A few days ago a picture crossed my desk of the salad dressing menu of Jax Grill, a venerable Houston restaurant offering down-home fare.
Jax has an entire single-page menu of their eleven house-made dressings, including the usual suspects: oil and vinegar, Thousand Island, bleu cheese, and three ranch varietals: regular, jalapeño, and low-fat.
And then there is one of the most Texan menu stipulations I’ve ever seen:
“QUESO IS NOT AN OPTION FOR SALAD DRESSING.” (Underlining original.)
“I just thought it was hilarious,” says Becky Downs, a Houston native who sent out the picture over Facebook. “Only in Texas. I sent it to my friends out of state to show them what life was like in Texas.”
A Jax manager told me over the phone that they’d been forced to add that to the menu due to popular demand for ensaladas con queso. She was not philosophically opposed to the culinary concept. Rather, it was a bottom-line decision: queso is more expensive to concoct than their other dressings, and if you want queso on your salad, you just have to order it separately.
Unlike the ancient Hebrews, who decided what was and wasn’t kosher thousands of years ago, chiseling those laws in stone in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the Texan dietary code is still in flux. Which leaves us with the question: Is queso on salad Tex-kosher or not?
First I consulted people on Facebook. Several friends pointed out that we think nothing of queso on a taco or a fajita salad. True enough. Another said why not—how different is it from bleu cheese? Well, warm queso causes wilting, but other than that, yeah, fair point.But most were as flummoxed by the concept of a queso salad—minus taco or fajita meat—as I was.
We rabble could not arrive at a consensus so I consulted a Randy Evans, executive chef and director of restaurants for H-E-B. “Queso dresses everything,” said Evans. This, perhaps, is unsurprising coming from a man who once offered Texas Monthly a recipe for chile con queso con cheesecake.
“When I was a kid, my mom used to make a taco salad, and it was dressed in queso,” Evans said. “It was an old Ann Criswell recipe from the Houston Chronicle. It was more of a queso-Thousand Island thing. Let me see if I can find that for you.” Evans shuffled some papers around on his desk and found the Holy Writ almost immediately. Like, within ten seconds.
“Here it is. It’s in the book. Page 24, The Food Chronicles, by Ann Criswell. 30 Years of the Best Recipes of 30 Years, 1966-1996,” he proclaimed. “Winner of the weekly favorite recipe contest, June 22, 1972.” The recipe suggested that it was equally worthy of potluck suppers, picnics by the pool, or al fresco dining.
“It’s in the book, so it has to be true,” Evans said.
So it is written and so it shall be. Queso on salad: Tex-Kosher.