When my formidable mother-in-law The Momma summons me, I know it's best to answer right away. Recently, she called me with a dilemma. She wanted to host a family celebration, but she didn't want to spend an arm and a leg, just an arm, and she noted that the guest of honor preferred steak as their repast of choice. However, she could not afford Pappas Brothers or III Forks or any other high-end beef palace; in short, did I happen to know of a mid-level steakhouse that would serve no-frills, top notch quality in a warm and cozy setting? My response was immediate: Dunston's. Since 1955, Gene Dunston and his family have been mesquite-broiling beef to your exacting specifications, first at their Harry Hines facility and later at their Lovers Lane location, which was where we would be dining on this evening. (Some of you may remember their Forest Lane operation fondly; regrettably, it has since closed.) So, fortified with the knowledge that we would be enjoying the hospitality of a family with half-a-century of expertise in their field, we set off. My lovely wife the Rock Star, her sister the Wild Thing, The Momma, and myself picked our way down the Tollway one recent Saturday evening.
Most of you youngsters out there would probably call Dunston's kitschy, but I prefer to think of it as old-school Texas charm circa 1969, which was when the Lovers Lane branch opened its doors. Wood paneling and carpets with diamond patterns. Pictures of old movie stars and the 1977 Dallas Cowboys lining the walls. A fake parrot and a man in a hammock hanging from the ceiling. A full bookshelf and coatrack adorn one wall, while a complete salad bar stands ready in a central location. Trend-followers probably wouldn't be caught dead in such a place, but the very attractive, mostly gray-haired regulars felt right at home and so did we. After a short delay, the attentive Jose found his way to us and took excellent care of us the rest of the evening.
For those of us with long memories, Dunston's evokes dining from days of yore, when such establishments as Night Hawk, Hoffbrau, and Cattlemen's ruled the steak scene. We decided to start our repast with that old Southern classic which inspired a movie, fried green tomatoes. Like its kissing cousin fried okra, I feel that this dish is an acquired taste and was actually somewhat rubbery, but the accompanying remoulade was redolent of spice and the turnip greens were fresh. Next, we decided on a bottle of Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, and the fruit-forward style of this wine was an unqualified success, even for such dedicate white-wine imbibers as the Wild Thing and the Momma. The ladies soon decamped for the salad bar, while on Jose's recommendation, I tried the jalapeno cream soup. Surprisingly mild and creamy, I could really taste the firmness of the pepper in the potage and not just the heat. The old-school assault continued when baskets of paper condiment containers filled with cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits were dropped on our table, in anticipation of the baked potatoes and entrees soon to follow. The Rock Star and The Momma were quite content with their ribeye and filet respectively, both cooked precisely to order and full of mesqute goodness. Feeling somewhat more adventurous, The Wild Thing and myself upgraded to the prime tenderloin. Beef served at the high-end places such as Bijoux is often silken and buttery, here the emphasis was on campfire texture, more firm and chewy, and in my case, perfectly medium-rare. Bread pudding proved light and not too sweet or cloying, an appropriate ending for this meal.
SERVICE & WEBSITE
Once he found his way to our table, Jose was quite adept with recommendations and special requests, even ringing a large hand bell to single out those patrons with special occasions. Website is www.dunstonssteakhouse.com, where you will be treated to the delightful history of this venerable establishment, complete with photographs.
Dunston's prides itself on serving "honest" drinks and steaks in a setting "as close as you will get to home without being there." Discover their downhome hospitality yourself, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!