Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dosey Doe - Woodlands, TX

We came across the Dosey Doe by accident, desiring to see the legendary Joe Ely in concert. It turns out that the Dosey Doe is also a fine eating establishment in addition to a neat place to see a concert and get a fine cup of coffee. A visit from Chicken Fried Friends for the distinctly non-CFS holiday of Thanksgiving prompted us to visit the Dosey Doe and see Texas Trubador Shake Russell.

The Dosey Doe is a unique place and very neat. It is actually a transplanted barn – from their website:

Our Dining/Live Music Hall is a 150 year old barn from Kentucky. Hand Hewn (cut by axe instead of saw). It is made entirely of 300 year old growth Oak and Birch. The process of taking the barn down, re-raising it, and finishing it out took two and one half years.

Unique to say the least. The Dosey Doe is dotted inside with dozens of tin metal signs from the petroleum industry’s past and the food/road culture (including sodas made with bark and herbs).

The CFS: Overall, it was very good. The steak was well flattened, chewy and flavorful. It was moist, but not too moist, but this unfortunately added to the soggy factor.

Breading: Southern style. Really southern fried chicken style. The breading was thin like you’d find on fried chicken. Although the gravy was thin (see below), the thin breading got a bit soggy because it was so thin.

Gravy: Classic and excellent. Like a traditional gravy should be, white gravy had strong notes of both white and black pepper. It was very thin but it was only modestly applied. Perhaps there wasn’t enough, but the quality certainly made up for the quality.

Knife: A sizable steak knife was provided but probably not needed! The steak was thin, the breading was thin and the gravy was thin.

Sides: No options – it came with mashed potatoes and “summer vegetables” (which were green beans, zucchini and pearl onions). The mashed potatoes were very good – garlicy and smooth. The veg were also very nice, especially the pearl onions which were a nice touch. I didn’t particularly like that it was served underneath the CFS (see picture) because this caused the potatoes and veg to blend together and make the bottom of the CFS mushy. (also try the Bourbon Pecan Pie – it was fantastic).

Cost: $16.00. So, a bit higher than average but the quality of the food and the experience was worth the price.

Service: Not great. The tables on the main floor are long and all connected together (think Cambridge eating club style). This appears to create a bit of havoc with the wait staff (and apparently the kitchen – our appetizer came out after our main course and a food runner tried to give us a meal that wasn’t ours). But, after dinner was sorted out, our waiter was constantly on the spot with additional whiskey and Coke orders.

Music Selection: Nothing during dinner, but Shake Russell was the live entertainment.

Figuring out whether or not people would go to the Dosey Doe for great music or great food would be folly – both are great and it is always a fun time. They’ve got a great formula and I hope it stays that way.

Monday, December 8, 2008

CFS Homestead - Humble, TX

As a special holiday treat, I decided to bring my knowledge of CFS to our own CFS Test Kitchens! What follows is a (rough) recipe for my first homemade CFS. And, because she doesn’t trust me to diagnose my own illness, Mrs. CFS reviews the final product below.

Breading: The powder consisted of a cup of flour, and a tablespoon each of fresh ground cumin, fresh ground pepper, Kosher salt and white pepper. The liquid was a cup of buttermilk and a cup of heavy cream. I double dipped the steaks (liquid, roux, liquid, roux).

Steak: Cube steaks I bought at H.E.B. It would have been smart for me to retenderize the meat that wasn’t as perforated as it needed to be. I poured about an inch of vegetable oil into a pan (heated to 350 degrees) and tenderly slipped in the meat. I turned the meat part of the way through which, unfortunately, stripped off some of the breading.

Gravy: One cup of buttermilk and one cup of heavy cream. One teaspoon of fresh cumin, two tablespoons of white pepper, a teaspoon of Kosher salt, a teaspoon of garlic and onion powder, a pinch of smoked paprika and a few grinds of black cracked pepper.

I periodically added a pinch of the flour roux from the breading and …whisk, whisk, whisk until it is at the consistency you want (I like it the consistency of a pea soup).

