Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Big Texan ― Amarillo, TX

EDITOR’S NOTE: Embracing our wanderlust in the summer of 2010, Chicken Fried Father and I set out on an adventure to traverse the “Amarillo Highway,” a stretch of road that runs from Port Lavaca to Texline (on the border of New Mexico) and immortalized in a song by Terry Allen. The following entries chronicle our trip, food-wise at least.


A standard stopping point for curiosity seekers and truck drivers intent on eating their weight in sodium, the Big Texan is a Route 66 staple. It’s hard to miss, given the giant boot outside, but the construction on the highway and fatigue nearly made us miss.

Now, I love to celebrate Texas. No doubt. But this place feels like the kind of place someone would design as a Texas casino in Las Vegas. A carnival atmosphere. Over the top, often obnoxious (especially the cowboy-clad waitstaff) and full of tourists taking photos of “what Texas is like.”

But, how was the food, you ask?

One of the worst CFS I have ever had. It was overpriced ($15.99), pre-frozen and store bought. The breading was worse than frozen CFS’s I’ve purchased at the grocery. The meat (I’m being generous calling it meat) was mushy and without any flavor. The gravy had no flavor. It was unworthy of the name chicken fried steak. The baked potato, albeit plain, was OK. In relation to the awful rest of the meal, it was a welcome addition.

But, it was big.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turning Point Café ― Lamesa, TX

EDITOR’S NOTE: Embracing our wanderlust in the summer of 2010, Chicken Fried Father and I set out on an adventure to traverse the “Amarillo Highway,” a stretch of road that runs from Port Lavaca to Texline (on the border of New Mexico) and immortalized in a song by Terry Allen. The following entries chronicle our trip, food-wise at least.


Turning point indeed. As the textured fantasy of hill country gave way to the isolated beauty desert and plains, we strode into the Turning Point Café for sustenance. Several (old) locals were eating a late lunch at this café-come-diner which was rundown but not in a charming way.

CFS ($7.99) only came with mashed potato and a house salad. The CFS was very, very tough. There were times where I had to stop myself from eating to give a few extra chews. I certainly made for an uninteresting lunch companion as my mouth was constantly closed (manners, you know) to continue masticating. The gravy was unremarkable and without much flavor. Not enough salt, pepper or love in this dish.

The salad was a sad little offering, with store-bought lettuce and ranch dressing. The dressing had that acrid taste that defines store bought salad dressing. The mashed were under seasoned and without much flavor. It also had an odd soapy taste as well.

Overall, it was a sad little place, not unlike the rest of Lamesa which seems to be on hard times. It made us lament the decline of small towns like this, and the concurrent decline of little diners that we so love.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Texas Traditions – Port Lavaca, TX

EDITOR’S NOTE: Embracing our wanderlust in the summer of 2010, Chicken Fried Father and I set out on an adventure to traverse the “Amarillo Highway,” a perfect stretch of road that runs from Port Lavaca to Textline (on the border of New Mexico) and immortalized in a song by Terry Allen. The following entries chronicle our trip, food-wise at least.


Right at the mouth of the Amarillo Highway, on “main street” don’t you know, is Texas Traditions. Big wood tables and chairs (with stars), gave a nod to the Texas style.

We split the CFS, unsure of how much food we'd be eating down the road, a southern style offering. The crust to meat ratio was perfect. The steak was tender and perfectly cooked. The gravy was excellent. Hearty, strengthened by chicken stock, the balance of salt and (white) pepper was top notch.

Mashed potatoes and green beans accompanied. Both were strong offerings, but neither was truly excellent. The mashed was lumpy and rich, and played nicely with the gravy. The beans, while presenting like canned beans, were actually stewed fresh with bacon and had a nice flavor. The “dinner roll” was an unfortunate site: small, clearly reheated and dehydrating, it was ignored in favor of other food.

