While on a quick trip to Conroe today, we decided to stop by The Whistle Stop Café, which is just south of Conroe in that interesting looking retail strip center alongside the freeway. River Bend Station has the unique appearance which is reminiscent of an older Main Street USA - each store front being different than the adjacent one, yet all connected. Some have brick façades, such as The Whistle Stop, while others are faced with different types of stone, creating a quaint atmosphere.
Our server today was Sarah (in pink shirt, above), not to be confused with Sarah Holley, daughter of owner Danny Holley. Sarah and Bailey were two of the friendliest servers we have met in some time and they fit in perfectly with home-town atmosphere of the cafe. All of the foods are prepared in-house and served fresh, many of them being handmade such as the pulled chicken strips she had and hand-formed beef patty of my burger. The french fries are cut by hand-operated press and are only lightly salted unless requested otherwise. As of this posting, the online menu is a little out of date; but they are frequently trying new things as the two chefs are encouraged to be pro-active - so new menu items are frequently available.She Said
We skipped breakfast, so I was tempted to order a short stack of hotcakes or some french toast, but since it was after noon, I went with the Chicken Strip Basket ($7.99) which came with fries, Texas toast and white gravy. Sarah told us the chicken strips are coated in an in-house made batter, and when I sampled the first one I was really impressed. The flavor of the breading reminded me of what I remember dad's fried chicken tasting like when I was a kid. The chicken was juicy and tender as well. Though not usually a fan of fresh-cut fries, I was pleasantly surprised by these as they were cooked through and not raw anywhere. I really liked the creamy white gravy, too - it all left me wishing I had a little more chicken and gravy, but really, for me the three-piece basket was just the right amount of food.
I've tried burgers from a lot of different places over the years and rarely do I find one that reminds of my childhood. Now this is not to limit my preferences to old fashioned style food, because we all know that while it may have the most flavor, it's also (usually) the most unhealthy. Not much can compare with hand-made food items, because let's face it, so much of our busy lives have reduced our time to eat to less than 10 minutes - so our food needs to be ready in less than 5 when we're dining out. Commercial, pre-packaged, frozen, flavorless, ready to eat chemicals in a sealed container is not food. When I order a burger, the last thing I want to hear is the clatter of a frozen meat patty hitting the grill (think plastic disc on the neighborhood air hockey table). This doesn't happen at The Whistle Stop though, as everything they serve is hand made fresh and never frozen. (Did that just sound like a commercial or what? LOL)
In a word, my half-pound Cheeseburger ($8.49, with fries) was "excellent." From the slightly toasted Kaiser bun, to the fresh vegetables, to the hot-off-the-grill beef, it was nearly perfect. I say nearly because well, having a slightly thicker patty would have been awesome. But I did order the half pound size and it was nothing to complain about. You can see that it did not come out of any burger press (Jerry Built) and it had a flavor that reminded me of a burger I've enjoyed many times before only with less pepper in the mix (Jax). The burger was tender and juicy (see the bottom of the basket when you finish). As mentioned earlier, the fries are hand cut from whole potatoes every day, as evidenced by the ends and some sides still having the skin on them. My momma once told me that all of the vitamins are in the skin... now I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that it's the way I have grown to like them (Five Guys). The fries at Whistle Stop were evenly cut, but unfortunately were not evenly cooked. None of the fries I ate were 'raw,' they all had that baked potato type texture, it was just that some of them (maybe half) could have fried a bit longer as they were still heavy with grease that hadn't been cooked out yet which is a real turn-off. I realize it may sound a bit strange since they are all the same thickness - my guess is that as they cooked, the various fries were at different levels in the oil and were therefore subject to different amounts of heat. Again this is a home-style kitchen and not a franchise-chain, fast food joint, so things will vary and they will likely be better next time.
The Whistle Stop Café has a lot of promise and we're told that their business is growing. Considering our lunch today and the great service, we will certainly be back for more. Their menu is diversified and they plan to expand even further so be sure to ask your server for any recent additions. An example would be that they recently added a Ham & Lima Bean dish which isn't yet posted on the menu. If you haven't heard of this, ask your parents or grandparents, we are pretty sure they have heard of it. They also offer daily specials; the all-you-can-eat catfish on Friday and Saturday generally has people lined up out the door. The place doesn't seat more than about 40 or 50 so you might have to wait to be seated during prime time, but we suspect it will be worth the wait. Danny tells us they have a lot of people in just for desserts, too. We were stuffed, but he insisted on having us give the Buttermilk Pie a try. Now, if you've never had buttermilk pie, as neither of us had, you probably think it sounds... well... gross. We did. Even Danny said he did, too. Says they had it on the menu a week before they convinced him to try it - and it's his restaurant! But if you have had a good buttermilk pie before, you're probably wondering what took us so long to give in. That stuff is really, really good. Think lemon cream pie without too much tartness crossed with a nice cheesecake without being too rich - all in a handmade crust.
When I think about going to Conroe, one thought comes to mind... "Man, I don't want to have to drive all the way to Conroe". But really, Conroe isn't that far - though with The Woodlands having so many venues for dining, groceries, gasoline, and building supplies right around the corner there is rarely a need to go that far for anything. The Whistle Stop is only half way to Conroe from The Woodlands and it's worth the drive for breakfast, lunch or dinner. See you there!Related:
The Whistle Stop Cafe,
11133 I-45 S (Northbound), Conroe 77302
(River Bend Station is at the corner of Crighton Road and I-45, South of Conroe)