A little convincing from dear old dad results in a Cheap Eats classic

Cheap Eats

Brenda

Tavakoli

When my dad took me to George's Diner the first time, I must admit to feeling skeptical. Here we were in this wood- paneled, steam-tabled, linoleum-floored diner where the owner shouts "Hello my good man!" and waitresses call you "honey."

Bad experiences at similar-looking establishments clouded my judgment. I felt like saying "See? The marquee is missing letters. That's a bad sign," or "Look! The paint is chipping. Let's get the heck outta Dodge ..."

What's more, we had just finished running as if we were being chased) around nearby Memorial Park. I was feeling virtuous from the run and was afraid of undoing all said virtue by eating a grease-laden meal. Yet my dad raved about this place.

Appearances and snap judgments can be deceiving, as my perceptive dad well knows.

He can easily be called reserved, and at times it seems my extroverted personality can overrun what he tries to tell me.

So this time, I smiled like a dutiful daughter and agreed, with forced enthusiasm, to visit George's Diner with him.

That was over a year ago, and we have visited this establishment numerous times since. The diner has become a special place for us where we discuss dad and daughter matters and philosophize.

Now I really look forward to stopping by this diner and make it a point to do so when in the neighborhood.

Much of George's Diner's charm stems from its Washington Avenue location. Near the diner is a hodgepodge of salvage yards, warehouses, clubs, thrift stores and some rather affluent apartments.

This no doubt contributes to the diverse clientele. Throughout this semester of cheap eating, I have noticed that great food brings people that would not normally be seen in the same city block together, mere inches from each other. George's Diner serves as a textbook example of this.

Numerous blue collar workers stop in for meals here. George also has several famous clients, such as Earl Campbell and another George with the last name Bush.

For 17 years, George Mickelis ran Harry's Restaurant on Bagby at Tuam. A few years back, he brought his expertise to his current Washington Avenue location and christened the cafe in his namesake.

The delicious chow and this diner's warm personality combine for a satisfying dining experience. Visitors notice George's undeniable talent in the kitchen. Far from being an aloofly gifted chef, his fiery drive and personable manner make him an instant favorite with diners.

Convivial George loves to chat with his customers. On a recent visit, he spun an entertaining yarn about his 1972 Cadillac, which he likened to a tank.

"That baby moves," he said, adding that it cost 20 bucks to fill up the car.

It costs significantly less to eat your fill at George's Diner. My favorite meal, the 3-vegetable plate, goes for a mere $3.75. That's s small potatoes to pay for the best mashed potatoes I've ever had outside of my mother's kitchen. The fluffy potatoes are hearty without being heavy, not too salty and just thick enough.

George has mastered the art of making delicious vegetable dishes. He can even make okra palatable, with the help of a simple but sassy tomato-onion-white pepper sauce. All of the other vegetables, even greens, for goodness sake, taste phenomenal. Trust me, you'll want to eat your vegetables.

The most expensive plate lunch goes for a mere $5.80. It includes one meat and three side dishes. All lunch specials include rolls, cornbread and iced tea.

Meats at this place are top-of-the line. Cheap Eats crew member Stan said, "The chicken fried steak was a good cut of meat and wasn't at all gristly. The whole plate seemed to be covered with luscious cream gravy."

The fried fish fillets went over big with Tab, who enthused, "It was crispy yet moist, and surprisingly tasty." The fillets, though fried, are) quite un-greasy.

On a given day, meat offerings like turkey, roast beef, baked chicken, beef tips and liver and onions are served up to hungry patrons.

And on any day but Sunday, you can expect to see George's wife Leslie, a clever UH alumna, bustling about, chatting with customers and serving up what may well be the best diner food in town.

By the way, substantial breakfasts are served here. No morning meal costs over $4.50.

Stop by George's Diner and you won't leave hungry. You might even leave grinning in spite of yourself at the classic service and food.

Keep those Cheap Eats suggestions and comments rolling into my e-mail at btavakol@bayou.uh.edu

George's Diner

5602 Washington Ave.

Houston, Tx 77007

(713) 861-0131

Open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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