The *killer* was the Jack Daniel’s pecan pie. A wonderful crunch from the pecans and a buttery, flaky crust made was outstanding. We considered adding a dollop of whipped cream to cut the sugar, but didn’t want to indulge so early in the trip. The perfect start to a long voyage.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Norton's - Humble, Texas

Hearing good things about the CFS at Norton's from Chicken Fried Neighbor, I sought out to partake in some fried goodness after a month long (unhappy) hiatus.
Sadly, I was disappointed in my return to the fried treat. The CFS was as hard as an armadillo shell. The breading was crispy, which I like, but almost inpenetrable, which I don't like. It looked (and tasted) like it had been run over by a bus. The meat, likely as a result of way overfrying, was dense and tough. The gravy was honest enough to itself, creamy and white, but needing a dash more salt and pepper.

The quality and taste of the sides were mixed. The potatoes were whipped and creamy. The flavor was good, but they were a bit greasy and lost their appeal as they cooled. The green beans were very good. A wide bean, they were stewed and meaty.
Overall, Norton's gets an "avoid." I will likely go back, the draw of helmet-on-helmet violence and cheering Texans fans is too good to pass up, but will restrict myself to the wings of chickens and malted and hopped water.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Brenda's - Flatonia, TX

Brenda's is a prototypical cafe hidden behind the mega highway. Serving good food and good cheer, it's worth seeking out a little hideaway like this. The decor on the inside was eclectically Texas: cowboy hats, rodeo pictures and clippings of local high school gridiron glory. Overall, very comfortable. The place was packed with locals talking about weekend trips to San Antonio and local sports.

The CFS was an interesting change for me. It was a central Texas snitzel-style, fitting as we were in the center of Czech Texas. It was a bit overcooked as the meat was tough and difficult to chew. The gravy was a very thin but tasty drizzle but not thick enough for my taste.

The sides, however, made up for everything. The handcut french fries were hot an salty. Beautiful. The Texas toast was grilled to perfection and perfectly soft on the inside.
So, hop off I-10 and find Brenda's. Or one of the other hundreds of similar places. You'll be hapy you did.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Taquerias Alma Latina #5 ― Houston, TX

Jackpot. It may have taken me all summer, through several venues and my own failed attempts, but I have found an immensely pleasing chicken fried steak sandwich….in a taqueria. Taquerias Alma Latina #5 is a wonderfully friendly place on Telephone Road, complete with colorful adornments inside and out. It’s just like ones you always pass by but never stop in to patronize (shame on you!).

Starved for a late lunch, I was delighted to see a milanese torta on the menu ($3.00). I ordered it with french fried, which were hot and tasty (large order $1.25) but lacking salt. Nothing special but they hit the spot. The torta was excellent. The bread was fluffy in the middle and crispy on the inside and out (notice the pressing marks on top). The meat was pork, so it’s not technically a CFSS, but that’s splitting hairs when you’re hungry. The breading was salty, garlicky just a little spicy. The thin pork cutlet was overcooked, but this gave a nice bite to the softness of the rest of the sandwich architecture. A healthy dollop of Mexican crema, a smear of avocado and a hint of mustard finished this fine sandwich.

A fortuitous find in an unlikely location. Well worth a trip to #5 (or any of the other numbers) for a delightful lunch.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Homemade CFSS - CFS Homestead, TX

Unable to find an appeasing CFSS for the past few months, I attempted to make my own at home. How hard could it be, right? A little tomato, mayo, mustard, avacado and a fried egg atop a crunchy CFS (frozen) should be an easy make.

Sadly, I failed (by my measure and as gingerly expressed to me by Mrs. CFS). The sandwich was overall too juicy, usually a plus, but the combination of ingredients just made muddle of the flavors. The bun (storebought) was soft and pliable but too big and soft. It needed more texture, perhaps a toasting.

The quest continues. Help me out, fair readers.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

T-Bone Tom's - Seabrook, TX

My hunger for a chicken fried steak sandwich (CFSS) unabated, we traveled to Kemah to T-Bone Tom’s for a weekend lunch.

