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$17 Express Lunch at Tony's -- Kind Of

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Even after all these years, the venerable Tony's is still one of Houston's most mysterious restaurants. The place has been a knock-em-dead local legend catering to some of Houston's most prominent residents since 1965. The common conception is that it's an exclusive place, an elite eatery reserved for oil executives, anchormen, and socialites. Not many people enter the hallowed restaurant for fear that an appetizer alone would break the budget. And while Houston's restaurant scene has certainly matured over the years, removing some of the Tony's mystique, the allure is still there.

For those of you who've been fascinated from afar by Tony's, now's your chance to experience the divinity for yourself. This summer the restaurant is offering a $17 express lunch: a three-course extravaganza that comes complete with the full Tony's experience. Choose between soup and salad for course number one. Follow it up with a choice of two entrees. And top everything off with either the classic Tony's cheesecake or the homemade gelato.

The only problem with the $17 lunch special is that you do actually have to look at the menu to make your choices and order. And once you do, you open your mind to the culinary possibilities listed right there in a single column below the Express Lunch. There they are...taunting you, daring you to drop more coin. Last week our four-top migrated toward the regular menu at mach speed. And once we learned that Tony's has the coveted black summer truffles -- which they will add to any dish on the menu for an extra $30 -- the $17 express lunch became a fleeting afterthought.

Soon we had visions of heirloom tomato soup dancing in our heads. Grilled cheese with truffles? Mushroom risotto with truffles? Chicken involtino with truffles? Yes, yes, and yes. And a truffled burger, too. The grilled cheese, a beauty on French bread with truffles grated both into the cheese and over the top, showcased the distinctive truffle flavor best -- but I'll throw in a vote for the fabulous burger, cooked to order and dripping with cheese. If only every work week could include such decadence.

Lunch at Tony's proved to be much more friendly than intimidating. The small menu is a welcome change from some of the hulks around town -- though it's rumored that the chef at Tony's will make you anything you like at any time of day. It's a simple case of fine ingredients in classic preparations, and the service -- of course -- is impeccable. The airy dining room is quietly filled with well mannered pretty people, a diligent waitstaff, and odd sculptures, and the vibe is one of breezy confidence. If you've ever wondered what's behind those plate-glass doors, now's your chance to find out -- and you're in for a lovely experience. Just be sure to use the right fork and stick to the dress code.

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