THE BEST JUNK FOOD

Ten simple pleasures; prizewinners all.

YOU AREN’T WHAT you eat. This goes without saying if you’ve ever watched a perfectly put-together 107-pound fashion model hover over the potato chip bowl at a cocktail party or if you’ve ever spied a well-muscled, masculine hunk of beefcake order his second double doodad with guacamole and extra cheese.

Compulsive dieters are realizing that health food will influence the way they feel much sooner than it can change the way they look. Many are forsaking their celery and carrot sticks for things more captivating and carnal. Junk.

The golden age of junk food arrived before we even had a word for it. Up until about 10 years ago, we indulged in corn chips and corny dogs with great pleasure and no nagging guilt trips. That was before Dallas and the rest of the country became so health-conscious. Now joggers pant down every city sidewalk, and almost everyone scans package contents sleuthing for preservatives.

But nutritionists are taking a new look at junk food and placing it in its proper context. The much-maligned hamburger, milkshake and order of onion rings is a meal with some merit. Consumer activists are cooling their fiery condemnations of fast-food franchises. They’re realizing now that a doughnut has about the same impact upon the body as a granola bar. French fries, they’ve found, are no worse than a baked potato oozing butter and sour cream. And pizza is more or less a meat-and-cheese sandwich with a side order of oregano-spiked tomatoes.

And if nutrition penetrated our leisure eating, so did our habit of comparison shopping. In the golden years, we never went drive-in hopping. Everybody went to the Varsity for social reasons, honking around the parking lot on Friday nights and downing shakes and sundaes without a thought. We were not yet critical eaters.

Not so, Dallas 1982. Dallasites eat out a lot – thousands of them two or three times a day-and they don’t eat in the same places every meal. Dallasites know their junk food – and they know where to get it.

Which is one reason we turned to democracy: Let the people decide. After all, what belongs to the people more than their junk food? But, unfortunately, democracy does not show its best face when 2,000 candidates are on the ballot. The electorate-everybody we know who eats out a lot-degenerated into a mob, calling out different names and some even donning T-shirts from their favorite hamburger joints.

But King Solomon once wrote, “In a multitude of counselors there is wisdom.” And, in the end, he was right. Out of the mayhem a weird consensus took shape. The same names began to surface from widely different sources. Our job was simplified. From this pared-down list, with our own collective wisdom thrown in, we took to the field to track down the best Dallas has to offer.

It was no piece of cake. For one thing, Dallas is restaurant-rich in certain categories, such as hamburgers and nachos, but surprisingly short of top-quality hot dogs and chili.

We also faced a terrible tangle of variables. This led us to take extra pains to be fair. We asked each restaurant to give us its best. We tried to keep garnishes the same. We rinsed our palates at every stop. We ignored distractions such as atmosphere, time of preparation, quality of iced tea, service and the beauty of the waitress. We failed miserably in only one objective: We were not equally hungry at every stop.



DOUGHNUTS



A decadent item with which to start an otherwise tiresome office morning, the doughnut has replaced the time-honored Danish as an accompaniment to the hot and wretchedly bitter cup of office brew. They come in infinite varieties: sugar-coated, glazed, jelly-filled, cream-filled, chocolate-covered, nut-covered, blueberry-flaked. They are all good. And sensuous. Doughnuts, in fact, are probably the most sensuous of all junk foods: rich and sinful and totally without redeeming social value. And, therefore, infinitely desirable.

The overwhelming popular choice did not disappoint us in the doughnut category: Lone Star Donuts on Mockingbird. Jim Ingram; his wife, Louise; and two grown children turn out a product so light and tender that it doesn’t break, it tears.

Before he started making Dallas’ best doughnuts, Jim Ingram installed telephone systems for Western Electric for 25 years. Then, in 1967 he surveyed all the successful doughnut shops in Dallas County and came up with a formula for success-in spite of the fact that three doughnut shops had failed before him at the 5736 Mockingbird location.

First, he was obsessed with producing a consistently high-quality product. “I tell my people, ’Don’t worry about throwing things away. You’re in trouble only if you put bad stuff out front. We don’t want our customers doing our quality control for us.’ ” All ingredients are weighed to within one-fourth of an ounce, Ingram says.

Second, he cooked fresh doughnuts throughout the day and moved out the older stock to nursing homes, fire stations and churches. This is still Ingram’s practice – but there are fewer doughnuts left over.

Our second and third choices were Tastee Donut Shop, 4404 Lemmon; and Golden Star, 406 Camelot Shopping Center (try the jellies).



PIZZA



Joe Campisi first heard the word “pizza” in 1943 at Coney Island: Somebody offered him a slice, and he wouldn’t eat it. Then, when he realized this was the same ciavata that his Sicilian mother cooked every Friday back in Dallas, with the addition of tomato sauce, he went into the pizza business. He used his mother’s formula for Italian bread dough, his sister made up the sauce and he opened shop at Knox and McKinney in 1945.