With several “chicken fried” sandwich options, it was hard to make a choice. Setting on the CFSS, the sandwich came with gravy (on the side), lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. After carefully building my sandwich, I took a bit. Excellent. The CFS was homemade and well cooked. The moistness of the CFS combined with the slight give of the sirloin made for an excellent bite. The veg additions provided an wonderful additional crunch especially the pickles and onions which gave the sandwich a nice sourness to complement the richness of the CFSS.

The enormous steak fries were the size of a remote control. They were fresh and came to the table piping hot.

Hot and tasty is hard to beat. Certainly worth a trip to the shore to try.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tin Roof BBQ & Steaks ― Atascocita, TX

As we waited for our meals, our table #8 Texas flag marking our location, we felt very comfortable at Tin Roof. A random assemblage of tables, chairs, old furniture and country brickabrack on the walls (some of them tin), the restaurant feels very cozy and welcoming.

When it arrived, the CFS looked excellent but tasted bland. Not enough salt in the breading. The gravy was runny and tasteless. The meat was tough and flavorless. The breading was crunchy and flaky which was fine by itself but the accompanying compatriots were less than stellar. A little disappointing overall, and, because it was 12.99, it was clearly overpriced.

The sides shined, however. The macaroni and cheese was cheesy and rich with the perfect amount of bite to the pasta. The mashed potatoes were whipped hard but with the skins left on, making a great texture for the side. The two slices of white bread were grilled on a grill, which was odd, but provided a unique smoky taste.

But, it was the French fries which will make you want to come back. Homemade, hand cut, perfectly salted, plentiful and hot. Worth a return trip just to smell the basket.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Hungry Farmer Bar-B-Q ― Houston, Texas

Continuing my search for a summer-favorite Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich (CFSS), we sauntered into The Hungry Farmer Bar-B-Q on Crosstimbers (just east of I-45) with high hopes and empty stomachs. The Hungry Farmer is primarily a burger and BBQ place, with a menu of several options of this ilk and a neat interior that reminded me of a cross between a steak house and a diner.

The CFSS basket (with fries, $6.15) was a great meal and a great deal. The fries were excellent ― fresh cut, hot and crispy. My only complaint is that most of them were small. This made for nice crunching but difficulty for my ketchup sopping ambitions.

The CFSS was very good as well. A big beast of a sandwich (likewise with their burgers) made for many excellent mouthfuls. The CFS itself was premade but the balance of veg, bread and meat and the sheer size made for a flavorful bite each time. The heat of the salty and crunchy CFS warmed the mayo and tomato, while the onion (which I added from the bar), pickles (which I added from the bar) and lettuce made for a cool crunch.

A few things are becoming clear regarding the CFSS (or at least my preferred sandwiching options):

Onions (and a health amount of them) are critical.

Mayo is essential.

The tomato and lettuce must be present but side players.

Pickles. The more the better.

Bigger is better (or at least wider is better).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Miller's Cafe - Houston, TX

I’d been hankering for a CFS sandwich of late (hat tip to my late friend Bill Moran (Texas Chef) for some excellent suggestions last summer when my yearning began). There is something about the combination of a perfectly crisp chicken fried steak, the tang of some mayo, the crunch of fresh veg and a soft bun. My first stop was Miller’s Café in Garden Oaks, a little dive of a burger place with a great atmosphere and self serve soft drinks for a hot summer day. Sadly, the CFS sandwich (CFSS) was disappointing. The CFS itself was clearly prepackaged and frozen, making for a flat (shape and taste) patty. Because of this, the CFS was grainy and mealy. Surrounding the CFS was a slice of tomato, a sad little lettuce flap and a healthy dollop of mayo. Nothing fancy, which is fine, but nothing too interesting either.

