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The medium-rare slices of fish on the grilled ahi tuna salad at Dry Creek Café were a juicy watermelon pink in the middle, with a lovely crust of black pepper and spices on the outer edges. The gorgeous fish was served over lettuce tossed with sliced pears, roasted red peppers, almond slivers, tomato wedges and thin sliced red onions. It was an incredible salad, considering that the proprietors of Dry Creek refer to the place as a burger joint.
One morning, I went to breakfast at Dry Creek Café with a regular. We had to sit in a particular area of the restaurant to avoid a waiter he thought was annoying and incompetent. He was on a first-name basis with the manager, who, as it turned out, was drinking coffee at the next table. My friend predicted what time the manager would get up and leave, and what kind of music the staff would play as soon as he left. I felt like I was back in Austin.
When I lived there, Austin was liberally sprinkled with homey little restaurants with very ordinary food, such as Kerby Lane, Magnolia Café and the Omelettry. Regulars of these places overlooked the mediocrity of the fare because they were caught up in the incestuous social scenes. It's not like I was above all that. In my college years, I ate a lot of stale, overpriced bagels at a second-rate sidewalk cafe because I was gaga over the waitress.
544 Yale St.
Houston, TX 77007
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Hours: 7 a.m. to9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Triple bypass burger: $8.50
Ahi tuna salad: $9.50
Lox and bagel: $8
Meat loaf: $9
Dry Creek Café is one of those restaurants that are wildly popular despite the mediocrity of the menu. The food isn't awful, but it isn't wonderful either. There are a couple of standouts, like the ahi tuna salad and the mashed potatoes, both of which are awesome. Otherwise, breakfast is your best bet.
The "lox plate," a toasted bagel with smoked salmon (it's nova, not lox) with cream cheese, tomato, red onion and way too many capers, was perfectly adequate. Meanwhile, the "Sixth Street Migas," two scrambled eggs with tortilla chips, tomato and cheddar, were bland and boring, although the salsa served on the side was pretty good.
On a splendid January afternoon, I sat outside on Dry Creek's front patio and ate lunch. The people-watching was first rate. One of the patrons at the next table was visiting from New York, and she kept remarking on the incredible sunny weather. It was a good day to live in Houston, and Dry Creek's patio was a perfect place to enjoy it.
I had one of Dry Creek's "Bad Ass Burgers." The menu advertises 100 percent Angus beef on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles. There were six burger options to choose from, not counting the two turkey burgers and the veggie burger. I went for the burger called the "Triple Bypass," which comes with cheddar cheese, bacon, a fried egg and Tabasco mayo. It sounded like just the thing to drive a stake through the heart of my lingering New Year's resolutions.
I tried to like it, but the "Bad Ass Burger" was just plain bad. The previously frozen burger patty was too dense. The stale whole-wheat bun disintegrated into powdery pieces as I attempted to eat the sandwich, leaving me with a fried egg-covered meat patty in my hands and a pile of whole-wheat crumbs all over the table.
I thought maybe this was an isolated stale bun incident, but my friend Jay Francis, who lives nearby, told me he hated the burgers at Dry Creek because the buns were always stale. "You're better off at Whataburger," he said. "They give you more lettuce, too."
Dry Creek Café is owned by the same folks who operate Onion Creek Coffee House, a few blocks down White Oak Drive. Both restaurants have more seating outside than inside. Onion Creek has some interesting beers, while Dry Creek is, well, dry. You are welcome to BYOB, however.
There's a "Keep Austin Weird" bumper sticker on the front door of Dry Creek Café and other bits of Austin memorabilia hanging on the walls. There's also a photo of the original Dry Creek Café hanging above the bar. It's odd that the namesake of the alcohol-free establishment on Yale Street is an exceedingly eccentric beer joint in Austin.
I used to sit at a cable spool table on the Austin Dry Creek Café's upstairs porch to watch the sun set. "Don't forget to bring those bottles back down," the cranky chain-smoking proprietrix would scream as the sun sank slowly in the west.
I don't know how closely Houston's Dry Creek Café is trying to impersonate an Austin establishment, but the resemblance is uncanny. The first time I went there, I had just dropped somebody off at the airport for an early flight. It was ten minutes after their opening time of 7 a.m. But when I tried to sit down, the waitress told me that nobody from the kitchen staff had shown up for work, so there wasn't any food.
I asked her for a cup of coffee. She said there wasn't any coffee and suggested I go to Onion Creek. It was right down the street, and they probably had it more together, she said. That's slacker service at its finest.