Five years later, he moved into the Egyptian Lounge, a beer joint at 5610 E. Mockingbird-and he’s still there, still making the same pizza.

We found most top-rated pizzas in Dallas to be a loose collection of good ingredients on a crust. Campisi’s combination pizza is sublimely orchestrated, with all the individual components blending together in a deep-dish rhapsody. The super-thin crust attracts no attention to itself; it’s only a vehicle for getting the filling from your plate to your mouth.

We found a close second to Campisi’s at Strictly Tabu, 4111 Lomo Alto. Al’s Pizzeria, 159 Walnut Hill Village, also deserves mention.



FRENCH FRIES



Texans have a thing about French fries. They’re sacred. Whoever fabricated the first frozen potato slice should be deep-fried himself. Fresh potatoes, with or without the skins, cut up thin, thrown in fresh oil at the right temperature- that’s the only way to obtain the perfect French fry.

Okay, McDonald’s fans, hold your bricks until we’ve had a chance to explain. Your favorite is good-damn good for fast-food fare-but it just wasn’t the best. Nowhere did we violate public opinion more than here: People really love Ronald’s French fries.

But Snuffer’s, 3526 Greenville, had just the combination we were looking for: slightly crisp and yet tender, not greasy, a bit of tang (garlic and onion, plus whatever else Pat Snuffer and Michael Watkins use in their secret formula). The fries are one of only 12 items on Snuffer’s limited menu.

In judging fries, we had trouble settling on one variety. Some restaurants leave the skins on when cutting up potatoes; others peel them. Some slice them in the traditional way; others cut them up cottage-style; still others serve them in curlicues.

If real potato taste in fries is more important to you than spice, your best bets are Chili’s, 7567 Greenville and 4291 Belt Line; Judge Bean’s, 8214 Park Lane and 14920 Midway Road; and Chelsea Corner, 4830 McKinney.



CHILI<BR>

Chili used to be a cold-weather food. Nothing short of a few quick shots of scotch straight out of the bottle could get a huntsman’s blood pumping quicker. Now people eat chili any time; some like that summertime surge chili gives. Indeed, the dish has almost medicinal, certainly restorative characteristics that can clear the head and sinuses in a flash. And there’s little doubt about it: The best chili in Dallas is at Chili’s. And best by a wide margin. It’s so good that you may find yourself holding onto the table with both hands and stamping your feet on the floor.

Chili’s owner, Larry Lavine, got his interest in chili, the story goes, from his race car-driving father-in-law, Carroll Shelby, who held the first chili cook-off at his ranch near Terlingua. Larry took over a hot-dog bar at 7567 Greenville and started selling burgers, fries and his own “bowl of red.”

Last month, Chili’s opened its 15th location, in Fort Worth-all in less than eight years.

We expected tough choices when we set out in search of chili in Dallas. After all, it’s almost our national dish here in Texas. To our amazement, in renowned parlor after parlor, we found the competition thin or bland or both. A measure of the state of the public chili field was the number of survey respondents who named the best chili in town as “mine” or “my mom’s.”

Nonetheless, second place went to Tol-bert’s, 4544 McKinney; and third to Casa Blanca, 2325 N. Akard.



MILKSHAKES



There’s this fallacy about milkshakes: As you’re indulging and slurping down all that ice cream and milk and sugar and flavor, you can pretend that it’s good for you. It does contain all that milk doesn’t it? But that, of course, is not the real reason you’re putting down a quart of cool, thick liquid. You’re drinking it because it tastes so good, especially with that hamburger and French fries. All that sugar is a nice contrast to the salt of the fries and the mustard on the burger. But shakes have gone the way of so many good junk foods: co-opted for convenience and cost-savings. These days, a good shake is hard to find.

“We make the same milkshake you used to get at drugstore soda fountains back in the Twenties and Thirties,” says Rufus Lightfoot, whose tiny Oak Cliff lunchroom, Lightfoot’s, may have the most goodies per square foot of any place in Dallas.

One day, two years ago, Foremost missed a delivery of custard for Rufus’ ice cream machine, forcing him to make his own. He has made his own ever since. Cutting no corners, he puts his product together the way his mother used to make it for the ice cream churn: whole milk, eggs, the works. And when he puts it into a shake, he puts in plenty of ice cream and flavoring. We can’t vouch for the Twenties and Thirties, but it tastes great today.

The volume of business at Lightfoot’s, 221 S. Corinth, is nothing like it used to be-by Rufus’ choice. In the early days of his business, 18 years ago, he worked seven days a week and cooked three meals a day, with 12 employees at the grill and hopping cars. Now, at 62, he’s eased off and opens only on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday- “after one o’clock.” He’s by himself with one employee. Tuesday and Thursday are Rufus’ golf days, and Sunday he rests.

