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On a dinnertime visit, the atmosphere looked drastically different. Without the sunlight, the fluorescent tubes were eye-stabbingly bright. And they shed an unflattering light on a clientele clad in XXXL T-shirts, pants with elastic waists and gimme caps.
My dining companion, a woman who was nine months pregnant, looked around the restaurant after we sat down and said, "I'm awestruck." The scale of her fellow diners made her feel "petite," she said. What do you expect in a restaurant famous for large portions? I shrugged.
I had learned my lesson. I wanted to try Kelley's burger, but instead of the Super K burger, weighing in at a full pound, I opted for the smaller Kelley burger with cheese. It was made with a half-pound, hand-formed ground beef patty cooked well done. The top half of the glossy, toasted bun had an American cheese slice melted onto the underside. It was dressed with iceberg, small tomato slices, dill pickle chips, mustard and mayo and served with a pile of potato chips. The meat was a tad dry and the dressings too generic, but with a little work it could be great. Next time, I'll ask them to cook it medium and add the 99-cent jalapeño upgrade.
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
My companion ordered a fried catfish dinner with a couple of fried shrimp on the side and substituted a baked potato for the fries, a $3 upgrade. The catfish was cut in strips and fried with a cornmeal coating, but the fish was oddly flavorless. The shrimp were excellent, quick-fried so the coating was crispy but the meaty shrimp weren't overcooked. But it was the baked potato that caused our jaws to drop.
A No. 1 Idaho is a large potato. In fact, the government minimum standard is one and seven-eighths inches in diameter. When the waiter put a platter of four half-potatoes in front of my dining companion, along with large stainless-steel containers of bacon bits, cheese, green onions, sour cream and butter, she looked a little overwhelmed.
"Why are there two potatoes?" I asked the waiter. I thought he had misunderstood our order and brought us both baked potatoes. But it turns out that when you order a baked potato at Kelley's, you get not one but two monster Idaho No. 1 spuds, cut in half lengthwise.
"It's a great deal," the waiter enthused. "You can order a baked potato for $4.39 and get a whole meal." While we sat wondering how anybody could eat that much potato, a server walked by with somebody else's order. It was a steak dinner, and beside the meat was the largest mound of mashed potatoes I have ever seen in a restaurant. The creamed spuds were formed into two rounded mounds, and each of the massive domes was covered with brown gravy.
If you are potato lover, I highly recommend Kelley's for dinner; otherwise, the meal to eat here is breakfast. But I suggest you have a strategy for dealing with the gargantuan portions. "Some people order these big breakfasts and feed the whole family with them," a waitress who had recently relocated from New Orleans told us. "And we always have plenty of to-go boxes on hand."
But this time I was way ahead of her. I ordered the "iron skillet" breakfast. The skillet was one of those cast-iron Mexican comals in a wooden holder that sizzling fajitas are usually served on. Instead of fajitas, it was loaded with three fried eggs, homemade hash browns and a full-pound ham steak with a biscuit and gravy on the side.
I ate the eggs, most of the potatoes and the biscuit, but I left three quarters of the ham steak uneaten. (Somehow I was able to get by on a quarter-pound of ham.) I put the remains in a to-go box. I had already started some black beans simmering in a slow cooker. When I got home, I cut up the leftover ham and added it to the beans. And I'm still enjoying it.