When I stopped into Spec's on Westheimer near Dunvale to pick up some champagne for a party, I was trying to think of what to serve as an appetizer with the bubbly. There, at the front door, was Ronnie Bermann handing out samples of his tarama salada. I dipped a cracker in this wonderful stuff and grabbed a container. I'm not sure if it was destiny or laziness, but my appetizer shopping was over.
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Also known as taramosalata, the dip is an ancient Turkish and Greek mezze made from salted carp or cod roe that has been blended with mashed potatoes or bread crumbs and lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil. It has a salty, fishy, caviar-like flavor that's perfect with champagne. My guests loved it.
So who is Ronnie Bermann, and why is he selling Greek fish eggs at Spec's?
Bermann explained that when his father Camille opened famous, now-closed Houston restaurant Maxim's in 1949, he had some Greek partners. It was their idea to put a bowl of taramosalata on every table with the bread basket, and it became a Maxim's trademark. Ronnie took over the restaurant when his father died. When he sold it, he kept the rights to the recipes. Today he produces taramasalata and a few other Maxim's dishes under the name J&R Catering.
Maxim's was located at 3755 Richmond in the space where Tony's is today. It had an opulent dining room with red velvet walls and enormous chandeliers. The food was New Orleans French/Creole. Maxim's was named "Restaurant of the Century" by Texas Monthly in 1999. In 2002, Ronnie Bermann explained the closure of the restaurant to the Houston Press. In Bermann's tarama salada, a tiny taste of Maxim's lives on.