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.”