What makes for a great destination restaurant in Texas, one which serves iconic Texas food that's so good and an atmosphere so deep in the heart of the Lone Star State that visitors looking for "the authentic Texas experience" would clamor to go there?
Well, if you look in the dictionary under the term "genuine Texas home-cooking," you might just see a picture of Babe's Chicken Dinner House.
The story of the Babe's journey and experience actually begins in Dallas, with a place called Bubba's set up in an old Texaco station near the SMU campus. Paul (Bubba) and Mary Beth (Babe) Vineyard's concept was such a wild success, they expanded to the suburbs and opened their first Babe's in Roanoke, TX a dozen years later. Success followed success, with outposts soon established in Garland, Carrollton, Sanger, and Burleson, all established with Bubba's/Babe's small town fare that keeps all locations packed at lunch and busy all day on the weekends.
My lovely wife the Rock Star and I repaired to the Carrollton location on a warm Sunday recently. Two PM and the joint was packed, with a 20-30 minute wait for tables. Luckily, the patio of Babe's offers plenty of funky seating, including part of a 1956 Chevy pickup converted into bench seating. Inside, the three buildings of the former lumber company have been joined together, creating a large, boisterous yet comfortable interior. Genuine central Texas Red Cedar wood abounds, and the walls are plastered with delightful signs such as "ElRanchoNotSoGrande" and "My Cow Just Died, So I Don't Need Your Bull!" I LOVE owners with a sense of humor, as this usually extends to the staff so everybody can have FUN at their jobs, making for a memorable experience for all.
Babe's sticks to a proven recipe for success (You just can't call it a formula; this place is SO unformulaic!): Give the customers their choice of a half-dozen entrees, then serve the same side dishes family-style to all. Why not? In an age where too many places feature page after menu page of mediocre food, the idea of serving just a few VERY well done dishes comes as a welcome relief. The Babes in Carrollton serves just six meat entrees: Fried Chicken (four generous pieces), Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Chicken Fingers, Fried Catfish, Pot Roast with Gravy and Hickory Smoked Chicken, plus a Vegetable Plate. After making your selections, the meal will start with a rather simple salad which is nothing more than chopped iceburg lettuce swathed with basic oil and vinegar. It's fine, but if you're a confirmed salad purist, you probably won't care for it. Don't worry, the best is yet to come. Soon enough, the sweet-natured waitress will bring your entrees: generous individual helpings of meat, with plenty of bowls of vegetables to share. The Rock Star loves chicken fingers and these were to die for: light and crispy, fried in canola oil to minimize trans fats, and served with honey mustard dressing. Instead of preparing meals in giant institutional vats, Babe's makes small portions over and over throughout the day, so the food is always guaranteed fresh. Half a dozen huge fresh pieces blended perfectly with the honey mustard's spicy sweetness. Not too greasy, not too heavy, just right with melt-in your mouth goodness. I opted for the chicken-fried steak and was rewarded with a platter-size filet fork-tender and covered with the same fabulous breading, and accompanied by old-school white cream gravy with just enough peppering and so good that, as they used to say in the South, it makes you wanna slap your momma. Sides include generous portions of fresh cooked green beans (I add a touch of hot sauce to mine for a true Southwestern experience), Grandma's sweet creamed corn (rich, yet not at all heavy), mashed potatoes (silky smooth, not at all lumpy), and made from scratch buttermilk biscuits. Everything was sheer Southern dining poetry, so good the restaurant sports a plaque indicating its Zagat rated. Two tips: You can bag up meats for take home but not side dishes, so you may want to fill up on those great sides while dining in so there will be more entree to carry out later. Also, several desserts are offered, but you just might be too full, so instead save a biscuit for the end of your meal, then cover it with either the Texas Brush Honey or the genuine Louisiana sorghum (like molasses without the bitterness) to make a light-but-sweet finish.
Babes believes in neighborly, family friendly service, and the waitresses certainly deliver. Again, since the food is prepared fresh all day, orders are quickly taken and speedily delivered. One word of caution from the Rock Star: Babe's is very, very popular, so waits just to be seated during peak times can be extensive. She suggests that you plan to get there by 11AM or after 2PM for weekday lunch, and from 2-6PM on the weekends.
Babes is not only the perfect, iconic spot for downhome Texas/Southern cooking, but the owners have polished a concept that would-be restauranteurs would do well to follow: stick with what you know, limit the choices, use the best quality ingredients and prepare food over and over all day in small portions to ensure freshness. I would have to agree, for as you know:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!