What would Frank X. Tolbert think of Tolbert’s restaurant? The author of A Bowl of Red, the definitive book about true Texas cooking, especially classic chili, was a seeker of authenticity, of roots, of unfancified people’s food. The restaurant that bears his name and is now run by his daughter, Kathleen, is a rather stylish venue, a culinary reliquary in a town devoted to the charms of Lone Star antiquity; and its menu includes the likes of Buffalo wings, a salmon platter, and chili with beans.
For all the self-consciousness of the setting and newfangled items on the menu, Tolbert’s bowl of red, aka chili con carne (the one without beans), is perfect — exactly the chili that Tolbert himself eulogized as The Right Stuff. Tortilla chips surrounding it are unobtrusive; cheese and onions are optional; the brew itself is chunky beef and chili and spice. I’m not so persnickety about chili; I like all kinds, even the most iconoclastic, but I must say that this simple one-two combo proves the Bauhaus principle of cookery, that sometimes less is more.