Recipe: The Night Hawk / Frisco’s Smothered Pork Chops

One of Harry Akin's signature dishes gets resurrected


Photo by John Anderson

"There is nothing accidental about quality."

It sounds like a canned training slogan you are forced to recite when starting a job at a chain restaurant that requires staff to rock at least three pieces of flair. For Harry Akin, the founder of the Night Hawk and the Frisco, it was a way of life that permeated his entire company.

If there was a Mount Rushmore of Austin restaurateurs, Harry Akin's face would be front and center. We owe Akin a debt of gratitude for every adult beverage we serve at the Eldorado. Imagine a time when you couldn't order a margarita with your queso. Thanks to Akin, we don't have to live in that terrible reality, because he worked to change Texas' liquor laws to permit the sale of single alcoholic drinks.

His most important contribution extended beyond the world of restaurants and into civil rights. Akin helmed one of the first businesses to desegregate in Austin. In 1963, he spoke to the Austin Rotary Club and urged them to "develop a conscience over racial matters" as he led the way for local businesses to allow entry to anyone, regardless of color. LBJ eventually invited him to be part of a national panel on race relations. However, his progressive thinking came at a cost.

"There is no doubt he lost his reelection for mayor because of his beliefs," recalled Hoover Alexander. Alexander worked for the chain in the Seventies and Eighties before eventually starting Hoover's Cooking, where he carries on many of the traditions he learned from the Akin family.

Akin had high expectations for his staff, but he also provided them with a path to success. The Night Hawk's infamous manager training program was grueling, but it provided careers to men and women of various races. He was known as a tough but fair boss who believed in human resources rather than relying on a Human Resources Department. He knew that his employees were his greatest asset and he treated them with kindness, respect, and compassion regardless of their gender or race.

It was refreshing to learn how the Night Hawk and Frisco worked so hard to create careers for their employees. This was much more than just a job. The staff at Night Hawk watched families raise their children as they raised their own while serving up thousands of Top Chop't sirloin steaks and those famous homemade pies.

I was fortunate to speak with some of the staff who were the last guard of the Frisco: Alexander, Gina Day, Darlene Prasla, Tyler Wallis, Liz Mabry, Tracy Olson, and Debra K. They had worked under R. Harry Akin, who ran the Frisco with the same compassion and precision as his uncle. Some were there for the final day. It was odd that during a discussion about a restaurant, we rarely talked about the food. Instead, I sat back and listened to years of stories, memories, and life.

The former Frisco servers could remember where each regular customer sat and what their favorite meal was. The stories tumbled out from the past and after a while, I felt like I had worked at the Frisco as well. This kind of hospitality doesn't exist in Austin anymore; it extended beyond the table and into people's personal lives.



The Night Hawk / Frisco

Various Locations (1932-2018)



Smothered Pork Chops

Recipe serves 3-4 people.

Ingredients

1½ quarts beef stock

2 tablespoons beef base

1 tablespoon black pepper, ground

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable oil

1¼ cups onion, minced

1½ teaspoons garlic, minced

¾ cup flour

seasoned egg wash (2 eggs, 1 cup of milk, salt and pepper to taste)

4 pork chops

Procedure

Combine beef stock, beef base, pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire in stock pot. Heat to 170 F.

In sauté pan, heat oil on medium-high heat. Sauté onion and garlic until onions are tender.

Gradually whisk in flour to mixture, making a roux. Stir continuously until roux has turned light brown.

Add roux mixture to stock pot, whisking in thoroughly. Keep whisking and cook until gravy is slightly thickened.

Dip pork chops in seasoned egg wash. Dredge in seasoned flour to lightly coat pork chops.

Fry in vegetable oil heated to 350 F until golden brown.

Drain.

Place chops in 2-inch-deep pan in single layer. Cover with gravy.

Cover pan with foil and place in 350 F oven for 45 minutes.

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