The side was a roasted garlic (about 3 cut up cloves), brussel sprouts and carrot medley. A little salt, pepper, a drizzle of vegetable oil put under a broiler on low for about 30 minutes.

Happy holidays and I hope you enjoy!



Because, as we all know, chefs notoriously overrate or underrate their own cuisine, this is Mrs. CFT’s review of the CFS created by the Chicken-Fried Texan. Overall, the CFS was a good start and Mrs. CFT is hopeful that the dish will be repeated in the CFT household.

The use of buttermilk and white pepper in the gravy left the CFT kitchen smelling great and boded well for the actual CFS. Tater Tot assisted in the preparation of the gravy but Mrs. CFT was not privy to all of the secret ingredients therein.

The meal also was completed very quickly and proved itself to be a tenable weeknight treat.
Steak: A little tough. We used steak knives, though an ordinary one probably would have worked.

Breading: Tasted great, but did not stick well all over the CFS. The taste was nice and peppery, and the breading was crisp but not burnt. Given that CFT does not own a deep fryer, the ability to create a perfect breading might have been but a dream. He tried mightily, and though only ¾ of my steak was actually breaded, the breading itself had great flavor and I am confident that with practice CFT will achieve the full breading required.

Gravy: The gravy was by far the best I’ve had in the CFS realm. Wish they had this gravy at some of the other places we’ve visited. It was peppery, but not too peppery, had good consistency and was plentiful.

Service: …with a smile, and a well-paired beer. Can’t complain.

Side: The CFS was served with a side of roasted vegetables (carrots and brussel sprouts). The veg was nicely seasoned and a nice accompaniment to the CFS. The carrots were nicely roasted and soft but not too soft. The sprouts were flavorful and matched well with the carrots. Though I expected an okra component given the CFT’s predilections, this was a nice, healthy alternative that was both flavorful and filling.

Overall, I enjoyed the at-home CFS experience, and I hope it becomes a more frequent one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lenox Bar-B-Q - Houston, TX

I came across Lenox BBQ on a recommendation from my virtual friend Texas Chef ( I must say, without his help, I’m certain I wouldn’t have found it! Lenox BBQ is a classic hole-in-the-wall barbeque joint tucked into the east side of the city. It’s a little hidden but there’s a welcoming sign signaling where to get come good barbeque (which I missed as I drove past it).

Inside, Lenox is a living piece of history with the menu on huge plastic posters. The tables are covered with a classic red-checkered tablecloth. There is a great homey feel. Not surprisingly, even at 11:00, the place was filling up with lunch goers (including two of Harris County’s finest, demonstrating that we all made a good choice since cops know where to eat).

The CFS: Pretty good. It was chewy and had a good amount of give. It tasted of a nice quality cube steak and was tasty.
Breading: It was a bit dry and tasted a bit pre-made. It didn’t appear to be hand formed or have been fried fresh. This isn’t ideal, of course, but the thick shell held up to the gravy nicely and kept each bit together.

Gravy: Very good. Just what gravy should be: smoky, rich, peppery and creamy. It came on the side in a little bowl (which I’m becoming a bigger fan of the more I try it).

Knife: Something bigger than a standard knife would have been good but there was only one option in the little bin of utensils.

Sides: There was a list of 6-7 and I chose fried okra and the greens. The okra was tasty – a bit more buttery than other kinds I’ve had. The greens were good but I didn’t care for them. It’s not because they weren’t good (even though it could have used a bit of salt and heat) – it’s because, as much as I try, I can’t grow to like them.

Cost: Simply great. $6.45 for the “dinner” platter (plus $1.30 for a tasty large lemonade).

Service: Just great. Exactly what you’d expect from a local neighborhood joint. The staff were friendly and efficient and were most welcoming (even when the place was pretty busy).

Music Selection: None. Just the whirr of traffic on Harrisburg.

I’m going to go back to Leonx, but probably not for the CFS. I plan to try the CFS sandwich, which seems like a good use of the CFS that was tasty but not terrific on its own. If you’re ever in the Second Ward, stop in and try it but don’t let the outside fool you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

CFS, Texas Monthly and You

Texas Monthly has run a neat article featuring the "40 Best Small Town Cafes": Clearly such a list can produce serious (but yummy) debates, but anything that leads to eating more chicken fried foods can't be a bad exercise.

