When you walk into the Old Texas Theater you are immediately greeted by a friendly wait staff and the smell of food being cooked to perfection. The theater originally opened in 1914 as Roy Reeder’s Princess Theater. It has held several names over the century and it has been a Ballinger staple and many people whom watched movies there back during the Golden Age of cinema still hold a reverence for it.
The building still belongs to Paul Morrow and renovating it took some hard work and vision, “This building had been an auto shop and served as several other businesses over the years. It took over a year for us to renovate the building. We had to rework everything from the floor to the ceiling”.
Aimee Plant had the vision that was needed to see the building turned into a successful endeavor. Plant left some of the old fixtures and items from the original theater, turning into an upscale restaurant that pays homage to that Golden Era of movies with vintage posters and pennants, “Leaving some of the original parts of the theater adds a touch of elegance and sophistication and that lends itself to something special.”
When you head into the dining room and pass by the kitchen, you see the stage and curtains looming in the distance as you head down the steps between the seating areas. The path leads to the spacious main floor where there are more tables in front of the stage. The stairs bisect the upper seating area with tables along each aisle. A US flag hangs on one wall and a Texas flag adorns the other. The ceiling easily rises 25’ above the floor and the flags seem as big as Texas as they hang from the ceiling, stopping just a few feet above the floor. If you glance behind you, on the balcony bannister above you’ll see the “Come And Take It” Goliad flag and the famous “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, modern yet rustic, but in the most sincere way.
As you select your table, you are treated to the sounds of jazz and big band music that play perfectly clear on a modern sound system, complete with professional engineer soundboard. The feeling builds as you feel the history in the stone walls, making you feel as if you were about to dine in a theater in the old west, where can-can girls might suddenly appear on stage to entertain you. But this is a modern place in a vintage setting where you’ll be served superb food.
The food is trendy, modern and rustic, all at the same time. That is a feat not always executed perfectly in other restaurants, but those terms have found a home in this place thanks to the chef, Sean Guyton. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2013. Not one to sit back with a retirement check coming in every month, he attended Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Dallas for two years. While attending Le Cordon Bleu, Guyton studied all styles of cooking and flavors from around the globe. Guyton formed his own unique recipes that he has brought to The Old Texas Theater at the request of Plant, “I don’t want to mask flavors, I want to showcase the natural flavors of the food, such as the beef. There is no need to over season it with rubs and sauces.” Plant relies on Guyton and put the entire menu in his hands, “There is a value-added aspect to Sean’s menu. They are his recipes, part of him. Sean was an easy pick because we identified him as someone who takes food seriously and has a passion for it.” It worked out well for Guyton who is a hometown product, “I graduated from Ballinger high school, class of 1992. I take pride in working here.”
Guyton’s menu compliments the history of the theater. You can purchase a hotdog in most theaters and you can post one in the Old Texas Theater as well, but this one is Guyton’s recipe. It’s not a simple hotdog smothered in cheese and chili with three or four condiments adding to the myriad of conflicting flavors. Guyton’s BLT Dog is a large beef frank, sprinkled with chopped bacon, lettuce and tomato and topped with a slice of avocado. The hotdog arrives very warm and is appropriately branded with fresh grill marks. The French fries are crisp, lightly dusted with breading and seasoned perfectly. There is a staple of coastal food with the Shrimp Po Boy. Cajun barbeque seasoning dresses shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico along with tomato and mayo on a hoagie roll.
The filet and wedge salad plate might be the menu item that upstages all of the other items. The filet comes out a perfect medium rare it’s not plastered with rubs or drowned in sauces. Guyton points out the beauty of the ingredient itself, “Allowing the natural flavor be the star.” The filet sits on the same plate as the wedge salad, the big brother looking over the younger sibling, fire grilled steak meets the coolness of the salad. It’s well balanced as the flavors of the meat and salad compliment each other. Guyton allowed the filet to rest before he sliced it on the bias so it retains most of its natural juices, not the cook-cut-serve method some places employ.
Guyton prepares and overseas every meal that is ordered. This isn’t the chain-food-cardboard-steak-meal as Guyton truly knows his craft and prepares everything with an acute attention to detail, as you’d expect from any person who spent most of their adult life in the military. He is professional, he is precise and he has a clear-cut idea of where he wants to go with his food when he creates items for his menu. It’s not a disjointed menu, it has a harmony to it.
The main courses include elegant chicken dishes, succulent steak, next-level hamburgers and upscale hotdogs. The Old Texas Theater Club sandwich is bumped up a level with Black Forest ham, smoked turkey, lettuce, tomato, Swiss and cheddar cheese, all hanging out with a generous portion of Applewood smoked bacon and avocado. It’s served on a toasted sourdough with a spectacular the sun dried tomato aioli created by Guyton.
Nothing here is average, not even their appetizers that include binge worthy cheese curds. These are not the cookie cutter cheese curbs like some places, these cheese curds are lightly battered and served hot and moist, not dull and dried out. The chicken wings are crispy and have a wing sauce that isn’t overwhelmingly hot and carries a lot of flavor. The hot wings are worthy of any game day meal.
Plant knows her business and she brought in an experienced bartender to create drinks specifically for the Old Texas Theater. Mark Santiago is the mixologist/bartender for the Angry Cactus in San Angelo. He created drinks with local ingredients in mind and did not miss a step. In another homage to Ballinger and the area, the drinks carry names such as “Farmer’s Wine”, “Ballinger Bootleg”, “Bootleg Palmer”, “Bearcat Martini”, “Farmer’s Market Peach Cocktail, “Cotton Gin”, “8th Street Margarita” and “Mule Skinner” among others.
The balcony area of the theater has a sports bar atmosphere and setup with a full service bar, stools, three televisions and tables with brushed steel tops. It’s not loud, it’s nice, it’s warm and it’s dressed like most of the restaurant, in Bearcat colors. As we’re sitting there Plant is up there with her bartender working on the drinks created by Santiago. While we sit and talk, we overhear Plant and the bartender discussing a drink that has blackberries. They discuss properly muddling the blackberries as they seek cocktail perfection.
Before we leave I stop to talk to Plant and Morrow about the Bearcat Martini. Morrow mentions that they should come up with a drink that involves Prickly Pear since it’s the season for them. Plant immediately takes the suggestion to heart as they start discussing sources for Prickly Pears.
By maintaining the vintage parts of the theater and blending it tastefully with the spaciousness and modern setup of the theater adds an air of grandeur to the place. It’s a true homage to the Golden Age of not only cinema, but also of Ballinger. It maintains a pleasant atmosphere with a unique food menu and innovative drink menu using jazz as the soundtrack to an excellent dining experience.
The Old Texas Theater is open on Friday and Saturday form 5 p.m. until midnight. Soon they will be expanding their hours to Sundays to accommodate the after-church diners and the sports crowd for the football games.