Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blogging the Fair (early evening)

After seeing many of the best livestock Texas has to offer, we decided to partake in some if their kin, chicken fried style.

Just outside the pig exhibit was a revelation: chicken fried bacon. It was salty, as you can imagine but surprisingly good. The bacon was nicely fried and it was nice and flat. Ranch dressing (out of a pump) was provided, but we passed.

The crispy ends were the best part. Only Oinkus T. Pig (won by Tater Tot on the midway) objected.

Blogging the Fair (late afternoon)

A taste of fall. Fried pumpkin pie. A delicious and creamy and light filling of pumpkin pie mix, topped with whip cream and some powdered sugar (the official garnish of the Fair).

Tater tot proclaimed it as his favorite of the Fair. Worth battling the growing crowd to get to.

Blogging the fair (late afternoon)

Indulging Mrs. CFT and tater tot's love of sweets, we grabbed a basket of fried brownies. The perfect balls were chocolatey and gooey with a nice hint of almond. The balls were drizzles with caramel sauce and chocolate powder.

The trend has been that the little plastic forks are inadequate for cutting (and sharing) the fried goodies. Better to use your hands and get them in single bites.

Blogging the Fair (afternoon)

Working our way to the Texas Hall, and having not eaten in about half an hour, we stopped for water and... French fries. Smothered with chicken wing sauce, these things were addictive. Plus they came in a cone for easy and portable eating.

A 3 napkin dish.

Blogging the Fair (afternoon)

Wandering through the Midway, just past the giant alligators, I found fried tamales. Skeptical but intrigued, I put my 7 tickets down and bit in.

The balls were a bit dry on the outside but moist in the middle. The filling was a spicy riced tamale. It came with seven and that was plenty for a quick fix.

Blogging the Fair

One word: bananarito. A genius combination of bananas wrapped in a fried flat cinnamon churro, topped with a drizzle of chocolate, whip cream and a cherry.

Blogging the Fair

We're visiting the Mecca of fried foods: the Texas State Fair!

First up: the iconic corny dog. Fletchers, of course, although the heavily publicized "foot long" corn dog was tempting.

The corny dog was excellent - hit and slathered with mustard. The outside was crunchy and the inside was fluffy and tender.

A good start.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Junction General Store and Cafe - Garrison, TX

Homeward bound on our trip up and down Texas Highway 59, we came across a place we couldn't help but stop at. Happy Junction perfect road food: right on the highway, home cooking, an assemblage of decorative (Texas) items and, most importantly, chicken fried steak.

The meal began with a really nice salad with home grown tomatoes. The addition of a welcome (if odd) sprinkling of Cheddar cheese made for a nice salty bite. The ranch dressing was brought to us in a bottle (left on the table).

The wait was a few minutes while the cook (perhaps the only person around for miles) fixed up our CFSs. This just gave us time to look around and study the eclectic mix of maps, old beer signs and Texas ephemera. It also gave us the chance to hit the bathroom, located outside in a separate part of the building, apparently built some time after the original structure.

The CFS was of the pre-packages sort, a but gummy and overly salty, but hit the spot nevertheless.

The french fries were excellent. They put a nice seasoned blend on it and they were substantial enough to soak up some of the gravy.

The food was nothing to write home about (the standards for blogging being much lower) but this was the perfect place to end our road trip. We'll stop I'm again when we're back in the neighborhood.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dixie Diner - Texarkana, TX

Continuing along Highway 59, Chicken Fried Father and I rolled into Texarkana late and looking for sustenance.

We again did a Google search for a place for grub -- although this worked out great in Nac, it didn't work so well in Texarkana. We came across the Dixie Diner for a late night supper.

Having three chicken fried steaks in as many days, I switched it up and ordered a chicken fried steak sandwich. The dish came with a side and rolls for a slightly inflated $9.95.

The rolls were fine and the cornbread was pretty good (even if a bit dry). I got the fried okra which were way overcooked, dried out and salty. I pity ate four more than I should have.

The CFSS was decent -- layered with tomato and lettuce (and some stolen gravy from Chicken Fried Father's CFS) it made for a nice dish. The steak was tender enough to bite through, critical for biting a sandwich. The flavor wasn't great, but in a sandwich this is forgivable. The pillowy bun was nicely toasted and could hold on to all the supporting cast which I included mayo and mustard.

Overall an uneven meal but it hit the spot after a long day of traveling. I'm not sure I'd go back but the menu was large and varied and the staff friendly (even for 9 pm on a Wednesday).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Butcher Boys - Nacogdoches, TX

Continuing our road trip up and down the 59 highway, we rolled into Nacogdoches ("Nac") around lunchtime. I've always liked Nac when I've visited but never gotten to explore the town much. After strolling through the old downtown, including another in a series of unfortunately abandoned interesting theater, we did a Google search for CFS and Nac. This doesn't always work out well, but in this case it worked brilliantly.

The iPhone search turned up Butcher Boys, a large restaurant with an expansive menu. Since we had donuts about an hour earlier in Lufkin and since Chicken Fried Father is a senior citizen (but just barely), we ordered the $5.95 senior lunch: a CFS and a side.

Wow, what a deal. The CFS was amazing. The steak was so tender and had the perfect bite. There was so much flavor, even under the crispy breading and gravy. The gravy was perfect - great seasoning, flavorful and creamy.

We also ordered a side we haven't seen much in our travels: fried green tomatoes. The CGT were the perfect mix of tart and savory. Although they are often served with a ranch-type sauce, the absence of this on the plate made us even more appreciative of the flavor. (it even inspired us to buy some on the roadside in Tenaha, TX and make it at home).

