This beef tenderloin from the Lone Star State gave me a taste of home in Brooklyn.

By Tanner Saunders
Updated June 06, 2020
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Courtesy of Perini Ranch Steakhouse

Tom and Lisa Perini don’t just make good food — they’re good people.

In fact, they’re people who’ve been a part of my life for many years, though they didn’t know that when I met them last year in New York City. The owners of the world-renowned Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, Texas (population 463), the Perini family has been serving up “traditional cowboy cuisine” since Tom began catering events in 1973.

Having served world leaders and dignitaries, the Perinis have shared mouth-watering meals of steak, jalapeño bites, and fried catfish with people far and wide. In fact, on Sept. 11, 2001, they were at the White House to cater a Congressional Picnic. Their meals have earned many accolades over the years, including being named “Best Burger” by The Today Show and receiving the James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classic” Award in 2014.

Courtesy of Perini Ranch Steakhouse

People from all walks of life, all over the world have made the journey to Buffalo Gap — outside of Abilene — for an authentic cowboy meal, and even the chance to stay in the restaurant’s guest quarters.

“The steakhouse itself is very rustic,'' Tom told me in lower Manhattan, thousands of miles away from our Lone Star homes. ”It's on the ranch. It's very Texas. And I think people like it because the food is simple.”

For me, a native to the Panhandle Plains of West Texas, the Perinis weren’t international culinary icons, they were faces in a cookbook, called “Texas Cowboy Cooking,” that my family used to make the perfect prime rib every year for Christmas. Now, as a transplant living in Brooklyn, the Perinis and their food have followed me northeast thanks to their service shipping incredible meat around the country.

Recreating my favorite meals from Texas isn’t easy in my little apartment, but the Perini Mesquite Smoked Peppered Beef Tenderloin is a mouthwatering treat I can actually pull off. Weighing 2 to 2.5 pounds, this tenderloin goes straight from the freezer to the fridge to your mouth. It doesn’t need to be cooked, there’s basically no mess, and each bite of juicy tenderloin is a gift to your tastebuds. And it’s only made better by following the Perinis' recipe for horseradish sauce.

“You just take half of it out and let it defrost,” Tom instructed me. “And then, after four or five hours just take the plastic off and slice it in thin slices. It’s already cooked to medium rare — perfect. I think you’ll like it.”

And boy did I like it.

But what made this tenderloin extra special was it coinciding with a deep longing for family and home at the time I finally pulled it out of the freezer. I had plans to visit Texas when the coronavirus pandemic began: once in March to the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo followed by a Texas road trip with my boyfriend and a few days home at the end of April — both canceled.

Courtesy of Perini Ranch Steakhouse

But the beauty in the situation, and my apologies for waxing poetic about a cut of meat, is that a meal can take you somewhere you want to go — even if just for a minute. A Facetime with my mom, dad, and our dogs (Wrigley and, wait for it, Brisket), paired with a can of baked beans I panic-bought at the store and that tenderloin were all a temporary cure for the homesickness and fear I was feeling.

Back in 2001, the food meant for that Congressional Picnic at the White House ended up being served to firefighters at the Pentagon, and I can only imagine it also provided a moment of respite to someone trying to figure out what was going on in the world. And for those moments I’m thankful.

Today, Tom and Lisa have a new cookbook, “Perini Ranch Steakhouse: Stories and Recipes for Real Texas Food,” and you better bet it’s in my kitchen. I have to be honest, it’s a great read, but for me it’s all inspiration. Let’s be real: Why would I make a mess cooking for myself when I know I can have their best dish, perfectly made, overnighted from my favorite state in the land?