There's a handy link to Google maps so you can find a joint close to you. Chain places will not appear.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Barbecue Inn -- Houston, TX

You can smell the Barbecue Inn for a few blocks away – like a hickory smoked trail leading you to paradise. You’re not just smelling the smoke for the barbeque, you’re also smelling a little piece of Houston history.

Barbecue Inn is a really neat diner that is very comfortable. It has a diner feel (complete with lunch counter and pie window box) but some modern updates like iconic Texas and Houston images etched into glass separating tables. You sink deep in to the red benches and feel instantly at home.

The CFS: Juicy and well done. Cubed steak was the meat, although they were a bit small (it actually came in two steaks). The consistency was perfect and the bite gave just enough resistance.

Breading: Flaky and crunchy (southern style). Held up to the gravy nicely. It did not have enough flavor, compounded by the fact that the gravy didn’t have much punch.

Gravy: Not great. It was bland and white. Not much flavor, requiring me to execute two rounds of salt and pepper to make it to my liking. The gravy was served on the CFS (they didn’t ask if I wanted it otherwise).

Knife size: Standard knife given and used. But, really, something more on the order of a steak knife would have been more appropriate.

Sides: No choices. It comes with a salad (lettuce and tomato) and French fries. Neither were great, but the salad hit the spot and the fries were fresh, hot and useful for soaking up extra gravy.

Cost: $10.75. A bit high considering the sides weren't great. But, the portions were significant.

Service: Great. The waitresses are from a bygone era where you were called “hon” regardless of your age and everyone makes you feel welcome. This compliments the comfort of the place perfectly.

Music selection: Musac’ed hits from the 1980s (Solsbury Hill “by” Peter Gabriel was a favorite of Mrs. CFS).

I’m sure I’ll go back to the Barbecue Inn but I’m not sure I’ll order the CFS again. The menus indicate “Serving Houston Since 1946.” Here’s hoping for at least another 60 years.

116 W. Crosstimbers, Houston

Monday, November 3, 2008

Humble City Café (Revisit) – Humble, TX

Most qualified and conscientious restaurant reviewers visit the same location several times before writing their food columns. Being neither qualified and conscientious, I have already written about the Old Humble Café. A visit by Chicken Fried In-Laws inspired us to sample a little chicken fried goodness.

This round, I decided to try the Chicken Fried Chicken (but insisted Chicken Fried Wife get the CFS so I could taste it again).

The CFC: The chicken was pounded flat and fried up. I frankly prefer having the full chicken breast without the pillard which I think makes it juicier. Still, it was moist and tasty.

The Breading: Like the CFS, the breading was thin but crunchy. The style was the same and was pretty tasty.

The Gravy: Too much! The CFC was swimming in the stuff. It made it a bit soggy. (although our waiter did ask if I wanted it on the side or not). Again, it was creamy and smooth, but the flavor was a bit bland (I allowed myself to add salt and pepper).

The Knife: Something involved like a steak knife was again required (a standard kitchen knife not workable here). If nothing else, it helped cut through the gravy.

The Sides: Mashed potatoes and fried okra. The potatoes were lumpy and thick. The flavor was a bit bland again, possibly because the same gravy was spread over it (our waiter asked if I wanted it on or off). The okra was awful – just awful. Cold and soggy, nothing like the fried okra I know and love.

So, when more company comes to town, I think I’ll recommend the CFS over the CFC at Humbe City Cafe. And, for pete’s sake, go easy on that gravy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Grandy's - Plano, TX

No doubt you’ve seen the welcoming green awning beckoning you to a Grandy’s restaurant. Most major (and a few minor) intersections in north Texas have a Grandy’s. Grandy’s is a good concept that didn’t seem to catch on: essentially home style fast food. Sort of Cracker Barrell meets McDonalds.

