Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Cuellar cousins open Jessie’s Cafe Texas in Mesquite
Going for a "made in Texas" theme with both chicken-fried steak and fajitas.
MESQUITE Jessie's Cafe Texas, which just opened in Mesquite, comes with some noteworthy credentials, as it is co-owned by a pair of Cuellars: Gilbert Jr. and John, both former executives with the family-founded El Chico restaurant chain.
Jessie's has a cowgirl "retro" cafe theme and a Hill country/Tex-Mex menu with chicken-fried steak, fajitas, and fried catfish; home-cooking-style sides such as mashed potatoes, broccoli-rice casserole, and fried okra; and house-made pies. The Cuellar cousins developed the concept with Tony Waldrop, who owned the restaurant that was the previous tenant, Enchiladas.
Gilbert, the most hands-on of the three, previously owned Texana Grill in Nashville and Arlington, and you can see some of its bigger-than-life Texas vestiges in Jessie's, though more subtly rendered. But where Texana had smoked meats and a price range that ran to the mid-$20s, Jessie's range is $16 and under. The end result is a little like a good old Black-Eyed Pea or Good Eats Cafe.
"I wanted to do something along with John and Tony that was intrinsically Texas," Gilbert says. "Something that people would say, 'This is Texas' and that’s where it came from. We wanted the Western feel. It's one third cowgirl, one third retro, and one third café, with the flavors you would see if you went to some of the smaller towns in Texas. My wife and I visited cafes in Hico, Johnson City, Leon Springs, and found common themes including the independent spirit, good chicken-fried steak, and homemade pies."
I'm definitely no CFS expert, but Jessie's served a real nice-looking CFS with a thick crunchy batter wrapped around a generous 8- to 10-ounce piece of meat. Mashed potatoes were the real deal, and the cream gravy had loads of black pepper. Green beans may have been frozen at birth, they were perked up with lots of crumbled bacon; rolls were somehow both chewy and airy.
The restaurant is handsomely mounted, with all of the well-crafted gewgaws you see at a chain restaurant, except that these are authentic rather than fabricated. The wagon wheel that serves as the basis for a chandelier is one that Gilbert dragged out of his backyard. The patriotic bunting was retrieved from a rodeo by stylist/designer Amy Moorhouse. She also went out and bought a slew of bold, shiny belt buckles that have been inlaid into the beams in the dining room. The bar's designed to look like an Airstream camper, and there's a decorative row of beer taps, because Jessie's specializes in draft beer, and that includes happy hour prices all the time, with an 18-ounce schooner for $2.75.
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