Perini Ranch Steakhouse serves up what must be one of the best steaks in a state known for its beefsteaks
Perini Ranch Steakhouse looks like an old ranch barn that has seen better days. From the oak-tree-shaded parking lot baked to a fine powder, the faded boards and tin roof of the restaurant can belie the culinary wonders happening on the other side of the walls.
On the outskirts of Buffalo Gap, a little more than 15 miles south of Abilene, and almost a four-hour drive from Austin, Perini serves up what must be one of the best steaks in a state known for its beefsteaks. The dry pepper rub on the carefully selected cuts of meat cooked over a mesquite fire makes the difference. Don't come in a hurry because each steak is cooked with due consideration by the ranch hands sweating over the hot coals.
Perini is no poser when it comes to ranch cooking. Tom Perini started cooking from the back of a chuck wagon on his family ranch in 1973. By 1983, he opened his now-famous restaurant in a former hay barn on the ranch.
Over the years, the business has grown with the accolades. While the outside of the restaurant may still look like an old barn, on the inside, it is more like visiting a rancher's cabin. The establishment has grown by adding more rooms, some with fireplaces and decorated with longhorn horns. Out back on the patio are picnic tables shaded from the evening sun. When every seat is filled, the restaurant and patio can hold more than 1,000 diners. The cowboy chic emphasizes the food, not the decor.
Professional food critics around the state and the country have taken notice of the rustic restaurant on the range. Among the awards is a certificate, from a national magazine, calling Perini one of the 20 best steakhouses in the West. Southern Living magazine featured the steakhouse on its cover, and the Hill Country Wine & Food Festival gave Perini a Critic's Choice award for his beef tenderloin.
The house specialties are the grilled 16-ounce rib eye, pepper New York strip steaks, and the 8-ounce filet. Each is a beautiful cut of meat, tender enough to cut with a butter knife. It would be a shame to smother the subtle smoky flavor with a steak sauce.
The menu also includes sandwiches, pork ribs, and catfish. The hamburger alone is a two-fisted affair with the ingredients laid out on the plate for custom assembly. You can also get a grilled chicken breast or a sliced rib-eye sandwich.
Nowhere is the restaurant's attention to detail more evident than in preparation of the dinner salad that comes with the entrées or as a side. The salad comes with three kinds of lettuce and enough mushrooms, radish slices, and tomatoes to give it some substance and flavor.
The chef's creativity really shows in the side dishes. One of his signature dishes is the Zucchini Perini, which is baked in an Italian meat sauce. The Green Chile Hominy comes with seasoned white hominy mixed with bacon, chilies, and cheddar cheese; this might change your opinion of hominy.
It won't be easy, but you will want to save room for dessert. The Perini Ranch Bread Pudding is a new twist on an old favorite. The sourdough bread and pecans come soaked in a whiskey sauce that is not too sweet but very buttery. For the less adventuresome, the strawberry shortcake is made with homemade biscuits. The more adventuresome should try the cheesecake topped with jalapeño jelly.
Perini Ranch Steakhouse is about a mile south of Buffalo Gap off Ranch Road 89, the same road that leads to Abilene State Park. The staff is rustling up some grub Wednesday through Thursdays, 5 to 10pm; and Friday to Sunday, 11:30am to 10pm. Reservations are recommended for weekend evenings (325/572-3339).
On Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday lunch, the menu includes a buffet table with fried chicken, catfish, mashed potatoes, and that wonderful bread pudding. Tom Perini can often be seen catering fine cowboy affairs around the state. The steakhouse's famous beef tenderloin and other products are available from www.periniranch.com.
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