The place is basically a cafeteria-style restaurant, in both food and décor. The decoration is minimal (and faded badly in the one we went to). Booths and tables with swivel chairs line the broad dining room. The one we visited needed a quick cleaning as everything around was sticky. We retrieved a damp paper towel from the restroom and pressed on.

The CFS: It was thin but tasty. The meat was not something I’ve encountered: chopped meat formed into a “steak.” This made it very tender. It would be a stretch to call this “Southern style” since it was probably pre-made and frozen, but the style was a cross between a kind of central Texas snitzel and a southern style with heavy breading.

As a side tasting, Mrs. CFT had the Chicken Fried Chicken and it was very good. The chicken was plump and juicy, although the breading was the same.

The Breading: Very thin. Like mozzarella stick thin. It didn’t provide much resistance to the tenderness of the CFS making the whole thing a bit mushy.

The Gravy: White and a bit tasteless. But, in balance all together, it wasn’t bad. They didn’t give me the option for having it on the side.

Knife: Because the “steak” was chopped, the plastic knife that it came with was more than sufficient to cut the CFS. The plastic fork was really enough.

Sides: The dinner price came with two. I chose the okra, which was hot and fresh. The mashed potatoes (lovingly dropped onto the plate with an ice cream scoop), which were some form of instant, covered in gravy but with a good potato flavor. I almost broke out the little salt and pepper packs that came with the flatware but it didn’t really need it. Mrs. CFT had the French fries – they were tasty but very cold – and the cole slaw – which was cold enough but too vinegary and crunchy to be very good.

The Price: An AMAZING $2.99. Fortuitously, Tuesday is the chicken fried steak dinner day, featuring a minimal price on the CFS dinner. Still, you get what you pay for.

Service: Counter walk up. We went late in the day, so there was no line and things moved quickly. The buffet lights were bright and hot and there was no line for all you can eat okra. “Silverware” was plastic and came in a little bag. Cafeteria style all the way.

This is not the best CFS you will ever have. It may, however, be the fastest. In a way, it’s probably unfair to include Grandy’s on a list of good CFS joints. Still, it was a decent meal and service was quick.

2240 Coit Road

Plano, TX 75075

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cracker Barrell - Houston, TX

The Cracker Barrel is as ubiquitous to road travelers as bluebonnets in spring, highway patrol in August along I-45, the winds of west Texas and humidity in Houston.

Most of you have been to a Cracker Barrel and most of them are basically the same. There is a little "general store" at the entrance full of knickknacks, clothes and candies (including something called a “nut roll”).

Mrs. CFS challenged me to a game of skill with one of those little “peg hop” games, but I declined (knowing when I was over matched).

As most of them are, the one we visited was filled with tin signs, old clocks, antique rifles and framed, old pictures of distant relatives (many of which appeared to be for sale since there were price tags on them). It felt a bit contrived, especially since we were in the middle of Houston, not in rural Missouri, but we went with it. It’s hard to successfully replicate that old timey look.

The CFS: It wasn't particularly good overall but oddly no piece by itself was particularly bad. The steak itself (ground round) was tender. But, the flavors didn't mesh particularly well together.

The Breading: "Southern style" in origin but it was a bit thin. It was a bit like fried chicken in its consistency, so it wasn’t really crispy enough to give the CFS that great difference in texture (or hold up to the heavy gravy). Perhaps a bit oversalted (complimenting the undersalted gravy!).

The Gravy: Heavy and a little bland. This was strange because there was a meaty taste as well as some of that meat (bacon?) in the gravy. It had an odd sweet taste that I couldn't quite place. Interestingly, they have a "brown" gravy which they offer on the mashed potatoes but only the "white" gravy was offered on the CFS. Frankly, the "brown" would have been preferred.

A side tasting of Mrs. CFS's chicken fried chicken was actually surprisingly good; much better than the CFS. For some reason the gravy which wasn't too good meshed much better with the sweetness of the chicken than the meatiness of the steak. She wasn't that happy that I ate most of her dinner, but, for the good of the blog, she acquiesced.

The Knife: standard knife fine here.

