Hot Plate

Approach with reverence the Milanese of beef tenderloin ($16.95) at Backstreet Cafe (1103 South Shepherd, 713-521-2239). Let there be no talking until the first bite is tasted, chewed and swallowed, lest you miss a single delicious detail. This dish is art. Two pieces of tenderloin are pounded so thin you could read a menu through them, and sandwiched between them is a stuffing of mushroom duxelles, goat cheese and leeks. This celestial "sandwich" is then delicately breaded and fried until the light crust is crunchy-crisp and a most pleasing shade of golden-brown. Drizzled with a Cabernet reduction and served with sautéed spinach and grilled asparagus, it's a fancy dish, but its inspiration is humble. During the rainy season in the poor Mexican village where chef Hugo Ortega grew up, water would collect in cobs of corn still on the stalk, swelling the kernels with huitlacoche, a type of fungus that the Aztecs and Mayans ate centuries earlier. Too poor not to use every bit of food, fungus or no, the farm women used the swollen kernels as stuffing between two layers of beef tips that were pounded flat, rolled in bread crumbs and cooked in an outdoor clay oven. Ortega, whose mother and grandmother made the dish, used the concept -- minus the fungus -- to create this new entrée on Backstreet's lunch menu.


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