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Breathtaking Boudin

Norris defines the Southern art of upscale down-home cooking

So is the stirring sweet-potato pie, sweetened with admirable restraint and housed in a rich crumb crust. It beats the dismally thick conventional crust that sabotages the pecan pie. Real whipped cream -- remember real whipped cream? -- comes with both, a heartening touch. There's the kind of dense, compacted bread pudding you'd get in a great New Orleans dive, too, pooled with a graceful caramel-colored whiskey sauce. But would it be ungrateful to suggest that an old-fashioned cobbler, layered with deliciously slippery strips of dough, would profit from recognizably fresh fruit instead of peaches that are dead ringers for processed?

So much for the blessedly few complaints that Norris inspires. Good-humored service is dispensed by crisply aproned waiters, some of whom could find work as movie stars. They go the extra distance: I actually saw one of them bolt out the door with a forgotten takeout container and sprint after the customer's rolling car. He caught it, too.

Connoisseurs of menu prose should note the unprecedented length of Norris's appended disclaimer, which covers everything from maraschino cherries to alcohol consumption to sulfites, with lots of room for '90s paranoia in between. Al fresco diehards should note that Norris's patio is oddly inviting, despite its stony look and the surrounding sea of concrete.

Devotees of good Southern cooking should rejoice that Norris is in the process of setting up a buffet line for weekday lunch and weekend brunch. Fried chicken, yams, greens, fresh corn and green beans... it kicks off in mid-March, and I can't remember a prospect I've looked forward to more.

Norris Restaurant, 2491 S. Braeswood at Kirby, 664-9447.

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