Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, August 15, 2002
The Nutt House
Smoked whitefish appetizer special $5.99
Barbecued quail tostadas $7
Braised pig trotters $18
Grandma Spears’ Coca-Cola cake $6
Insanely Good

Texas comfort food goes high-cuisine at The Nutt House.


The Nutt House

121 E Bridge St, Granbury. 817-573-5612. Wed and Thu 4:30pm-9pm. Fri and Sat 11am-2pm, 4:30pm-9:30pm. Sun Noon-7pm. AE, D, MC, V, and local (Granbury) personal checks.

all me crazy about The Nutt House, a Grady Spears restaurant in The Nutt House Hotel in Granbury. Crazy about the atmosphere and the food, which is both comforting and classy. Nutt House manager Kevin Maloney said Spears defines the cuisine of his newest culinary endeavor as rural-Texas comfort food, but by doing that he leaves out a lot of the menu, which wanders from chicken-fried steak and liver and onions to fancy salads to specials like grouper with Chinese eggplant.

Using only 10 supper (a word so much more homey than dinner) entrées and three specials, Spears has something for every taste (except vegans, of course). If chicken-fried steak is too rich or too Southern, the grilled sea bass with melon and a watermelon reduction should satisfy. The menu is full of contrasts. Even the prices are all over the place: entrées range from $12 for chicken and dumplings to $29 for rib-eye steak.

The appetizer special was smoked whitefish. It had the consistency of cold-cured salmon but with a sensuous flavor only possible when fish is cured by wood smoke. It came with a corn and chile gelatin so fancy that it could have been featured on the cover of Gourmet magazine. The fish and gelatin were accompanied by string-like strands of dill pickle, with basil oil and fresh cilantro. Smoked fish with this grown-up version of Jell-O did work. Bites of gelatin and fish held a jazzy conversation on the tongue.

Tostadas with barbecued quail rounded out our starters. Two tostadas were loaded with at least a half-cup each of savory, dark quail meat. The quail was topped with tomatillo salsa and goat cheese and covered in a warm, red ranchero sauce. Each bite was a tasty little adventure because what looked like sour cream was actually crème fraîche — it was unbelievably rich. The moral of this story: Anticipate the unexpected from even the most predictable dishes.

The rib-eye steak was rubbed with molasses and dry mustard and thus offered a mix of flavors you wouldn’t otherwise expect from a plain-Jane steak. If the recommended portion of meat is the size of a deck of cards, this steak was the size of three pinochle decks. It was almost 2 inches thick and large enough to share with a companion without feeling slighted. It was almost perfect, marred only by a blob of rosemary-infused butter slapped on top of the steak. I’m so tired of chef butter. Yes, restaurants do finish steaks with a swipe of butter, but when you have a wonderful piece of meat that is cooked to perfection, you do not have to throw butter on it! Let the steak stand alone. (This one came with wedges of grilled squash and perfect garlic mashed potatoes.)

The first time I ate at the Mansion in Dallas, I tried the creamed spinach to see how a four-star (until recently) kitchen treated a homey dish. For the same reason my guest and I tried a bowl of braised collard greens at The Nutt House. Sure enough, it came all done up with homemade potato chips that surrounded a heap of the finest greens this Yankee has ever tried. They were smoky and blended well with the bite-sized morsels of lean bacon and traces of vinegar mixed up in the bowl.

My companion selected braised pork shank (called trotters) over mashed sweet potatoes and carrots. It’s a heavy meal for early August and is probably more suited to a cool autumn afternoon. Still, the savory meat fell off the bone, and we scooped up what fell off with forkfuls of carrots and potatoes that were indeed sweet, with a sugar level that stopped just short of cloying.

And do not leave without trying one of four desserts. We had Parker County peaches with homemade vanilla ice cream and Grandma Spears’ Coca-Cola cake. This cake was an obscene arrangement of three chocolate ingredients: chocolate cake, chocolate icing, and chocolate mousse. Imagine a triple-layer cake with the cake and icing layers reversed, and you have Grandma Spears’ masterpiece. Half-inch layers of chocolate cake flavored with Coca-Cola were separated by fat, 1-inch layers of chocolate icing with a dense chocolate mousse as the middle layer. It will satisfy the most sugary sweet tooth. Oh yes, it comes with a scoop of tart, sorbet-like buttermilk ice cream. In the Parker County peach dish, the fruits were warm and cooked as though they were intended for cobbler. It was like pie a la mode minus the pesky crust.

The positive experience we had at The Nutt House didn’t stop with the cuisine. The service was efficient but casual. Servers wore jeans and white shirts rather than waiterly black and white. The restaurant was heavily renovated by Spears prior to opening. The uneven hardwood floors looked original, and the walls were painted an oddly relaxing shade of mustard yellow. Two dining rooms and a bar make up the restaurant. The main dining room was delightful. A large stone fireplace was filled with votive candles in blue holders for an overall effect that was calm and inviting.

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