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It’s heartening when one’s home state strikes a powerful blow against the forces of darkness. And I’m here to tell you, if you want the forces of darkness whisked from your view like yesterday’s dust-bunnies, you’d better get on a plane, fly to Houston right now, go to Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, and order their creamed corn.
Yes, I know: creamed corn? What’s with this lunatic and his dern creamed corn?
Well. If fate had smiled on you as it did me, and you had made your way to Killen’s the other night and seen fit, as I did, to order yourself a sixteen-ounce ribeye, a plate of fried asparagus (yep) and some of chef Ronnie Killen’s so-sublime-your-brain-will-melt creamed corn, you’d know what I’m talking about. You’d start to give a damn about creamed corn. An upside-down, sideways and with boots on damn, in fact.
Anyway, enough of this folderol. What Killen said he does is as follows (I think this is largely accurate): he cooks his corn on the cob, slices off the kernels, then simmers the cobs in cream and butter, infusing the liquid with an intense essence of corn character. He removes the cobs, scrapes every bit of corn pulp and milk out of them into the pot, purees a quarter of the kernels, adds those, adds the rest of the whole kernels, dashes in a bit of cayenne pepper (crucial), grates a bit of parmesan on top, and sticks the whole thing under the broiler just long enough to brown the parmesan. Whereupon he serves it to people like me, who then have their whole understanding of creamed corn’s place in the culinary universe pretty handily rewritten for them.
Alison Cook, esteemed restaurant critic at the Houston Chronicle and hometown pal, hauled me (and my mother—long story, but she's pals with Alison, too) out to Killen’s the other night, and thanks is due. Outside of my corn-epiphany, everything about this meal was spot-on: a sixteen-ounce wet-aged ribeye that was charred on the outside and toothsome within, a sixteen-ounce dry-aged ribeye that was straight-up the best steak I’ve tasted in at least a year (better than anything I’ve had in NYC in that span), and, hey, fried asparagus. Breaded fried asparagus. With lump crabmeat in a lemon-butter sauce on top. God knows what Houstonian chef-maniac dreamed up deep-fried asparagus, but apparently it’s the latest food-rage in my always odder-than-it-seems hometown.
Nice wine list, too, by the way (this is a wine blog, after all). We ordered a 2004 Les Mas de Collines Gigondas that was aromatic and supple and went surprisingly well with onion rings, and then a 2004 Scott Harvey Old Vines Zinfandel ($30) that was chock-a-block with wild berry fruit and relatively (14.5%) moderate in alcohol, at least as far as old vines zins run these days. Great with a steak.
Oh. And chef Killen’s crème brûlée bread pudding, four words that were destined to go together, as far as I'm concerned. You don’t want to know, but essentially it involves soaking buttery croissants in lusciously rich (but not wildly sweet) crème brûlée custard, then baking the mushed-together mass until it is, um, extremely good for your heart. Right. (Here: the look of someone used to getting everything, denied his rightful portion of c.b. bread pudding.)
Two last things: I left with lingering regrets that I did not order Killen's sirloin chicken fried steak, though that does give me a justification for driving 12 miles straight out Telephone Road to this deceptively low-key place the next time I'm in town. Also, it's worth noting that when Ronnie Killen's parents owned the property, it was an ice-house. Man, the times they are a'changin. Oh wait—hasn't that been said before?