What’s for lunch?

How about Beef Bourguignon — slow-roasted beef tenderloin in a demi-glace served with whipped potatoes, sautéed button mushrooms and warm baked bread, accompanied by freshly whipped butter?

And for dessert, what about a simple “tarte au citron meringuée” (lemon tart with Swiss meringue)?

Is your mouth watering yet?

This was the recent lunch special at one of the area’s unique dining establishments — one that serves food to the public on site on school-year Thursdays only and offers only take-out service on Fridays.

Amid all the competition among diverse and delicious restaurants in the International Management District, the Center Bistro, located just outside the District, is unique for the area in terms of its chefs and servers.

The food at the Center Bistro is prepared and served by the Alief Independent School District high school students. The food also happens to be exceptional.

In its fourth year of operation, the Center Bistro is open to Alief ISD staff and the community. All proceeds from food sales go to the culinary arts department at the Center for Advanced Careers.

Jennifer Baker, director of Alief ISD Career and Technical Education, said Center Bistro is not a unique concept, as other school districts also offer similar programs, but the Center Bistro itself is special.

“Our bistro is unique in that we have a restaurant that is clearly visible from the street. Because of our proximity in the building, we have the ability to offer curbside pick-up. We also take credit cards, which is not always the case in other school districts,” Baker said.

Customers walk away with a great meal while students leave with experience they can use and put on a resume.

“I have seen our students in the Restaurant Management program grow as servers from shy and not confident to completely comfortable, efficient waiters. The students in the kitchen have learned several different dishes to make and what it feels like to make a customer experience great food. They’ve also learned what it feels like when a customer sends food back,” Baker said.

Based on this writer’s experience, it’s hard to believe anyone would reject an item on the delectable menu. But, of course, it’s a learning environment. Things happen — like COVID.

The pandemic reduced the number of customers at the bistro, Baker said, but its weekly offerings are gaining traction again. Recently, she said, the bistro was full for lunch, which the staff and students love to see.

Culinary Arts Instructor and Chef Brent West serves as a front house manager overseeing students and service during bistro days.

More than 30 students make up the staff from Elsik, Hastings and Taylor high schools.

The “Chef of the Week” showcases each senior and is updated in the weekly menu.

The most difficult menu item — and the hottest selling item — that the students make is the legendary HD burger, named after Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers, West said.

The Center Bistro is open for lunch every Thursday until May 5 and offers “Catfish Fridays” — pick-up only meals of classic Louisiana catfish fried in Chef West’s mouth-watering special seasoning. Each order includes two catfish fillets served with macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables, a roll and a chocolate chip cookie for $14 plus tax.

Remaining Catfish Friday dates are April 22 and 29 and May 6. Place an order by noon each Thursday by clicking here.

And join the Alief ISD e-mail list to get menus and regular updates on the Center Bistro: https://visitor.constantcontact.com/manage/optin?v=001jiTQMKhPeLaDw6sm7O2Q9JbTrLUHeJKZp0J3JC3_SOkbzcUsBMKoSV4IlYxaBBOrLQNdJwC2gZvU_wQ8LF954LZrRQzt-37E

The Center Bistro
12160 Richmond Ave., Houston

— By Dorothy Puch Lillig