If there’s a dish that’s more American than apple pie, it’s cornbread. Native Americans had been baking ground corn flour for centuries when the early American settlers adopted the dish. It was a simple, inexpensive staple that nourished civil war soldiers and Western frontiersmen.
The Indians were able to make cornbread out of water, salt and cornmeal. Over time, this culinary wonder has evolved, but the best versions retain the simple charm of the original.
Bandera, a restaurant in the Hillstone chain (which also includes Houston’s), has perfected this iconic American classic. If you are fortunate enough to live anywhere within 100 miles of a Bandera restaurant, it’s worth the trip for the cornbread alone.
The Hillstone restaurants are the finest chain dining establishments in America, I believe. The fare is classic and traditional, never tricky, but always prepared with care and distinction. Yet, even amidst all this culinary excellence, the cornbread stands out.
It arrives at your table in a hot, black, cast iron skillet. The pan is probably the secret to its greatness. Its been seasoned and heated before the mixture of creamed corn, eggs, cheese, green chiles and sugar are poured in.
The bread looks and smells like heaven. It tastes even better. The crust is charred, and one of the great pleasures of consuming this dish is peeling the burnt, crumbly edges from the pan. But it is what’s inside that counts. The middle is creamy, and there’s just enough cornmeal and cheese to hold it all together. There’s a slight touch of heat from the chiles, but you never lose sight of the fact that it’s corn bread. In fact, it’s as if the sweetest ear of corn you’ve ever had has been miraculously transformed into cake.
Many features of our modern world–the environment, political discourse–have not improved over time. Thank goodness that cornbread, an ancient marvel of simplicity, is better than ever.