Couple’s ‘Retro Dining Tour’ shows which Dallas mainstays are worthy 40 years later

Randy and Paige Flink have cleaned their plates.

You might recall a couple of columns I wrote last year about the Flinks and their plans to to eat their way through Dallas history.

Randy, president of Championship Financial Advisors and list-loving sentimentalist, came up with the idea of a throwback tour of Big D restaurants that were around when the couple started dating four decades ago.

Paige, CEO of The Family Place, originally just was along for the ride, but quickly got into the spirit.

The rules: The establishment had to be continuously operating at its original Dallas-proper location and dishing up the same fare since at least 1977. Even a temporary move down the street was grounds for disqualification. Fast-food chains were out of contention.

Randy culled several hundred possibilities down to about 30 before we invited readers to play along. They came up with another hundred or so ideas that Randy and I checked out. All told, there were 41 that fit the bill — or so we thought. The Dunston’s on Harry Hines wasn’t at its original location so it got the boot.

Eight months and countless calories later, the couple, who’ve been married for 37 years, says most of the restaurants still have good reasons to be around. Others, maybe not so much.

“A few were: ‘Been there. Done that. Take the check please,’ ” says Paige.

“Let’s just say that a few have slipped a notch or two,” says Randy.

For example?

“Kuby’s rocks at breakfast and the meat counter is legendary, but our Saturday evening dining experience was like attending a wake,” he says. “Our beer and sauerbraten dinner was accompanied by a lone accordion player backed by a polka beat sound machine.”

And the couple left hungry after a lackluster meal at Hickory House Barbecue and headed to nearby Fuel City to top off their tanks with street tacos.

Better than before

The Flinks went to Bo Bo China with trepidation, having been disappointed with their only previous experience in the late ’70s.

“We walked in and immediately knew that this was not your father’s Bo Bo China,” says Randy. They had remodeled and had a full bar.  The prices were very modest and the food and service were great.”

Says Paige: “Six people had appetizers, two drinks and an entree each for a total of $120 before tip. That was crazy.”

The Flinks were most impressed by just how inexpensive all of the restaurants were. “Not many places had a dinner entree over $20,” says Paige. “Kellers was the best meal for the price. Cold beer and a car show with burgers under $3,” says Paige.

Randy, who vowed not to gain weight, lost 7.5 pounds.

Paige, who made no such commitment, says, “There is no way I am discussing my weight. Not gonna do it.”

Folks at Verizon saw my first column and decided Paige needed a snazzy Android Moto phone with a Hasselblad camera attachment. They also gave her a GoPro, which she couldn’t figure out how to work. She also thought shooting video of people with their mouths full was unsavory. “I told ‘em, ‘I don’t think I can use the GoPro, but shoot, this camera is awesome!’ ”

Finish strong

The Flinks relived their first official date at Javier’s on Cole Avenue. And it was still magical.

They had thick, juicy hamburgers fresh off the grill at Parkit Market — the half-century-old convenience store and deli counter on Greenville Avenue that’s still the go-to place for beer kegs and margarita machines.

They ate like royalty at the original Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant on Mockingbird.

Another highlight was having control over the shuffleboard table at the Inwood Tavern. “It leans to the right, but you can manage it,” says Paige.

But their most lasting takeaway wasn’t about food or beverages.

“Walking with our friends down Greenville from San Francisco Rose to St Martin’s, the Melios Brothers and ending at Stan’s Blue Note was my favorite,” says Paige.

Randy agrees: “I can say without hesitation that my favorite menu items were the friends and family members that showed up along the way.”

The Flinks had planned to finish their tour by the end of last year.

They would have made that deadline, but a friend came up with a late addition: Catfish Smith on South Lamar in South Dallas. The family-owned, fried-and-true restaurant has been dishing up secret recipes for down-home Louisiana cooking since 1971.

“What’s so totally cool about Catfish Smith is that it’s the epitome of a family restaurant,” says Paige. “The fact that they’ve survived in an area that has transitioned so many times in 47 years is a testimony to its staying power.”

Their takeout lunch tab without drinks was about $15.

“No frog legs on the maiden voyage.  We stuck with catfish,” says Randy. “However, we plan to go back.”

So as of Sunday, the retro tour is a wrap.

Randy and Paige’s picks

Best burger — Parkit Market

Best Tex-Mex — Desperado’s

Best white tablecloth — The Grape

Best biscuits — Barbec’s

Most improved — Bo Bo China

Best for a group — Celebration

Best takeout —Catfish Smith

Best spiced French fries—  Burger House

Best old pictures on the wall — Melios Brothers Char Bar

Best piano bar — St Martin’s Wine Bistro

Best shuffleboard — Inwood Tavern

Most colorful — Gonzalez

Best crab legs — Campisi’s Egyptian

Best late night backroom and salad-bar croutons — Dunston’s

Best meal deal — Keller’s Drive-In

Best margarita — Javier’s

Best gameday location — Stan’s Blue Note

Best repurposed drug store — Stoneleigh P

Best Christmas lunch — Zodiac Room