Food Fight: Battle Creamed Spinach
Creamed spinach hasn't been an everyday menu item since it reached its pinnacle in the 1970s, but the retro side has been making a comeback in months past. While you'll almost always find it on the list of sides at high-end steakhouses, these days it's also popping up alongside chicken, fish and pasta dishes and has made a resurgence in at-home holiday buffets.
Making creamed spinach is relatively easy. Simply cook down fresh spinach (boil or sauté), and then mix it with a garlic-butter-nutmeg-cream sauce. Be careful, though. There's one major trick to making it celestial: You truly have to squeeze all the water from the spinach after you wilt it. As long as you do, the buttery béchamel sauce will coat the spinach to form a nice, thick pile of teethy greens. If you don't, the water from the spinach will transform your thick, tasty sauce into a pool of pale green disappointment, good for nothing except masking your bitter tears.
In hopes of locating the city's best creamed spinach, this week's Food Fight pits Boston Market against the Strip House. I visited both to see just how well a convenient fast-food restaurant stacks up against a lavish national steakhouse.
Boston Market, 1915 West Gray (and multiple other locations)
I hadn't been to a Boston Market in years but felt right at home upon walking through the door. As expected, the place hasn't changed much -- it's home-style food at fast-food prices, served quickly with a nod and a smile. A chicken plate at Boston Market won't break your budget and makes for a decent weekday lunch.
The market staple is rotisserie chicken, which you can get with any number of soups, salads and sides ranging from the healthy (steamed vegetables) to the not (macaroni and cheese). The chicken may be a bit dry, but the smell will keep you hooked to the end of your meal. It's a decently healthy way to cook a bird, and the cornbread served alongside is better than most.
The Boston Market creamed spinach has gained a cult following over the years. Everyone seems to love it -- kids, adults, men and women. Even people who don't eat vegetables talk it up, making the dish too intriguing to overlook. I have to admit that the creamed spinach pocket on my divided disposable plate with the first spot emptied. Too bad the rest of the items didn't quite measure up.
The Strip House
The Strip House, 1200 McKinney
The Strip House is our choice for best steakhouse creamed spinach. With its fare, décor and location, the venerable restaurant caters to the chipper businessman, and it seems to do fairly well for itself. The place has been crowded -- if not packed -- in each of our four visits.
Now I love a good steak house as much as the next gal, but the stringent adherence to drowning lettuce in dressing has got to stop. Salads sound creative enough, but they arrive doused with placid creamy sauces, rendering the flavors useless. As you bite into them, you'll probably notice the skinny little bitches on the wall: 1940's style pin-up ladies slyly smiling down on you from every angle. And while the walls fascinate, interesting décor does not a great steak make. I say this because the steaks here are overly crisp on the outside and dry on the inside. The highlight of all of my visits here has been the creamed spinach, which serves as a nice complement to a plate o' beef.
Made with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil, the consistency of the Strip House creamed spinach schools the other steakhouses in town, which most often serve those pale green pools mentioned above. Chunks of cheese and garlic complement the greens in this version, and the truffle oil certainly comes through in every bite.
Boston Market, hands down. I loved the taste and consistency of this side, and we scarfed up the entire dish without remorse. While I knew, of course, that the creamed spinach would be rich and velvety, it didn't feel overly decadent. At $2.29 (or $4.29 for a large), the price feels like a reasonable exchange, and I can't wait to add Boston Market's creamed spinach to my weekly rotation. The Strip House's version, on the other hand, was so rich that I couldn't handle more than a bite or two. Seething with cream, this side is heavy on the garlic and truffle oil, which masks the fact that there's actually a vegetable inside. Our group didn't even finish the container (which, to be fair, is a massive portion for $10).
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