End of an Era: My Memories of the Zodiac Room

This week the Ridgmar Neiman Marcus department store will close and move to their new location in Clearfork off the Chisholm Trail Parkway.  It will be a truly beautiful store and I am thrilled they will be closer to my house.  With growth comes change and their Zodiac Tea Room, an iconic place to lunch since the 1950s, will close as well. The new store will feature a cafe with a modified menu, bar and fresh, modern interiors so I know it will be a fabulous twist on the traditional.

Neiman Marcus Clearfork

I took this opportunity to take my friend Cindy with me for lunch to celebrate her birthday.  As we were seated I shared with her and our server my history with the Zodiac Room.  Mother loved to shop at Neimans.  From the time I can remember (probably five years old), she would take me shopping there and we’d have lunch in the tearoom.  It was such a treat.   I loved the hot popovers served with pink strawberry butter and tiny mugs of chicken consomme´ (they promise to serve these must-haves in the new space) and watched anxiously for the statuesque models that would go from table to table wearing the latest fashions available for purchase in the boutique.

The children’s lunch menu included a white casserole dish in the shape of a chicken and when you lifted the lid it was filled with a yummy chicken and rice casserole.  And, for dessert, children were served a round scoop of ice cream with a sugar cone on top decorated with icing and meringue to look like a clown.  I was always so excited when the server would place it before me.  It was such a great distraction, allowing Mother the chance to enjoy her lunch or visit with a friend we might have brought along on our shopping trip.  As I got older, she would take me shopping before school started for a new wardrobe — including shoes and handbag.  Our sales person would bring a tray of lemonade and cookies to the dressing room and I remember feeling like such a lady.

Meeting Executive Chef Kathryn Johnston

Back to the lunch with Cindy…after I shared the story with our server, Val, she told us the Chef had similar memories to mine coming to eat with her mother and Grandmothers in the tearoom.  I told her I would love to meet the Chef if she wasn’t too busy.  Within minutes, Kathryn Johnston greeted us.  It was lovely that she took time away from the kitchen to visit with me, bringing with her copies of Helen Corbitt cookbooks she uses in the kitchen to prepare all the fabulous food. This was the best day ever holding those books!  It was like a piece of history in my hands.

Miss Helen Corbitt

Miss Helen Corbitt was the Neiman Marcus Director of Food Services for 14 years.  Story has it that Stanley Marcus courted her for eight years to come work for him.

Many of the traditional recipes on the menu were created by her, including the orange souffle, chicken salad medley which I had to order today.  Miss Corbitt was referred to by the Los Angeles Times as the “Julia Child-esque cooking celebrity with a Texas twang.”

Miss Corbitt’s famous Orange Souffle Salad Plate

Kathryn let me look through the cookbooks during lunch.  I felt like I was looking at the Declaration of Independence.  The books were falling apart they were so lovingly used.  I found the recipe for Miss Corbitt’s cold orange souffle!

Miss Corbitt’s slivered almonds are her signature

I snapped a pic of the recipe.  The version in the cookbook is lemon, but on the next page she tells how to adjust the flavor to orange.

I am now on the quest for her cookbook Helen Corbitt Cooks for Company.  I snapped a pic of the table of contents.  Every homemaker today should use this as a reference for entertaining, I mean look at it!  It all still applies today.

If you know how to get your hands on this book — please for the Love of Helen, tell me!

We finished our lunch with taking two Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies to go.

Here is a must read from Texas Monthly about Miss Corbitt — “she delivered us from the canned fruit cocktail and gave us confidence that the civilizing pleasures of the table were within reach.”

If you visit my Pinterest Retro board I have the recipes for the popovers, strawberry butter and chocolate chip cookies pinned there.  If would want the orange souffle gelatin recipe, leave a comment and I will post it on my blog.  I may be inspired to make my own and I’ll be sure to share.  I have tiny, vintage gelatin molds (of course you do) that will be perfect!

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