The Sides: Three are chosen with the dinner menu; I chose fried okra, mashed potatoes (having a bit of a hankering that evening) and green beans (a rare foray into a non-fried vegetable). The fried okra was awful! (and coming from me you know it must have been bad). It was cold when it reached the table and was clearly pre-frozen and refried (perhaps earlier that afternoon). The mashed potatoes were good (with "brown" gravy), skins on and were lumpy. The green beans were a bit soggy but I liked them. Sort of reminded me of how my grandmother makes them; rich, chicken and bacon tasting beans -- frankly, you can't really even taste the beans.

The tot (who accompanied) enjoyed the macaroni and cheese, but he, like me with okra, is not discriminating when it comes to the M&C.

The Cost: $8.99 (with three sides). A pretty good bargain.

The Service: Competent and helpful, if not a little distant. Perhaps our 4:30 dinner threw them. She flirted with the tot and checked on us regularly.

Music selection: Cracker Barrel’s own inspired tunes – mostly older bluegrass and older country (we heard some Hank Williams, a favorite of mine).

There is something that draws people to the Cracker Barrel – the fact that it was pretty crowded at 4:30 pm on a Sunday made that clear. May it is nostalgia, cheap knickknacks, a clean bathroom or a pre-assembled rocking chair for the road (see picture). Perhaps there is something deeper, where travelers are looking to recapture something lost from ages ago when most all roadhouses and restaurants were like the Cracker Barrel. But, times have changed (for the most part). There are plenty of good road places to amble into to find a nice heaping plate of CFS, bottomless iced tea and a waitress to call you “hon.” You may have to look a little harder but they are still around (and most are not incorporated).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Saltgrass Steak House - Houston, TX

“Texas to the Bone” is what their napkins say about Saltgrass Steakhouse. Well, any place that serves chicken fried steak is at least a little bit Texas. The “…to the bone” label should be a limited classification for places were Sam Houston drank whiskey from a jug or where Lyndon Johnson stuffed a ballot box.

Saltgrass has done a fine job of approximating what people thing a Texas restaurant is like, but they have done so a bit like a casino in Las Vegas. You know what I mean: huge hotels created to look like Venice, New York or Camelot. In truth, it’s a bit of a sham – a sort of Bennigan’s with Texas-themed junk instead of stuff you might find in your garage. This thing might sell well in California, Wisconsin or Florida, where Texas is more myth than reality, but IN Texas, it’s just a little awkward.

To the food. The meals (even lunch) come with a very nice Shiner Bock beer bread (… this does border on “Texas to the Bone”) that was just what beer bread should be: creamy, sweet and nutty. A little butter made it a very nice start to the meal.

The CFS: It was tasty and rich. The meat was a nice, tender sirloin that had good give when bitten but enough resistance to make the texture of each bite interesting. The balance of flavors was strong (garlicy) but not overwhelming. The menu bragged it was “thicker than the rest” – it was not! Not that thickness equates to taste in CFS (so the boast didn’t make much sense to me).

The Breading: “Southern style.” Such chain restaurants (see review for the Black Eyed Pea) tend to go in this direction (which I personally like). I haven’t been to a commercial place where the style was more west or central Texas style. The breading was a bit thin and I couldn’t manage to keep the top and bottom crust for each bite. (weep not for me, I did manage to clean my plate).

The gravy: Rich, creamy and, if eaten in a blind tasting, was reminiscent of chicken soup. Full chicken, onion and garlic flavors were present. The flavor gravy really dominated the whole dish, but not in a bad way.

Knife size: The plate came with a larger steak knife, but it really wasn’t necessary. A smaller knife would have been fine.

Sides: Pick one (for lunch). I was in the mood for some mashed potatoes (and the other sides didn’t particularly appeal to me), so I ordered the “garlic mashed potatoes.” Like the gravy / CFS combo, the flavors were strong (garlic) but in proper balance. It was a nice compliment to the CFS.

Cost: $8.99 on the lunch menu.

Service: Quick. Very quick. Perhaps too quick. I had the kind of waitress who answers her own questions after asked (“How’s your steak? Good.” “More iced tea? No problem.”). Overall, things moved quickly and I was in and out in a hurry.

Music selection: new country.

