* In “El Paso City,” Marty Robbins sang about “a city with a legend,” but when I lived in nearby Las Cruces, N.M., a few years ago, the real legend of El Paso was the wine list at Billy Crews. Before crossing the river into Mexico, my friend David and I fortified ourselves with a visit to this institution in the El Paso suburbs, just across the state line in NewMexico.
Mr. Crews is a modest man, and part of the strange charm of his restaurant is its understatedness. There's a liquor store at the back, for example, along with a bar featuring live entertainment 4 nights a week that usually gets packed on weekends — hardly what you'd expect in an establishment selling Pomerols and Pauillacs whose vintages go back four or five decades.
There's nothing like a restaurant that does only one thing but does it perfectly. A few daunting hunks of well-aged steaks - Rib-eye, New York Strip, & Porterhouse wait on a butcher-block bar where you can choose your cut. If you go with the standard dinner package, you'll get a small plate of shrimp with a squeeze of lemon, then a salad delivered in the outer leaves of half an iceberg lettuce.
Yes, in a way it's that kind of place: iceberg and ranch dressing. But that's not the whole story. The steaks are very, very good, and the wine list, which runs to 112 densely typed pages, has been winning national awards for decades.
Even more remarkably, you don't have to spend a lot. An eight-ounce filet mignon sets you back $12. Wines that would go for $400 in New York City restaurants can be picked up for something much closer to liquor store prices. Indeed, nothing irks Mr. Crews like the standard restaurant wine markup.
“There's nothing worse,” he told us as we discussed the wine list with him. “Why? Everyone knows what the prices are.”
After our shrimp and salad, we tried some euphemistically named calf fries — deep-fried bullocks' testes — which I felt obliged to order just because they were on the menu. One is enough. But our two steaks, a filet mignon and a rib-eye, were perfectly à point (which our waiter called “rare plus”) in a peppery jus — the ideal foil for our 1995 Lynch-Bages ($187).
To come to an oasis of fine, underpriced wines in a desert and not choose something good would be morally, fiscally, spiritually wrong. And anyway, this is hardly a wine you can get anywhere. Our young waiter, who had been itching to pour the bottle finally had his moment — and we ours with this dark and complex wine.
There's something almost strange about finding such an oasis of viticultural heritage at the edge of a cowboy city. Here Crews is, a stone's throw from the shanties of Juarez, with a cellar worthy of the Ritz.
Opening in 1956, Billy Crews has always been known for fine dining and great food. It is famous throughout the El Paso area for its custom-cut steaks cooked just the way you like them.
Billy Crews’ wine list features over 2,600 of the finest wines and has been a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 1986. This allows Billy Crews to hold some of the finest wine dinners in the area. Billy Crews offers something else unique, a package liquor store that is always stocked for your convenience.