There comes a time every year when the weather dips, the sweater still feels abrasive against the skin, still flush with the dew of summer's humidity, and the sting of life's harsh realities come fast approaching — the holidays are on the horizon, just past Halloween, and soon somebody will be dragging you to The Galleria to shop for gifts. Naturally, it's the season that most commonly ushers in the onset of depression. For myself, it also ushers in the necessity of glorious, comforting, smothered meats.
"I'm not sure what smothered meat is," a colleague informed me when I told her about the new Mikki's Cafe & Catering, now open up in Greenspoint. "But I like the sound of it... and pie."
Mikki's has pie too, like all good soul food restaurants do. But pie is not the reason I made the drive.
That was for the meat — smothered, or basically cooked down in its own juices a la Creole and Cajun cuisine's finest— the soul food, the promise of glazing the cerebral cortex in the most holy of unholy pleasures, brown gravy, imperative after any duration of daily exposure to social media. The fact that Mikki's won Houston Press's Best Of for soul food in 2016, and I still hadn't tried it yet was also weighing heavily on my mind.
So I traveled the half hour up 59 to the CitiTrends sign where I believe it turns into 69 and onward to Beltway 8, a highway where staying in the lines is a task akin to a gifted test or performance art influenced by the Surrealists. Onward past Greenspoint Plaza and a massive movie theater complex that looks perfect for the impending zombie invasion, and to a seemingly unassuming stripmall, save for the amount of eateries there. A Cajun Town Cafe, a Zero's Sandwich Shop, a China One, and because we are living day to day in the absurdist Mike Judge comedy known as Idiocracy, a Fuddrucker's.
Here you'll find Mikki's Cafe & Catering, the second location for restaurateur Jeanette Williams and family. You'll also find a line out the door. This location is brand new and half the neighborhood seems to know about it already. Numerous celebrities have visited the original location in Southwest Houston— Kylie Jenner, 50 Cent — and their pictures line the wall at the new digs.
The drill here seems to be ordering food to go even if you're dining in. If that speaks to the portion size, well, you don't really have to ask if the $10 to $14-ish meat-and-three servings are a steal. The meat portions alone could easily feed a family of four, or one very hungry couple. The man in front of me ordered up three 'kids plates' to go, though I doubt he was heading to a nearby elementary school to drop off those orders of smothered chicken, candied yams and broccoli and cheese casserole with sides of cornbread.
It's a tough choice on what to order. Because I was overtaken by the powers of the smothered meat I pointed to the first tray of sopping gravy and protein I saw and muttered a primitive me want noise. Turns out it was beef steak, and three large braised flanks later, a dollop of creamy mashed potatoes, an ocean's worth of ladeled brown sauce on top, I was in heaven.
R&B was cranking over the restaurant, Maze maybe, and I finally arrived at the sides region, where the man behind the counter sang along pitch perfect with the tune. I opted for the macaroni and cheese and collards, which loomed with strips of fatty pork in their tray, ominous as gators in a swamp. At the register, I was also handed a large slice of cornbread, and the very kind, very bedazzled employee informed me that Mikki's does, in fact, have a microwave in case my food had gotten cold from the wait. Such is the lunch rush we're talking here.
But my food was still warm, and the beef steak righteous, spot on for when the weather dips and you need a giant plate of savory roast beef in dark, salty gravy.
"How is everything?" A nice employee cleaning up the dining area asked me.
"Good," I told him, but we both knew it was even better than that
It's my profound belief that the smothered fried chicken is going to change my life when I return for it on an upcoming Monday — that's when it's a daily special for just under $8 with two sides and cornbread. That's got to be one of the best dining deals in town.
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SHOW ME HOW
As far as what sides I'll try next, that too will be difficult. The macaroni and cheese is well-seasoned — perhaps it's a touch of garlic or onion powder that adds to its luster — and the collard greens are on par with the best in the South, conjuring for me visions of New Orleans, of Willie Mae's, of Dooky Chase's, with a porky, bright flavor and touch of heat, which reads more Crystal Hot Sauce than cayenne or chili. But this spot is all Texas, as I discovered while still in line. The woman behind me, peering over my shoulder at the array of sides asked, "Are those red beans or pintos?"
"Pintos," the employee answered.
"Yeah," she said and smiled. "That's what I want."
Mikki's Cafe & Catering, 375 Greens Road
(281) 919-1506, mikkiscafe.com
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
And yes, the leftovers, when reheated, are almost better than the original meal.