It always troubles me when attempts to make something “authentic” go overboard. Such was the case here. Still, it was a good meal and worth a trip.

17275 Tomball Parkway; In the Willowbrook Plaza

Monday, September 1, 2008

Goodson's Cafe - Tomball, TX

Billboards all over Waller and north Harris County proclaim Goodson's Cafe as the "Best Chicken Fried Steak in Texas." It is certainly not the only place that makes such a claim, but here it comes close to being true.

Goodson's Cafe was a neat and eclectic little place. It was true to the “café” name: a big menu with a range of standards (including appetizers, lunch, dinner and desserts). Tables were covered with that plastic tablecloths and there were baskets of toys around for recreation (for the tots, I suppose). The meal started with some warm biscuits with a nice gravy in a side dish.

The CFS: I was warned. She warned me. When I ordered the CFS, our waitress asked "Are you sure?" Teased and interested, I indicated I was sure (even though I wasn't sure). The CFS was amazing. Just amazing. True southern style, thick and juicy (surolin). It was a MAJOR piece of meat -- as big as I've seen. …or I thought it was a single: after eating a few bites, I discovered it was actually two pieces! Regardless, it was too much for me. Grilled onions were also offered to top the CFS (alas, but declined), something I hadn’t encountered before.

Breading: Thick and flaky. Very tasty. Clearly made with some buttermilk, it was double dipped, a nice amount of pepper and lumpy as all get out.

Gravy: Smooth, camel colored and creamy. A rich, caramel and flavorful bounty. It came on the side (our waitress didn't ask how we wanted the gravy served). Our waitress offered (without us asking) to bring an extra bowl of gravy and I'm glad she did. I actually didn't think I'd like spooning out gravy to my CFS per bite, but I really liked it. It allowed for portion control and let the CFS stay crispy.

Knife size: You need something major to attack this beast. The CFS came with a standard knife -- truly inadequate for the job. I thought about going next door to the pawn shop to buy something more substantial.

Sides: Dish came with two. I had the fried okra (no surprise) and the cole slaw. I'm easy with okra, so my standards are low. But these weren't so good: the okra was a little soggy and probably pre-packaged. The cole slaw was awful. Everything was chopped too small and the balance of creaminess, cabbage and carrots (the three c's) . There was an unpleasant hint of garlic in it too -- made it smell a little off and left an odd aftertaste. Mrs. Chicken Fried Texan had the mashed potato (which was nice but was a little dry, a nice potato flavor (with skins)) and corn (tasted canned).

Cost: Large (which I had) was $9.29 and the small is $7.99. An amazing bargain given the amount of food. If you’re interested, the grilled onions on top were an extra $0.79.

Service. This wasn't her first rodeo or her first CFS. She sized me up and knew she'd be taking that plate away nearly full (see picture). She was friendly, had an easy charm, got the food out fast and flirted with the tot (who returned in kind).

Music selection: adult contempo.

The "Best Chicken Fried Steak in Texas" can't be a self-given label. Indeed, Goodson's Cafe's "Best CFS" was proclaimed as such by the "Eyes of Texas," which were last recorded in the late 1990s. So, it's been a while since the label was affixed to their CFS. Best in Texas? I can't say. The biggest?: perhaps. Best bargain?: certainly the top 10. It’s worth a drive out to Tomball to see for yourself.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Black Eyed Pea - Houston, TX

OK, OK, the review should be called “A” Black Eyed Pea since it’s not like it is an original. Just your ordinary, run of the mill Black Eyed Pea you’d find at most any intersection of Any City, Texas and Regular Road. Chain restaurants aren’t regularly Chicken Fried Texan’s preferred choice of diner, but the Black Eyed Pea is a Texas tradition. And, I don’t mind admitting to you, loyal Chicken Fried friends, that the BEP is where I developed my taste for fried okra, fried corn and, of course, CFS when I was a tot.

This Pea was pretty much like any other, complete with countrified (but modern) décor and fake plants like at grandma’s house.