The balance of flavor was good and there was nothing egregiously bad about the CFSS. Still, I wished I had ordered a burger. My hankering continues unabated.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Langford’s Grocery ― Houston, TX

I’ve been meaning to try Langford’s for a few weeks, but was sidetracked by other culinary visits. But I happened to catch a Diners, Drivers and Dives (with annoying boy-host Guy Fieri) where he visited the Bayou City and sampled some of our excellent fare. Langford’s website boasts they have the best burgers in town (hence the visit from the bearded spiky one), an eccentrically decorated roadhouse that feels a bit out of place in the nexus of loft condos in Houston’s Midtown neighborhood. But, Thursday is chicken fried steak day at Langford’s, so I paid a visit.

(image from Langford's website)

The CFS plate starts with a little salad with an excellent cilantro cream dressing. Accompanying the CFS is a spectacular mashed potato with bacon and topped with cheese and scallions.

The steak itself was a big hunk of sirloin, almost as wide and tall as a hamburger patty. The breading didn’t stick to it well at all but I didn’t much care. The rich brown gravy could have used a hint of salt, but the breading was plenty salty by itself. This might have balanced out in each bite but the strong creaminess of the gravy muted this communication. I applied a few dashes of salt from the converted ‘Coronita’ bottle-to-salt shaker and all was well.

The only unpleasantness was a powerful garlicy flavor to … something. I can’t tell you if it was the gravy, the mashed potatoes or the cilantro cream dressing since none tasted strongly of garlic at the time I ate it. But it was one of them. And it was POWERFUL. I can describe it perfectly because I can still taste it three hours and a stick of gum later. But at $6.29 for a half CFS, starter salad, small mashed potatoes (or fries) and a half a perfectly browned Texas toast, this is a great lunch deal. The plate and portion reminded me of little roadhouse cafes in central Texas. Just don’t schedule any face-to-face meetings after lunch on Thursdays.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hickory Hollow - Houston, TX

As is often the case, the best keep getting better. Thwarted in our attempts to find CFS on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend by permanent closures (the Railroad Café) or temporary closures (the Steamboat House), Mrs. CFS and the tater tot returned to one of our favorite standards: Hickory Hollow (unfortunately there is no way for my computer to reverse the “k” in “Hickory” to mirror the sign out front).

Being too proud to order the “Cowgirl” (the “smallest” CFS), I went for the low middle option (the “Field Hand.”) Even at that, no field hand could expect to eat this and go back to work. The CFS was perfectly cooked and as fork tender a steak on a CFS as I’ve ever had. The breading and meat weren’t perfectly melded in balance in that they felt like two distinct parts of the same dish. But it didn’t matter ― the velvety texture of the steak and the crunch of the breading made for a perfect bite.

The mashed potatoes were topped with a perfect amount (not too much, not too little) of their golden, smoky gravy. Salad is usually…well, salad…but the mini salad bar at Hickory Hollow was perfectly fresh, stocked with edible veggies and compete with a delicious ranch dressing (to whit, even the tot wanted, unprompted, to eat some).

So, pour yourself a mason jar of sweet tea and head back again to Hickory Hollow (again and again).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gus’s Diner ― Sun Prairie, WI

Start the morning off right and I’ll tell you how: a big cup of coffee, good friends and hefty chicken fried steak. Visiting friends in Madison, Wisconsin, we were treated to an excellent late breakfast at Gus’s Diner in neighboring Sun Prairie. Gus’s Diner recreates a quaint and vibrant traditional greasy spoon diner where you would feel accepted wearing sneakers or bobby socks.

(image snagged from

The steak was tender and well cooked, if a little buried (and outshined) by the allied players on the plate. The gravy wasn’t my particular cut of brisket, given that the white gravy had mushrooms and a bit too much parsley. What can you say, it’s Wisconsin. It was, however tasty and flavorful and was a nice earthy contrast to the starch of the CFS and perfectly browned hash browns. The accompanying sunny side up eggs provided an amazingly rich mouthful that satisfied all around.

