Lunch at Landmark Coffee House and Cafe

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Release Date: 2010-05-05

Every April after our annual Best of San Antonio issue comes out, a very pleasant Louis Prima sound-alike calls to ask us to please add Best Fried Catfish as a category. This year, in response, we distinguished between Best Fresh and Best Fried Seafood, but I think the gentleman caller is right: We’ll just make it catfish next year.

As it happens, there’s a contender at the corner of Montana and Pine, where Charles Williams Sr. has renovated a beautiful two-story 1900 home into a café and community center. The upstairs veranda is one of the most pleasant places in town to have a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, and the lunch specials are ample and well-priced: For under $10 I had three filets of catfish fried to crispy cornmeal perfection and still tender inside, a side of meltingly soft sweet green beans, and iced tea. Unfortunately, I assumed the fried zucchini medallions on my fellow diners’ plates came standard and I didn’t specify them; they looked well-seasoned and, like the catfish, expertly crisped.

As good and homey as the food is, the atmosphere is a big part of Landmark’s charm, which earns its name in part with portraits of leaders such as the Reverend Claude Black and Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez along with other sources of community pride. The upstairs dining room is cozy and casual, with graceful tall windows that let in the light that overflows from the porch. Downstairs, larger round tables fill the front room, which is suitable for small events, such as former gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami’s January whistlestop. There’s also a barber chair in a side room, a nod to Williams’s barber college. He’s a leader in his own right, and you’ll often find an Eastside who’s-who dining and talking at the Landmark, campaign flyers during election season, and Mr. Williams holding forth (sample advice: If a husband and wife truly love each other, they won’t purposefully hurt each other). This makes the restaurant feel extra-special, a true local gathering spot in an age of chains and homogeneity.

A couple of months ago my husband and I took our persnickety kids for the Saturday special, which was ribs and catfish. They ask to return all the time. The meat on the dry-rub ribs pulled right off the bone, and the fish disappeared so quickly I double-checked to make sure we’d actually ordered it. I can vouch for the grits, too, which have a hearty corn flavor and are just the right consistency; ask for an over-easy egg on top and add a little hot sauce and it’s a perfect breakfast.

Here’s my only other regret, which I plan to rectify this week: I didn’t order dessert, because time wasn’t on my side, but I’ve watched other diners pretty much lick the plate clean. Get over there fast, but linger if you can.

— Elaine Wolff

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