Kiddie Wonderland

Melanie showing off a little of her Texan heritage, horseback riding at the Del Mar Fair.

As for the title of the post, Kiddie Wonderland was an amusement park (writ small) in Houston when I was growing up. Actually I think it had been there since the 30s or 40s, and it looked like it! But they had old rides -- cars and planes that went around -- and horses! They had miniature horses that you could ride, and two tracks, one was for faster riding and you were really a big kid when you could ride the "fast lane". I also remember a donkey that would pull a cart around the track for the younger or less adventurous patrons.

Kiddie Wonderland was at Main and Kirby, right across the street from Kaphan's Restaraunt.

Wow. OK... you'll have to forgive me. I'm having a flood of memories. We would always go to Kaphan's with my grandparents, or with Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Morris. This was real, old-time Jewish Houston. At least, that's my sense of it now, looking back. The owners knew my grandfather, which always impressed me. There were two guys running the place. One with white hair and the other without. They had a ballroom of some sort for private parties to the right when you walked in (see the postcard above). That hallway was covered in baseball memorabilia -- signed ball, photos, and other souvenirs. I would always linger there while we waited for our table or on my way to and from the restrooom, which was down by the ballroom.

There was a main dining room, another room decorated to look like a wine cellar, with bottles stacked from floor to ceiling and fake bricks and vines painted on the walls behind them. That room could be separated from the main dining room. There were also two smaller sections with windows outside that ran on two sides of the main dining room.

The food... the kids always got a complimentary (and small) glass of grapefruit juice. That was unique. I remember that my favorite dish was the fried shrimp and lord knows how many times I had it growing up. Later, I remember going with my grandfather by ourselves to Kaphan's for lunch --I can't remember why exactly. He always got the lump crab meat. It was there that he would teach me etiquette. When to take my napkin - right away! - which fork to use, etc. He was always preparing me for a some time in the future job interview. Now I've never had an interview over a meal - perhaps a cup of coffee - but I guess the lessons were more universal.

Kiddie Wonderland closed in the mid-nineties, and I believe that Kaphan's did so as well. It's probably a Starbuck's now. Or a condo complex. But those places - and the people I was there with - are strong parts of my childhood.
"Kiddie Wonderland" was posted Thursday, June 19, 2008