For someone who considers herself a fan of both classic Southern food and Tolkien, I don’t got often enough to Treebeards.
When I strolled into the Market Square location at 11:30 a.m. on a recent weekday, the downstairs seating area was already almost full and a long (but fortunately swiftly moving) line of customers had formed in front of the buffet. I grabbed a tray and experienced a fleeting flashback to lunch at my high school cafeteria, which still retained “fallout shelter” signs originating from the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Fortunately, the selection of entrees at Treebeards, all of which are made from scratch daily, are infinitely superior to the what my alma mater was passing off as “food." (You know things are bad when “Mystery Meat Monday” is actually the best day of the week.)
For many Treebeards customers, following their gustatory bliss means enjoying the iconic red beans (available for only $1.95 at the upcoming “Can Jam” to mark its 40th anniversary), but I am currently obsessed with another of its classics, plus one unexpected side dish and a deceptively named dessert.
The chicken fried chicken is a thick slab of all-white meat, so juicy it squishes just slightly in your mouth with every bite, and heavily battered as to form a lovely corrugated crust. Though you don't have to add anything to the CFC, a generous ladle of white gravy ups the savory ante and, at least for this writer, meant extra napkins to mop up the errant facial smears. Still, I am proud to say the majority of the gravy leaked on the adjacent mashed potatoes, themselves a triumph in creamy consistency.
And while spuds are in theory the perfect sidekick to chicken fried anything, for me another starchy vegetable stole the show. Treebeards’s baked squash is all butter and cinnamon and the perfect food to consume during Houston’s first cold front of season. Owner Jolie Stinneford generously offered to give me the recipe, but I refused.
As for dessert, let's turn to the butter cake. I thought Momofuku Milk Bar’s “crack pie” was addictive, but Treebeards’s butter cake is better. Its name, however, is misleading. “Cake Butter” is a more apt descriptor given its intense salty-sugary taste and almost spreadable texture...do I dare smear it on toast???
I digress. Go to Treebeards and I dare you not to discover a new delicious obsession.