In fact, the meal starts out a bit like at grandma’s, with a basket of rolls and cornbread. Mrs. Chicken Fried Steak and tater tot accompanied me, scarfing a roll before I could snap a picture of the full basket. The rolls were tasty with a light buttery top but were otherwise forgettable. I had forgotten how much I liked the cornbread, which is baked with corn niblets in it, giving it a nice a juicy crunch when you take a bite (tot agreed and ate all that was in our basket, forcing me to eat only crumbs).

The CFS: I must say I was prepared to hate it but ended up liking it. The first bite was warm and crunchy. The steak (sirloin) was nicely cooked, was juicy and was tender. It still had the right amount of “give” so that the texture of each bite nicely complimented the breading.

A side tasting of Mrs. CFT’s chicken fried chicken demonstrated a similar tasty quality. Same breading. Same gravy. The chicken was nice and moist, giving a great balance to the crunch of the breading.

Breading: Also nice. It was “southern style,” which is most of what you find in CFS in East Texas. I’m guessing you’d find the same at other Black Eyed Peas in other parts of Texas; more like fried chicken than her pan-fried West Texas CFS cousin. The breading had a nice punch to it, made with what tasted like a little buttermilk. A nice amount of pepper and good crunch.

Gravy: Not so nice. A bit like library paste (but runnier). There was really no taste to it, surprising since the whole CFS was pretty tasty. It was thin and utterly forgettable. No option for having it on the side was given.

Knife: Standard knife fine here.

Sides: Reminiscing about childhood visits to other Black Eyed Peas, I ordered my two favorites: fried okra and fried corn. The okra was as perfect and scrumptious as I remember it. They were hot, fresh and had that great “just fried” look. My mouth is still burned from popping too dangerously many in my mouth at once. The fried corn was nice but belied her potential. The corn was a bit soggy (frozen?) and the fried breading fell off too easily before an adequate bite could be had. Still, I must give big Chicken Fried props to them for deep frying as many vegetables as possible. Mrs. CFT has the mashed potatoes (which were lumpy, creamy and very nice) and the French fries (not fresh cut but tasty, with a nice sweet/savory spice on them that had hints of cinnamon, clove, paprika and pepper).

Price: $8.99 for the “Texas-Sized” Chicken Fried Steak (sizes for other states were not offered). Actually, a really good bargain for the amount and quality of food you get.

The service was competent, corporate and by the book. A bit cold and distant, but I wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship. Since the tot was with us, it was nice to have pretty consistent help, including crayons (not to be eaten, we reminded the tot), coloring placemat and child-size milk.

The Black Eyed Pea is as iconic to Texas as dead armadillos, fire ants, traffic, the heat (my God, the heat), underfunded schools, miles and miles of highways, Kinky Freidman, and snakes in your garage. And, like those things, we can’t ignore it (even if we wanted to). These are all part of Texas and we must embrace all that is ironic and contradictory about our fine state. So, instead of snickering your way past your neighborhood Black Eyed Pea on your way home, stop in for an iced tea, a CFS and remember what your grandma told you: “if you can’t say anything nice, stuff another piece of cornbread in your mouth.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Humble City Cafe - Humble, TX

“Slow food” advocates argue that food should be produced and consumed close to home. It made enough sense to me (certainly the consumption side) to drive a few miles to a quaint little café close to my house. Humble City Café (, located in downtown Humble, resembles hundreds of other neat little small town, county courthouse- adjacent, (sweet) iced tea brewing cafes in towns all across Texas. The food, décor and hospitality certainly equal those kinds of places, despite being only minutes from the fourth largest city in the country.

The location, building and interior décor look like a flashback to an old roadhouse. The room is big but inviting. Tables are good sized (enough for an open newspaper, a plate of CFS and an icy beverage). The presence of Humble Oil signs and the Texas flag remind diners of the storied history of the area. Reminiscent of a Cracker Barrel, there is a little county store that sells trinkets, old-fashioned candy and homemade root beer.

To start the meal, they bring a perfect little cast iron singlet of cornbread – soft, moist and just the right amount of crumble. Accompanying the cornbread were two kinds of butter, a plain butter and a honey-infused butter. I probably should have objectively tried both, but, frankly, the honey butter was so good I couldn’t stop eating it. There was nice texture to the honey butter (ground nuts, perhaps?) and it came frozen, making it the prefect consistency to slice some off and let it melt pleasantly into the warm cornbread.