Compared to Lightfoot’s, the competing products we tried north of the Trinity are no great shakes, but you might try Holy Cow (nice and thick, but extremely sweet) in Caruth Plaza and Collin Creek Mall; and Highland Park Pharmacy, 3229 Knox.



TACOS



It’s a tactile pleasure to eat a taco; the thing fits so well in one’s hand. Take a few bites though, and it’s suddenly all over the place. The quality of the taco relies upon the quality of the parts tumbling out on the plate, each with an individual texture and taste.

Tacos have advanced considerably since they were sold by street vendors for a quarter. Restaurants are getting experimental, elaborating on the taco hybrid. Now there are chicken tacos, bean tacos and guacamole tacos, and all of them are terrific.

Just as tacos have come a long way, so has Raphael Carreon of Raphael’s, who started as a busboy at the old La Tunisia restaurant. But thank goodness he didn’t lose his mother’s formula for tacos on his way up.

When Raphael went on his own seven years ago (after rising through the ranks at El Chico), who was back in the kitchen turning out the Tex-Mex? Raphael’s mother. She was cooking for a crowd, to be sure, but it was the same fare she had prepared all her life. “She trained my people,” Raphael says.

In checking out tacos, we found that we had to gnaw through some of them, while others left chip shrapnel all over the table. Raphael’s puff taco is exquisite. They make a special tortilla that rises slightly in the cooking process, forming a tulip-shaped cup for the meat and other goodies, including oil and vinegar that tends to run down your arm.

Raphael’s first opened at 6782 Greenville and later brought his classy green-and-yellow logotype signboard to 3701 McKinney. The logo, by the way, was done for him by a friend-in exchange for two dinners.

Runners-up for the puff variety were Mario and Alberto’s, 425 Preston Valley Shopping Center; and Escondido’s, 2210 Butler.



ONION RINGS



The first onion ring was probably a fry cook’s mistake. There he was, working on somebody’s short order, getting rushed by one of the waitresses, when he dropped an onion slice off a hamburger into the fried-chicken batter. As he fished it out, he got a remarkable idea, dropped the batter-covered onion into the hot fat, and a delicacy was born. Nowadays, we encounter ersatz onion rings that have never even been close to an onion – flavorless batter with bits of dehydrated, reprocessed, reconstituted white things that may or may not have been onions in a previous life. Stay away from those. Look around, be diligent and you can find real onion rings that are worth the search.

Sonny Bryan is a Dallas legend-but in barbecue. His grandfather, Elijah, taught his father, Red, all the frills of the barbecue grill back when the family smokehouse was in Oak Cliff. Then Red taught Sonny.

Sonny’s people have mastered the onion rings. “It’s been over 20 years since I involved myself personally with the onion rings,” he says. “I taught the ladies how to do it, and they’ve carried it on ever since.”

The touch is not easily acquired. “A lot of people offer onion rings on their menu,” Sonny says, “but they drop them off when they find out how hard it is to make a good onion ring. You’ve got to go in and out of the batter so many times, and it’s hard to get the top-quality onions year-round. And they’ve got to be cooked fresh.”

At Sonny Bryan’s 2202 Inwood location, the covering falls off the onion at a touch, which we found annoying, but then the flavor of the onion itself is a wonder. The heat of the deep fat (which separates it from the greasy exterior) brings out the natural sweetness of the onion.

We also found excellent rings at Crazy Crab, 3211 Oak Lawn (the flavor of its shredded, non-circular onions is superb); and at Dalt’s, 5100 Belt Line.



SUBMARINES



Subs, like tacos, are built upon a system of proportion and balance. There’s a sophisticated architecture to this sandwich that provides the eater with a slightly different bite every time. A sub is rife with surprises. It’s a sandwich that rarely repeats itself, which means that it’s never dull. Cerebrally, the submarine sandwich doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why would anyone want to put a salad between two slices of hard roll? But taste bud-wise, submarines are perfectly logical.

When Dallasite Marty Berkman got his Master’s at the Harvard Business School, he subsisted on subs for two years. When he came home to Dallas, he and two partners set up the submarine shop reputed to be the first in Texas: Galligaskin’s, 3812 Cole.

That was 10 years ago. The Galligaskin’s sandwich formula, derived by analyzing the best of New England submarines, is still intact. The bread comes directly from an Italian baker in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and contains your choice of meats and cheeses covered with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions and sundry etceteras, all marvelously oiled and vinegared.

