It's lunchtime at the original Perry & Sons Market & Grille, and patrons are expected to step up to the counter and order; the waitstaff is reserved for dinner service.
A row of uniformly cut steaks stretches out behind the long glass case. Perfect medallions of filet mignon sit next to cornbread-stuffed pork chops topped with thick, triangular slabs of butter. A T-bone steak goes for $12.99 a pound.
Located in a nondescript strip on Scarsdale Boulevard — anchored by a Dairy Queen on one side and a hum-drum Vietnamese supermarket on the other — the former Perry's Butcher Shop combines a dining room in front with a meat market in back. The small, carpeted dining room is low-key yet tastefully done, with black tablecloths and red industrial lamps. The smell of smoked sausages mixes with the cool air as you enter.
Perry a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Rib eye (14 oz.): $24.99
Chicken Fried Steak Dinner: $9.99
Pork chop (Wednesday lunch special): $8.99
Perry's Smoked Sausage: $8.99
The man who took our order was Bobby Perry, whose father Bob Perry set up shop here back in 1979. Bobby's brother Chris, who today is the president and CEO of Perry's Restaurant Group, joined the business in 1986 with the vision of adding a dining area to the butcher shop. It became very popular and a second Market & Grille opened in 1989 in Friendswood. This family-owned business eventually parlayed its success into the more glamorous Perry's Steakhouse & Grille, with 12 locations across Houston, Dallas and Austin in a matter of 31 years (and a side venture into Italian cuisine with Perry's Italian Grille).
The rib eye (14 oz. for $24.99 with a house salad and baked potato) was an easy pick, but my dining companion and I couldn't settle on another dish. Perry first recommended Perry's Famous Pork Chop, then the Texas Burger with grilled onions and jalapeños, and then the Ribeye Steak Sandwich. I went right for the Chicken Fried Steak Dinner for nostalgia's sake, and it was a standard Texas classic: a breaded round steak that had been run through the tenderizer and blanketed with a thick, fluffy layer of cream gravy.
One bite transported me back to my first chicken-fried steak in my elementary school's cafeteria. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing because, after all, isn't that what comfort food is supposed to do? The platter also included french fries, homemade beans and Texas toast, but I secretly wished that it came with mashed potatoes and corn niblets in order to completely re-create my grade-school experience.
As it turned out, the rib eye was the way to go. The steak came hot off the grill with a frothy pool of melted herb-garlic butter widening by the millisecond. Juicy, tender and seasoned with a sprinkling of Perry's Signature Seasoning to enhance the grassy beef flavor, it was just like a steak should be. It was just substantial enough for lunch without being overwhelming. Bobby noted that their USDA Choice Certified Angus beef is hand-selected from top purveyors in the Midwest, and recommends that the steaks be cooked over a low heat (he prefers a gas grill) for the most tender results.
The house salad, like most other house salads known to mankind, was a bare-bones composition of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and julienned carrots; however, the Italian dressing — which I suspect is homemade — is worth mentioning. The garlicky-Parmesan cheesy concoction was so tasty that I was almost tempted to dip my steak into it.
For my second visit, I decided to return on a Wednesday for a mini version of the pork chop as a lunch special for $8.99, instead of the regular portion for $19.99. Pulling into a very full parking lot around 1 p.m., I realized that I wasn't the only one after this lunch special. The dining room was filled with businessmen, doctors and nurses from the nearby Memorial Hermann hospital, construction workers and locals. Two waitresses shuffled out plates to the crowd while Bobby manned the food station, where outgoing orders were being doled out from the kitchen.
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The pork chop was a good three and a half to four fingers thick. It had a glorious charred crust and was garnished with a whip of garlic butter and a thin slice of lime. I pressed my fork down on the lime and butter, making sure to let the juices run over the top of the chop. The interior was moist thanks to the nice layer of fat on the inside. The preparation technique for this dish is described on the menu as "cured, roasted, slow smoked and caramelized." There was a woodsy smoke flavor in every bite, complemented by the side of applesauce.
In addition to the special du jour, I also ordered Perry's Smoked Sausage, a glistening link of sausage sliced diagonally with a cup of barbecue sauce and the traditional accoutrements: two slices of white bread, homemade beans, pickles, onions and a scoop of potato salad. The sausage had a pleasant, crunchy snap and spicy, peppery bite to it.
Perry & Sons is still run like the trusted butcher shop it was 31 years ago. Somehow, seeing Bobby Perry there preserves its integrity. While I can see why some folks might not be able to make heads or tails out of the place (Is it a butcher shop or a restaurant?), Perry & Sons strikes a winning balance between intimate and casual that seems to fill that hard-to-reach gourmet void within Scarsdale's dining scene.
You can walk in wearing a T-shirt and jeans to enjoy a glass of red wine with your steak, or, heck, why not bring the kids — there are crayons on the table. On your way out, pick up one of their already prepared pork chops for another night, and when you drive away, look up. The letters on their sign read: "Congratulations to all graduates" — the mark of a true neighborhood restaurant.