The CFS: Very good. Very big. The picture in no way does this bad boy justice (I had to step back from my chair to snap this photo). To be fair, I did order the larger of the two size options – still, I had no idea of the Flintstonian slab of meat that would emerge. Still, it was tasty through and through. It was nice and tender with just the right consistency to make each bite substantial.

Breading: Crispy and flaky. It was nice and lumpy, showing somebody took care to shape it by hand and fry it up nice and crispy. A crispy breading like this is important because it has to stand up to the gravy and keep the texture of the meat intact.

Gravy: Smooth and creamy. My waitress asked whether I wanted it or not (does anyone ever say no?) and it came to the table smothering that tender giant of a steak. Hints of pepper but nothing overpowering. Again, I like a little more kick and a little more salt, so I would have liked more of both.

Knife: A standard kitchen knife won’t do here. A serrated steak knife came suggestively tucked under the steak, hinting one could be wise to use it.

Sides: Select two. I chose fried okra (a personal weakness of mine) and the cole slaw. The okra was divinely delicious – so hot and fresh that my progressive popping of 2-3 in my mouth at a time was unwise (but so satisfying). The cole slaw was also excellent. The thing most nice about it was the ratio of cabbage to carrot: the cabbage was sliced into longer strips and the carrot were in small flacks, allowing the cabbage to shine. The creaminess was spot on and the little dish they give you wasn’t enough for me.

Cost: $12.99 (with two sides). $10.99 if you want the smaller size (and plan to eat again anytime in the next week).

The service was excellent. Friendly, fast and perhaps a bit freaked that I was (1) taking pictures of my lunch and (2) in for lunch at 10:50 (hey, I’m a busy and hungry man).

Make a trip to Humble for this. Seriously.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Willy Ray's Bar-B-Q - Beaumont, TX

Who orders chicken fried steak at a barbeque place? Answer: The Chicken Fried Texan.

Willy Ray’s Bar-B-Q in Beaumont was voted as one of Texas Monthly’s 50 best barbeque joints. The place is quaint and smaller inside than it looks outside. It’s a bit of a maze to get to (what isn’t in Beaumont?) but worth a trip.

To the main event: chicken fried steak. The steak itself was juicy and tender, making it easy to cut and nice to chew (some can take serious choppers). It had taken a nice pounding to make it nice and flat.

Breading: The breading was nice but not too thick. (Since this is my first post, I should note to my faithful readers that CFT prefers a thicker breading).

Gravy: on the side. This isn’t too common, but maybe it is an East Texas thing. I didn’t really like the gravy much. It was too bland and needed a kick of something to give it some shoulders.

Knife size: small. It was thin enough to use a standard knife. Despite her east Texas location, leave the Bowie knife at home.

Sides: the dish came with two – I had cole slaw and corn (off the cob). The cole slaw was really bland and needed a shot of vinegar and a little more creaminess to make it stick to CFT’s ribs. The corn was simply great – it was probably canned (too perfectly cut to be fresh) but had a great flavor. There were hints of bacon and red peppers. The tater tot loved it, and if you can get a tot to eat corn, you know you’re doing something right. Mrs. CFT had French fries, which were very well seasoned, hot and fresh.

Cost: About $10.00 (including two sides and a drink). A little on the high side, but fame has it’s price.

The service was a bit sub par. There was confusion at the front of the house (felt like the very nice woman taking our orders was new). The twice-baked potato ordered for the tot never arrived. CFT’s CFS took an extra five minutes to arrive (the cook missed it: good news in a way because it was clearly made to order). But, despite these slips, the staff couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming – it really felt like a neighborhood joint where you could get comfortable, with no hint of arrogance, despite the coronation from Texas Monthly as barbeque royalty.

Music selection: oldies.

Overall, a nice place and an enjoyable visit. But, as far as the chicken fried side goes, stick to barbeque at Willy Ray’s.
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