A History Lesson

The Confederate House feeds us on what Houston was -- for better and worse

Fortunately, twin tenderloins of Bellville venison, cooked precisely rare, need only a touch of pepper and charcoal to reach a blissful simplicity; with a wild, faintly liverish note underpinning the meat, this venison is the exotic equivalent of a steak dinner. Order the baked potato to go along; the rice pilaf seems a close relative of the stuff that comes from a box. And leave the "unique sauce of three peppercorns and tasso ham" sitting stiffly in its little bowl; introducing trendy ingredients is to little avail if you merely inject them into a thick, antediluvian cream sauce. Add the pepper and Cajun ham to a reduction of pan juices and red wine, though, and the kitchen might really have something. But then it wouldn't really be the Confederate House, would it?

The fried shrimp are essence of Confederate House, butterflied and crisply breaded, neither better nor worse than they have to be. The crackly onion rings that come with them are as splendid as ever (would that everything were this good); but the requisite French fries in this Gulf Coast trilogy are too pale and self-effacing. Plain broiled snapper dusted with old-fashioned paprika actually tastes of the sea -- a rare phenomenon undercut by its lunch-special accessories of wan, much-cooked green beans and tepid mashed potatoes smothered in cream gravy.

But then you're not here for culinary thrills, or even definitive versions of hallowed classics. You're here for the museum-piece atmosphere, for the friendly, cosseting service that rectifies the occasional screwups with a smile; you're here, in the Smithsonian of Houston restaurants, for an entertaining time trip of the sort that is not readily available anymore.

Oh yes -- and for the puckery lemon-chess pie that would do a Southern belle proud, and for that justifiably famous pecan ball. In that cold, nut-crusted vanilla globe with its piercingly bittersweet robe of chocolate, there is more truth and beauty than you'd find in a hundred tiramisus.

The Confederate House, 2925 Weslayan, 622-1936.

Confederate House:
onion rings, $3.25;
frog legs Provencale, $15;
venison medallions, $18.75;
pecan ball, $3.75.

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