Neiman Marcus has always held a special allure to me. I grew up knowing about it because of the Neiman relatives on my dad's side of the family (see 'Bagels from My Bubba' for that story). Since we didn't have a Neiman Marcus in Riverside where I grew up, it remained remote and intangible in my mind. But ever since moving to the Bay Area I've been able to understand this part of my family's history a bit better by going to the Neiman Marcus store at the nearby Stanford Shopping Center.
Neiman Marcus was co-founded over a hundred years ago by my grandfather Arnold Neiman's uncle, named Abraham Lincoln Neiman. Known as Al, he started up 'the store' with his wife, Carrie Marcus. Needless to say, the store grew into a huge retail success from its humble Dallas beginnings. Sadly, Al Neiman died penniless and without family, his only possession a cuff link in an old cigar box.
Recently my husband and I had lunch at the Neiman Marcus Cafe on the third floor of the store at the Stanford Shopping Center. Tucked away from the perfume-scented first floor and racks of designer clothing on the second floor, the cafe offers a quiet, refined refuge from the hustle and bustle below. Mostly a place for ladies who lunch, the cafe features sit-down service with a traditional, tasteful menu. Their signature appetizers arrived quickly, light-as-air popovers with sweet strawberry butter, along with a little cup of chicken consomme.
I ordered a salad plate with Mandarin orange souffle, chicken almond salad, fruit cup, and banana bread muffin with poppy seed dressing. It made for a flavorful and satisfying combination of textures and flavors, and the poppy seed dressing tasted surprisingly good with the fruit salad. I ordered coffee for my beverage.
My husband ordered a more substantial lunch, a burger with the fixings (including bacon) and some wonderfully thin and crisp fries. We both felt sated, not too full and not wanting dessert.
On a separate lunch visit with my daughters, we all enjoyed our meals just as much. I had the Asian shrimp salad with edamame, Napa cabbage, cashews, and a delightful sesame ginger dressing, a winning combination of savory, crunchy, soft, sweet, and a bit of spiciness. It's one of those salads both nutritious and completely satisfying to the taste buds and stomach. My older daughter had split pea soup with a triple grilled cheese sandwich that she ate hungrily. My younger daughter ordered the chicken cheese sandwich with sweet potato fries, and ate it quickly with little comment, a sure sign that she enjoyed it.
As we descended from the cafe on the shiny escalator and emerged outside to the shopping center's open-air plaza, my husband and I left nourished, satisfied, and I a little wistful for the famous relative I never knew. I don't know if Al Neiman ever dined at a Neiman's Cafe, and if it left a sweet or bitter taste in his mouth, but I hope that he always felt proud of what he had helped to create.
While some in the food blogging community would object to copying a recipe word for word from another source, I present here in memory of Al Neiman a popover recipe from the cookbook 'Pure & Simple: An InCircle Cookbook from Neiman Marcus,' now out of print but available used on Amazon.
Contributed by Neiman Marcus customer Lana Poynor from La Jolla, CA
I remember, as a little girl, going to Neiman Marcus for lunch with my mother and loving the warm popovers they brought with the meal. They always make me think of Neimans and all the fun we have there!
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons oil
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat over to 400 degrees. Beat eggs, milk, and oil together. Sift flour and salt over the egg mixture and beat until smooth. Fill 6 popover cups 3/4 full. Bake 30 minutes; reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake 15 minutes. Makes 6. Serve with strawberry butter."