The charm of Irving has largely eluded me during my nearly three years living here, but this semester I’ve been happily introduced to some of the city’s finer bits. While I’ve yet to find much in the way of pretty green space or good architecture, I have found some solid American food and a classic American barbershop.
Po’ Melvin’s, 4070 N Belt Line Rd.
At a place called “Po’ Melvin’s Down Home Cookin’” you know you’re going to leave well fed. I’m not a Texan in the slightest, so take this with a grain of salt, but Po’ Melvin’s just drips Texas to me, and in only good ways. This unpretentious restaurant serves up a darned good chicken-fried steak. While I am fond, I must admit, of the Aramark attempt, I am not so uninitiated a Connecticut Yankee as not to see how superior a product this chicken-fried steak is. It seems the genuine article: big, well-seasoned and textured, and topped by a delicious white gravy. It reminds me of the schnitzel I once had at a dark working-class nook in Vienna. Po’s serves it with homey bread and three vegetable-sides. I chose fried okra, greens and navy beans, and was not disappointed. The veggies and chicken combined for a very filling meal for the agreeable price of $8.99.
I was rather disappointed in the cobblers (I think we tried peach and pecan) that a friend and I ordered for dessert: The crust was unpleasantly odd, and the dubious fruit was obviously from a can. But the poor conclusion didn’t overshadow the joy of an evening of friendly service, sweet tea, lick-your-lips chicken-fried steak and hearty veggies. Po’s warns that its food is “sooo good it’ll make ya wanna slap yo mama.” Well, my mother hasn’t been down to Texas since 2009, so I can’t comment myself. But a certain ruddy-haired graduate student I know recently took his mama to Po’ Melvin’s, and he says he had to sit on his hands the whole meal to avoid slapping her. Go to Po’s.
Henry’s Barbershop, 1412 E 6th St.
Located near East Irving Boulevard in downtown Irving is an exemplar of one of the great features of American life: the local barbershop, that blessed haven of male retreat. Much of an older and more interesting America has been erased by the onslaught of chains: chain restaurants, chain grocery stores, chain hotels and so on. There can be gain in this – I think most of us appreciate the reliability of a Marriot. But when it comes to the obliteration of the barbershop, there can be no gain. Stop me if I exaggerate, but to me Supercuts bespeaks cultural death. If the cold monotony of effeminate “hair salons” is what the men of America want these days, well, all really is lost. Fortunately, there are holdouts from our sterile age.
Henry has been cutting hair some 64 years, all of them in Irving. A veteran of the Normandy invasion, a proud grandfather, a sharp wit and a true Texan, Henry is surprisingly nimble for a man of 93, and still adept with scissors and a razor. He and I talked personal history, Texas sports and the finer points of hairstyling. I don’t think Henry has changed much since he opened his first shop in 1948, though the world has, and I can’t imagine he’s changed his prices much either. Men of UD, at $7 a haircut you no longer have the slightest excuse for letting a woman cut your hair. Give Henry a holler (a certain “preacher-man” among our faculty has been calling on him for 30 years).