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Made-from-scratch tamales help launch Brenda's Good Eats

By Mike Elswick melswick@news-journal.com
Feb. 14, 2012 at 11 p.m.


A good home-style tamale is hard to come by. They are also time consuming and messy.

Brenda Walker said that's one reason she's in business today and why loyal customers keep coming back to her Longview restaurant - Brenda's Good Eats.

She's been making dozens of tamales by hand weekly for 15 years at the business. But she got her start in tamale making before she opened her doors.

"I'd been making tamales for a while and was asked to do a wedding reception," Walker said. "The next day, my phone started ringing from other people who'd been at the reception who wanted me to cook for them."

Walker said she comes from a family with a long line of good cooks so it seemed a natural transition for her to move from cooking for family and friends to dishing out plates of home-style cooking at Brenda's Good Eats. But Walker said it was her customized and fine-tuned recipe for tamales that really guided her down the road of entrepreneurship in the dining business.

While it was her tamales that led her into the business, it's been other menu mainstays at the Loop 281 and Gilmer Road location that these days outsell her tamales.

"Our King Ranch Chicken, chicken spaghetti and chicken and dumplings are our top three sellers," Walker said. "Everything is made fresh, from scratch daily."

She calls most of her menu offerings "Southern style home cooking," but adds her own touches.

"It's Southern cooking - but with a little Mexican flair," Walker said. For instance, while she said she's not going to divulge her tamale recipe, she did outline a couple of aspects that make her tamales standout.

"I add seasoning to the masa mixture," she said, while most tamale makers forgo that step. "And I'm not bashful about using seasonings even though that adds to the cost."Those seasonings give her tamales even more flavor - and a more distinct flavor.

She also uses shredded pork and beef rather than ground meat that some tamale makers use. Walker said she serves tamales daily - unless she runs out.

She and the Brenda's Good Eats staff turn out at least 23 dozen tamales twice a week to meet the usual demand. But during the holiday season that production level goes up considerably - to about 100 dozen per session - as many patrons come in to buy tamales for parties or to ship to friends.

Walker has a patented piece of hand-operated equipment in which she places the masa mixture in one side and the seasoned meat in the other.

With a little hand cranking, the two are merged with the meat stuffing surrounded by the masa.

The tamales are then hand-rolled in traditional corn husks and are ready to sell.

Brenda's takeout tamales are bundled 12 to a package. For dine-in orders, the tamales are steamed about an hour and 45 minutes to get them cooked just right, Walker said.

"It's a very labor intensive process," she said. And, she added, making tamales at home is something just about anyone could do - with the practice - if they wanted to invest the time.

But most of her customers prefer to let her and the staff of Brenda's Good Eats do the work while they enjoy the unique taste.

Walker said she shipped several dozen to Florida for a Super Bowl party and often gets requests during the holidays to ship her tamales outside the area.

"We have customers from all over," she said.

At the restaurant the tamales can be ordered al a carte or as a meal served with beans, rice, chips and hot sauce.

For carryout, her tamales are about $12 a dozen.

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