Many of my best food memories from childhood occurred at chain restaurants. It’s an old story by now–how my parents didn’t cook, yadda yadda yadda–and we ate most of our weeknight meals in Boca Raton at restaurants owned by athletes (Pete Rose’s, Wilt Chamberlain’s) or country-wide chains like Chili’s, Friday’s and The Cheesecake Factory. At the top of the chain restaurant hierarchy was a restaurant that’s still in business around the country, and still just as good as it was the first time we ate there; that would be Houston’s.
The Houston’s burger isn’t just passable, it’s notably good; and so are their baby back ribs. But for me the dish that lingers, the one that still speaks to me now that chain restaurants are mostly in my distant past, is their salad dressed with a buttermilk garlic dressing.
I remembered only a few things about it: it’s a salad with cornbread croutons. There’s red onion in it and avocado. But that dressing–creamy, tangy, and slightly pungent from the garlic–was what I sought to recreate last week when our friend Mark (you remember Mark, our friend from New York!) was dropping by for dinner.
Plus, I had leftover cornbread and could make those croutons super fast. I just cut the leftover cornbread into cubes, put them on a cookie sheet and toasted them in a 350 degree oven until they were golden all over:
Took about 20 minutes and a few flips.
As for the dressing, you’ll be disgusted when you hear what goes in it, but it works. (It reminds me of some Barefoot Contessa recipes that are similarly gross when you look at the ingredients–mayonnaise, sour cream, etc.–but terrific once you taste them.) In this case, you simply blend one fat clove of raw garlic (chop it up a bit first) with 2/3 cup sour cream, 1 cup mayonnaise, a pinch of salt, a pinch of paprika, a pinch of black pepper, a teaspoon of dry mustard (I didn’t have dry so just used the real thing), 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 cup of buttermilk:
I sort of eyeballed all of those ingredients–no need to be precise–and was wary of it until I tasted and went, “Whoah: that tastes just like the dressing at Houston’s.”
You cover it and keep it in the refrigerator for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld. It’ll get more garlicky.
To serve it all up, I cut up a few heads of romaine, added cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, a cubed avocado, the cornbread croutons and a healthy dose of the dressing:
It’s a salad that’s difficult not to love. Look at our happy customers:
Who says that your parents have to cook for you to be a good cook yourself? Just take your kids to Houston’s and who knows, they may grow up to be an Escoffier.
Recipe: Romaine Salad with Cornbread Croutons & Buttermilk Garlic Dressing
Summary: My take on a famous salad from Houston’s.
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- For the rest of the salad:
- 1/2 a loaf of cornbread (any recipe will work)
- 2 to 3 heads of romaine, outer leaves removed, sliced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 avocado, cubed (do it just before serving or it’ll brown)
- Make the dressing by blending together the sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic, salt, paprika, pepper, mustard, sugar and buttermilk until smooth. Taste and adjust for sweetness (you can add more sugar if necessary) and salt.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut the cornbread into 1/2-inch cubes and place on a cookie sheet. Put the sheet in the oven and toast the cornbread croutons, tossing every 10 minutes or so, until golden brown all over. Set aside.
- In a large bowl add the romaine, the cherry tomatoes, the red onion, the avocado and the croutons. Pour in a big splash of dressing and toss everything with your very clean hands for a good minute so everything is coated. Taste a lettuce leaf and decide if it needs more. Adjust accordingly and serve right away.
This dressing also works as a dip (serve with crudites).
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4