By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
There were half a dozen cop cars and at least a dozen motorcycles, most of them Harley-Davidsons, in the parking lot of Kelley's Country Cooking on the Saturday morning of my first visit. I walked in the front door of the restaurant half expecting to see a major bust in progress.
Instead, I found a special private dining room reserved for bikers and a whole bunch of cops and ambulance drivers having breakfast. There was also a big group of senior citizens on some sort of an outing. The rest of the seats in the large high-ceilinged dining room were filled with plain old chowhounds, carving up enormous pancakes and giant ham steaks.
We sat down at a choice table by the front window and looked over the menu. "Hungry?" read the first word on the cover. I had no idea how apt the question was. I would come to discover that Kelley's trademark is giant portions. And the breakfasts, which are served all day, lead the oversize parade.
8015 Park Place Blvd.
Houston, TX 77087
Region: Outer Loop - SE
Grand slam breakfast: $8.99
Iron skillet breakfast: $9.99
Short stack of pancakes: $4.49
Kelley burger: $4.49
Chicken-fried steak dinner: $6.99
There's also a lot of them to choose from. Not counting the cereals, there were 33 featured breakfast combinations, including breakfast tacos, biscuits and gravy, chili and eggs, three-egg omelettes, one egg, two eggs, three eggs, and pancakes, all served with variations of ham, bacon, sausage, hash browns and grits. There were also eggs Benedict on the weekends. And Egg Beaters for dieters.
When the waitress came by, I made things easy by pointing to the first thing on the menu. It said "Kelley's grand slam breakfast, our specialty." There were three plates involved in the grand slam extravaganza. The first, which arrived with the coffee, held a hot biscuit about the size of a hamburger bun and a bowl of golden-colored gravy with a soupspoon in it. This was evidently intended as a small snack to tide you over until something more substantial arrived.
I resisted the temptation to split the biscuit in two and pour the gravy over the top. That's the way I usually eat a breakfast biscuit with gravy, but there was a lot more food coming. So I just tore off pieces of biscuit and dunked them daintily in the bowl while I drank my coffee. The biscuit was very moist, and I think it was chicken gravy.
The second plate arrived a few minutes later. It was covered from rim to rim with one of the best chicken-fried steaks I've eaten in Houston. If you ever have to explain to a visiting foreigner what "chicken-fried" means, let the crust on this battered steak, fried crisp and brown with lots of crunchy bits, provide the explanation for you. Not only was the crust perfect, the meat inside was juicy. The whole thing was covered with the same tasty gravy that came with the biscuit.
The third plate was loaded with three eggs fried sunny side up and a major pile of Kelley's handmade, never-been-frozen, hash browns, which are grated from Idaho No. 1 potatoes.
I ate all three eggs, the biscuit, half of the steak and a little bit of the hash browns before waving my napkin in the air and crying, "No más, no más!" I am a hearty eater, but I was no match for Kelley's grand slam breakfast.
Across the table, my dining companion had long ago given up on her pancakes. There is only a 50-cent difference between a full stack of three pancakes and a short stack of two at Kelley's. But you might as well save the half a buck because you can't eat two of these. My companion had eaten about a quarter of a two-pancake pile. I know it's hard to imagine someone getting full on half a pancake.
Rather than resort to metaphors and hyperbole, I brought the giant flapjacks home in a Styrofoam container and took the tape measure to them. Each griddle cake measured a half-inch in height and eight inches in diameter. I put the equivalent of a full pancake on the scale, and it weighed nine ounces. Which means a full stack at Kelley's is around a pound and two-thirds of pancakes.
There is a large photo of John F. Kennedy by the front door of the restaurant. The founder of Kelley's Country Cooking, J.W. Kelley Sr., was one of the motorcycle cops who accompanied Kennedy's motorcade through Houston the day before the president was shot. Kelley spent 26 years with HPD before he retired in 1983.
The restaurant opened in 1984 inside Lang's Pharmacy at Park Place and Interstate 45 as a 50-seat lunchroom with nine employees. Today there are five Kelley's locations in the greater Houston area, 450 employees and combined seating of more than 1,300. Kelley still hangs around the original Park Place restaurant sometimes, and he gives special treatment to cops, bikers and retired folks.
The walls of the restaurant are decorated with huge blow-ups of old photos of Houston. There are also some enlarged photos of Kelley's sons, who also became Houston cops. There's also an array of clocks set to various time zones in case you want to know what time it is in New York or Mexico City. Early in the morning, with the sunlight flooding in the big front windows, Kelley's is a wonderfully eccentric Houston institution.