I just ate lunch at Dot's Kitchen for the first time. It was one of the best meals I've had since moving here in the summer of 1997. I've read about Dot's for a while now, but inexplicably I had not made the trek to industrial North Austin to sample the food myself until today. As I type this (1:14 p.m. CST) I am still stuffed; please forgive any typos.
For those not from Austin, Dot's is a soul food cafeteria. If Gene's is Louisiana Food with a soul food twist, Dot's is pure, old-fashioned soul food. I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and as a child my family and I ate at the legendary Pete Harris cafe at least weekly. With this background, I have always been highly critical of many soul food establishments, as the Pete Harris Cafe is not just a soul food mecca, but The Best Restaurant I Have Ever Been To. That said, Dot's was outstanding.
Each day, the cafeteria serves up 8 entrees, and a meal also gets you a choice of two side dishes out of a possible dozen or so. Today, I had beef tips over rice, greens, and black-eyed peas. I finished with a sliver of chocolate merengue pie. Numerous salad offerings were available, but I did not try any.
The beef tips were an absolute triumph. Fork tender hunks of roast in a legitimate gravy. That's right people, real gravy. It was as if the cook said "wait a minute! I will not succomb to Austin's lackadasical approach to gravy. I will make a real beef stock, and use it to mix with real beef drippings and lots of pepper to make a legitimate, flavorful gravy! The gravy will be massivly flavorful, and yet it will not overpower the dish as it is the essence of the dish, nothing more, nothing less." I could have eaten just a huge bowl of the gravy over rice. My buddies got fried catfish and roast beef, both of which looked good.
The side dishes were solid, but not as noteworthy as the beef tips. The pie was a fascinating story of its own. The crust was perfect. Perfect pie crust is no easy feat, and the version at Dot's speaks volumes about the cook's skill and experience. The merengue on top was also outstanding: as light as air. One bite of the pie, though, and I knew I had tasted the filling before. It tasted exactly like, and surely must have been, Jello pudding. Don't get me wrong: it was delicious, but it was Jello, or a remarable facsimile thereof. To me it was stunning. To go to great lengths to perfect the two most dificult elements of the pie, and to then trust them to Jello pudding for filling.
Since moving to Austin I've searched for a place like Dot's. The cooks simply know how to season food, an art which is sadly missing in so many Austin restaurants. I'm sorry if I've droned on too long, or if the place is so much of an institution that it has already been covered ad nauseum earlier on this board. I just could not contain my excitement at finding real soul food in Austin, and at doubling the number of Austin restaurants which I've visited which serve great gravy.