I try not to make it a habit to dine on CFS outside of Texas (especially in Louisiana, sorry Pelican-staters), but this was a welcome meal on a cold Midwestern morning.

The History of CFS

From the Handbook of Texas Online. A must read! (kindly sent in by a reader).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

AAA Restaurant - Houston, TX

Crispity, chrunchity goodness.*

The chicken fried steak at AAA Restaurant.

AAA is a throwback style diner with a diverse clientele and a traditional menu. The crunch factor was high on the CFS. The picture does not do it justice. The peaks and valleys of fried crust provided an excellent textual counter to the tender steak. This provided an unfortunate related problem where the lumpiness of the steak cooked unevenly in places. Even so, the overall bite was perfect, smothered with the thick white gravy which was nicely balanced. I ordered the baked potato as a side because I often enjoy a giant starch bomb slathered with sour cream. Not too often. But this tater was enjoyable with a fluffy meat and a soft skin. I couldn’t finish it since I was stuffed of CFS, but the little foil package it comes in can double as a doggy bag for a midnight snack (or the following week when you’re hungry again).

* Trademark Butterfinger candybars. Any association is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three Most Important Things...

One of our readers writes in with an important question: “I was wanting to know what the best recipe you've been given so far for chicken fried steak and fried pickles.”

(I’ll keep his/her identify a secret, in case s/he is, like, a nutritionist and only a secret CFS eater).

While I haven't found a perfect recipe, and wouldn’t dare to run afoul of your grandma’s special recipe, I will tell you the elements that I think should be required for a quality chicken fried dish:
* White pepper in the batter. So crucial.

* Buttermilk, not milk. The tangy flavor makes all the difference. This should especially help with your pickles.

* Double dip the steak/pickle in the flour and wet mix. I like a thick crust, so this helps to get a good coat.

What am I missing? What are your favorite techniques or recipes? Inquiring (and hungry) minds want to know.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Brickhouse - Humble, TX

Being the youngest “oldest” people at the Brickhouse is not fun. An upscale version of a Hooters, the Brickhouse (at FM 1960 and 59) apparently prides itself on babes and beer ― scantily clad waitresses and an expansive beer menu. They even have trading cards (yes, trading cards) of their waitresses, with a picture of the waitress in a plunging neckline shirt on one side and likes and dislikes and fun facts on the other. It was like reading Playboy without the fun cartoons.

Chicken Fried Neighbor and I ate outside one chilly Friday ― being the young, elderly type, we asked the waitress/model to turn down the music which was blaring Tom Petty at ear harming levels. Can’t do it ― it takes away from the “party theme” she told us. Turn up the heater, we implored! It’s as”high as it can go” she replied.

Despite my cranky objections to the atmosphere, the food was good.

The CFS was done well and enjoyable. The breading was crispy and served as a perfect complement to the creamy gravy. The gravy was a white gravy with good flavor but not enough pepper. A hearty dash of white pepper would have woken up an otherwise bland diary flavor. It also had mushrooms, which I didn’t care for. I think there are better ways to achieve flavor in a gravy.

The side I chose was the “cheesy potatoes,” glorified mashed potatoes with a healthy (not healthy for you) amount of cheddar cheese. There were big chunks of new potatoes which made the texture of the dish terrific. It’s hard to go wrong with that much starch and cheese and the dish did not disappoint. Still, it felt like a 9th grader’s version of mashed potatoes ― absent elegance, add cheese.

The CFS was also accompanied by a delightful Texas toast ― crispy and buttery on one side and soft and pillowy on the other.

The food is good here, as long as you can tolerate the atmosphere.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I'm not ashamed.

This is just pure food porn. Sent by a buddy traveling in Arizona. Chicken Fried Steak at the Cowboy Cafe in Wickenburg, Arizona.

This got me thinking -- send me your CFS pics ( and I'll post them. Our collective culinary travels will celebrate the tastiest of all the fried meats!
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