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 people's food in the raw. The restaurant that bears his name and is now run by his daughter, Kathleen, is far from raw. It 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.
"There is no food duet that feels more perfectly right than that of beef and chile peppers, aka chili con carne."
"A single cup of chili, surrounded by chips and accompanied by onions and cheese, is fairly small but concentrated enough that you will need a good-size appetite to follow it with a chicken fried steak or ''Grapevine ribeye.''"
"The building in which Tolbert's is located went up in 1911. It is one of several vintage structures on Grapevine's Main Street, which today is a museum / gallery / souvenir store celebrating Texas history. Note the old-time raised sidewalk ... which now has a ramp for wheelchair access."
"The Lone Star flag dates back to 1839, about a half-century before the Chili Queens of San Antonio started to create the cult of chili con carne. Chili now is the official state dish of Texas"