Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb, author of the 1931 book The Great Plains, first explained to the world why the American West was different from the rest of the United States and what the Europeans needed before they could claim it as their own. Webb named four things necessary for the settlement of the regions we now know as Texas: the horse, the six-shooter, barbed wire and the windmill-powered water well.
Certainly those were the bedrock essentials for the first wave of settlers in the plains states. Civilization, real civilization, would have to come later. One of the true essentials arrived in Webb's beloved Austin in 1979, way too late for the great scholar, who died in 1963. That was, of course, Katz's Deli and Bar. As any New Yorker knows, a city that does not have at least one establishment where you can get a real pastrami sandwich on rye with a kosher dill pickle on the side, wash it down with a Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda and then top it off with a slice of properly made plain cheesecake is a city that cannot support civilized life. Before Katz's, Austinites had to make do with barbecue and chicken-fried steaks, which contain substances that tend to clog the delicate mechanisms of your more highly developed central nervous systems.
According to the Katz's Web site (katzneverkloses.com), the Katz family closed down their restaurant in Queens and made the bold trek west in the late 1970s, coming to a halt in Austin. Katz's went to a never-closed schedule in 1983 and has not missed a day of operation since. The current Mr. Katz, Barry, who is the fifth generation in his family to carry on the business, is now in Houston regularly, overseeing the outfitting of a Houston location (616 Westheimer, the site of the once-beloved Tila's Cantina & Taqueria, which closed in 1988). The Houston deli will also operate around the clock, which promises to give the city a much-needed boost to its nightlife. The location, at Westheimer and Crocker, is next to the Montrose substation of the Houston Police Department. While this may cause certain members of the law-enforcement fraternity to switch their allegiances from doughnuts to bagels, it will certainly make diners working on a 3 a.m. breakfast of lox and eggs feel safer.
Katz's menu will feature most of the usual deli standbys, such as chopped chicken liver sandwiches and matzo-ball soup, with some concessions to Texas tastes, such as kosher-style tacos (three for $4.95).
The Houston location is being fitted with a brick skin to make it resemble the two-story building on the corner of West Sixth Street and Nueces in Austin, a structure familiar to a generation of University of Texas graduates. The Web site, displaying a faith in an odd, delicatessen-style system of feng shui, points out that the new location will have almost the same street number, 616, as the Austin location, 618. An October opening is planned.
Crossing the Street
The many fans of the subcontinental cuisine at Bombay Palace [3901 Westheimer, (713)960-8472] can all breathe a little easier. Stranded in a vast weedy lot at the corner of Westheimer and Weslayan, the future site of an H-E-B Central Market, the building housing Bombay Palace had a forlorn appearance that suggested the restaurant may shut down for good if the owners could not find a new location. The owners have found a new space, across the street at 4100 Westheimer. An orderly crossing should take place before the end of September.
We at the Houston Press believe in supporting literacy. Without a literate population for whom to write this great metropolitan weekly, we scriveners would be forced to practice journalism within the mind-numbing, soul-deadening environment of a television station or worse, perhaps descending to the Ninth Circle of Hell where people are bent over rickety desks, picking out letters on the keyboard as they assemble a ghostwritten autobiography of some Republican activist businessman.
Thus, we set aside our normal rule against quoting from press releases to announce that on Friday, September 22, the Chipotle Mexican Grill [5600 Kirby Drive, (713)666-9769], a new fast-food operation out of Denver with one outlet in the Big H, is going to donate the entire day's receipts to Literacy Advance of Houston.
"We've decided to donate all our food, labor and every cent of our sales total that day to a program that impacts Houston so positively," reads the statement from Steve Ells, the chef-founder-CEO of the new chain.
Literacy Advance of Houston is a nonprofit organization founded in 1964 that enables functionally illiterate adults and their children to develop reading, writing, communication and other marketable skills. More than 900 volunteer tutors offer support annually in more than 80 Houston-area centers. By dropping by on that Friday, you can get a pretty good burrito for around $5 and have all the money go to Literacy Advance.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.