DALLAS -- A visit to the Highland Park Cafeteria begins with a course in American history. Before you pick up a tray and begin assembling plates of food, the service line leads past a wall with portraits of every president from George Washington through George Bush. It is difficult to concentrate on this hall of honor, however, because the great men are on the right, and as compelling as they may be, the food is on the left -- and it is gorgeous.
What a menu! Dozens of salads, dozens of vegetables, dozens of pies, corn bread, biscuits, onion-dill loaves, cheese toast, cloverleaf rolls, sticky buns and muffins. As for entrees, some of the more memorable ones include superb chicken-fried steak and gravy, butter-tender slices of beef brisket, gorgeous slabs of prime rib, rosy pink baked ham, turkey and dressing, pork tenderloin, and shatteringly crisp fried chicken (white meat or dark).
Many of the recipes used today by the HPC kitchen are still Mrs. Goodman's; and there are certain dishes, like cranberry sauce, jalapeno corn bread, Southern hash and millionaire icebox pie, that are practically legendary among Dallas eaters as well as among traveling chowhounds for whom the HPC is a culinary landmark. We are mesmerized by the variety and color of the gelatin salads available on any single day. Hereabouts they are known as congealed salads, and their numbers include ambrosia (with shredded coconut), cherry salad spiced with red-hot candies, guacamole mold, and a well-nigh perfect perfection dTC salad, our version of which we will share forthwith.
Invented in 1905 by Mrs. John Cooke of Pennsylvania and submitted as an entry in a 1905 cooking contest, perfection salad has become a classic of the American kitchen.
Serves four to six.
1 package unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 stuffed olives, sliced into circles
2/3 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped green pepper
1/3 cup chopped red pepper
Combine gelatin with sugar and salt. Mix with 1/4 cup cold water and let stand a few minutes until gelatin is soft. Add boiling water, stirring vigorously, then add vinegar and lemon juice. Cool until gelatin begins to stiffen.
Place stuffed olives in the bottom of a 3- to 4-cup ring mold. Add cabbage, celery and peppers to semi-stiffened gelatin, then carefully turn gelatin into mold without disturbing the sliced olives. Refrigerate until firm. Serve garnished with French dressing.
Highland Park Cafeteria, 4611 Cole St., Dallas, Texas 75207; (214) 526-3801. (There are other branches of the Highland Park Cafeteria in Dallas. The one on Cole is the original.)