Bells & Whistles Café and Railroad Restaurant

David Smith has always been fascinated by two things — the restaurant business and railroadiana. For many years he has owned a property at the corner of Texas and Labranch, next door to the old Ben Milam Hotel, whose cafe he loved. Remembering that cafe all these years later, he has opened the Bells & Whistles Café (1501 Texas). With no experience in the restaurant biz himself, David hired Rome Hickey, a 24-year veteran of the cafeteria industry, and after three years of meetings and planning, they're chugging away, with Hickey as conductor.

Yes, the place has a railroad theme — there are train bells on the sidewalk outside, and the menu calls sides "sidecars" and entrées "main lines." "The railroad theme takes us back to the days when the Railroad Restaurant was next door," says Rome. "People arriving on the railroad used to stay at the Ben Milam as far back as the '40s." The food harks back to another era, too — it's all homemade and cooked in small batches. The rock-solid American menu is unpretentious, with rib eye steaks, pork chops, fried catfish and shrimp, chicken-fried steak and desserts like cobbler and lemon-lime icebox pie. Well, there is one "foreign" dish — fettuccine Alfredo... — Paul Galvani

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Paul Galvani