”

  1. I thought long and hard about publishing that pic of the Felix queso. Thought maybe I could “food style” it to make it look better. Or just not post it. But it is what it is. I’ve been looking at it for 35 years so it looks OK to me. But I could see where sensitive folks might think it a bit rough, what with the grease and all. Anyway it tastes great like you say. I’ve got a quart thawing in my frig right now.

  2. Bren said

    Sadly I’m going to have to agree with your detractor. We can get together soon and talk about it, but Felix’s went under because it didn’t change with the times. They stopped innovating. They got stuck in the 50s. While I’m sure they had great dishes that were unique and enjoyable if you don’t change people get bored with it.

    I’m not saying that what we have today is the epitome of texmex. Too often, as you say, people use the same old recipes that are bland and boring. Tried and true, but uninteresting. Beyond the creamy jalapeno sauce (which I can make at home) there’s no reason to go to Chuy’s. The place I go these days for my texmex fix is Cyclone Anaya’s, but even that is growing boring.

  3. Janie said

    the queso may not please everyone however it pleased enough people for Felix’s Restaurant to be open for almost 80 years–that is a fact that can not be ignored–

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