Galligaskin’s now has six stores in the Dallas area, including a new one at 2926 W. Northwest Hwy. The business now is 70 percent steak sandwiches-but we like to go back to its roots: to the submarine.Who was Galligaskin, you ask? Not who, but what. Galligaskins were the kind of breeches (or hose) boys wore in Shake-speare’s day. Surely, then, this is the no-blest submarine of them all.Second place in the sub race goes to the Great American Hero and the Great Out-doors, which have as many locations in the area as they do subs on their menus.HOT DOGSThe hot dog, in all its aberrations, is probably the quintessential junk food. In its lowly ballpark rendering, in its New York City street-vendor version, in its backyard-grill rendition, in its chili-and-cheese ultimate, the hot dog means junk food. There are New York Wall Streeters who take their lunch break every day under the nearest Sabrett umbrella, chomping down on what may be the last food bargain in the Big Apple: the 95-cent hot dog.

Northerners have a hot dog tradition that we never have managed to develop down here. New Yorkers line up at lunch hour to buy a hot dog, but we relegate our franks to the ballpark or the state fair. It’s something to keep hunger at bay, not to savor. And the general standard for franks in our restaurants and eateries reflects this. We found our best hot dog at Le Snack at the D/FW airport. Le Snack’s hot dog is not a great dog by world standards, and had our ratings been made during state fair time, it quite possibly would not have won. But no apologies: We liked the product at Le Snack. It’s a juicy quarter-pound weiner on a fresh, oversized bun, with choice of garnishes left to the customer. If you opt for the chili version, you get chili that’s thick and meaty.

Le Snack has its faithful fans: Plenty of airline attendants hurry off the plane to grab a chili dog before continuing on to LA or Denver.

Dobbs House, which owns Le Snack, serves five to six tons of hot dogs a month at its 40 D/FW locations.

We came up with a tie for second dog: Poochie’s, 5111 Greenville; and the Vienna stand at Preston and LBJ. Both feature fat, meaty dogs that are full of flavor.

NACHOS<BR>

Nacho variations are limited only by your stomach’s fortitude and your imagination. We’ve had them with chicken and sour cream, and we’ve had them with cheese and jalapenos. We’ve even had them with paprika sprinkled on top. Almost all of the offerings are excellent; the only bad nachos we’ve eaten had stale tortilla chips or hadn’t been toasted long enough. (We’re not including ballpark nachos; they’re not worthy of the name.)

Moctezuma’s, 3236 McKinney, takes the nacho art to a new dimension. We recommend its chicken nachos: Felix Rayas’ spiced chicken with beans, two kinds of cheese and guacamole, with a sour-cream sauce poured on top. The corn chip is made in-house, with the vats running almost 24 hours a day.

Moctezuma’s has been around only since January 1980, when Genaro and David Silva came from their family’s Ta-chito’s Restaurant in Oak Cliff, armed with Genaro’s recipes and an idea to make Mexican food high-class. They converted an old building that had been a bar into a fine, brick-floored restaurant and served up quality food, including Mexican-style steaks and swordfish-and, of course, nachos.

For second place, there’s quite a list: Cafe Cancun, Lomo Alto at l.emmon; Cardinal Puff’s, 4615 Greenville; Snuffer’s, 3526 Greenville; and Bennigan’s 5260 Belt Line and other locations.



HAMBURGE



Is there any better serious junk food than hamburgers, that staple of the Fifties? Could there have been happy days without hamburgers? Could American Grafitti have been filmed without a drive-in that served them? Fast-food fortunes have been made from hamburgers, even though most are pale shadows of the real thing.

Hamburgers should be judged like prizefighters. No one would urge Sugar Ray Leonard into the ring with Larry Holmes, so why should a hamburger be asked to compete out of its weight class? The fact is that hamburger patties in Dallas have become so thick that comparing one to another has become a game of inches.

We went with a middleweight as the best hamburger overall in a very strong field: Dunston’s hamburger, made by the steak people. Two things set Dunston’s cooks apart from the crowd: They mesquite-broil the hamburger patties (right along with the steaks), and they butter and grill the buns. The end result – bun, lettuce, tomato, pickle, condiments and juicy meat – all hangs together, both in taste and in your hand. They’ve been at it on Harry Hines for 27 years. The hamburger price tag? $1.75. Another great middleweight burger is at Andrew’s, 3301 McKinney.

In the heavyweight class-those up to a half-pound – the best burgers are found at The Wycliff Point, 2525 Wycliff; and Snuffer’s, 3526 Greenville.

In the arena of the lightweight burger, it’s Lightfoot’s Drive-in, 221 South Corinth; Village Charco Burgers, 514 E. Camp Wisdom; Keller’s Drive-In, 3766 Samuell Boulevard among other locations; and Club Schmitz, 9661 Denton Drive, which also offers Shuffleboard. Wendy’s tops the fast-food list.

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