I don't say this much, but this is among the best CFS in Texas. Go get some!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fried Chicken?

An email from a reader recently asked me about the best fried chicken in Texas. My favorite is Frenchy's in Houston (followed by Bar-B-que Inn in Houston) buy I want to hear what you all think. Leave comments below.

This certainly reminds me that there are more chicken fried items than just steak. This is fortuitous because the State Fair is just around the corner....!

The Hanging Tree - Goliad, TX

Indulging our summer wanderlust, Chicken Fried Father and I hit the road to explore the culinary bounty of south and east Texas. This summer, we took Highway 59 north and south - Laredo to Texarkana.

Our love of Texas history matches our love for Texas vittles, so we stopped in Goliad for a lesson in Texas history. Nestled in a wonderful town square, we took lunch at The Hanging Tree, named for the actual tree where those found guilty of capital crimes outside the courthouse, which is across the street from the restaurant.

I had the chicken fried ribeye and it didn't disappoint. Pounded thin and packed with flavor, the CF'R' was tender (almost fork tender) and coated with a unique thin crust. The crust was more crispy than crunchy, a perfect compliment to the tender steak, anything more dense would upset the balance of textures. The broccoli was terrific - fresh and flavorful. The mashed potato, covered in the same gravy as the CFR, had great potato flavor and was well seasoned.

Although an unconventional choice, try the $3 upgrade to the chicken fried ribeye. There is more to 'chicken frying' than top round.

(Excuse any errors! I'm testing a new blogging by phone app.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

T-Bone Tom's -- Kemah, TX

Let it be understood as a rule that any restaurant that has a giant sirloin outside it is likely to be a winner. T-Bone Tom’s doesn’t disappoint on this score (or any I could find).

The CFS is a hard-fried southern style that makes for a nice crunch, just about the consistency (and taste) of fried chicken. The sirloin (hence her giant friend outside) is nicely cooked and juicy. The surrounding gravy was a dense cream with a nice rich flavor. My impression was that it needed a little salt and a hint of pepper – adding a dash of each improved the balance of flavor.

I branched out and had the grilled tomato (standing in for my usual mashed potato) and it was worth it. It was a bit over salted but the tomato was so full of flavor that it packed a mean punch. The fried okra was a brilliant green, meaning the fried exterior wasn’t too dense as to mask the okra flavor. Combining the tomato and fried okra made for a terrific flavor, negating the slightly too salty tomatoes.

If you walk up and down the Kemah boardwalk 1,504 times afterwards, you can work off the meal. That will also give you time to figure out an excuse to find your way back to T-Bone Toms.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Original Fried Pie Shop - Buffalo, Texas

Fried. Pies. Even one of those two words should easily convince you to travel a few hours to Buffalo to partake.

Attached to a Mobil gas station, the Original Fried Pie Shop has lovely homemade pielets (you can see them rolling out the dough) which you can fill with savory or sweet (even options without sugar) options.

We chose the full octane sugar apple and lemon flavors. The pies were moist and perfectly flaky. This makes them wonderful but hard to eat in the car. The filling was flavorful but not overly sweet so that it obscured the fruit flavor. They stayed warm in their little packet for the 10 minutes we navigated traffic (and could manage to pretend like we didn't want to eat them right away).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gordon Ramsey's "Fried Chicken Steak" Nightmare.

On a recent episode of Kitchen Nightmares with rage-chef Gordon Ramsey, he sampled a CFS from Zeke's in Louisiana. I'm not sure he knows exactly what it is since he calls it "fried chicken steak" -- taken out of order, the words of the dish mean something different. Maybe it is a British thing.

Even so, it doesn't take a fancy culinary degree and and armfull of Michelin stars to see that this CFS was not going to be good. Chef Ramsey commented that is looked like a giraffe's tongue (which are technically blue, but whatever).

Sadly, the larger point is that this kind of CFS dish seems to be more the norm than the exception. We've all eaten this kind of tough, overcooked, flavorless and generally disappointing CFS. Maybe the art of making a simple and delicious CFS is a dying art as prices of food rise and standards fall; the kinds of places that make a CFS well are becoming fewer and rarer.

The CFS disappointment comes at about 9:40.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Beaver’s Ice House ― Houston, Texas

Unique chicken fried steak is hard to come by, especially because the iconic dish remains tied to tradition and people are rooted in the CFS their grandmother made or the first time they ate a delightful plate of crispy, creamy goodness.

But, the eclectic Beaver’s Ice House does a terrific job at refining a very rustic dish. The “CFNYStrip” ($15) is a New York strip steak pounded to the texture of traditional sirloin. The texture was good, although the connective tissue often made for a chewy bite.

The mesh of flavors was excellent. The bacon mushroom gravy added an earthy and salty finish to an excellent bite. Perched on a cabbage and onion sautĂ©, the dish jumps off the plate. The cabbage brought unctuous and sour notes to the dish that I wasn’t sure would work at first but jelled nicely with the rest of the dish.

Plus, the ability to add an egg the dish for a dollar brings the continuous potential for innovation. Sometimes, traditions need to be updated.

(Also, aside from the outstanding CFS, the fried “beaver balls” are a must have for any visit: fried brownie cakes with ice cream balls on top. Need I say more?)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ken Martin’s Safari Grill ― Bryan, Texas

About a year ago, I visited Ken Martin’s Safari Grill and had a bad experience. A thoughtful comment from Ken Martin (the owner) in the comments section cordially invited me back:

Dear friend, I'm sorry you were disappointed with our chicken fried steak and homemade gray. This is my 40th year serving folks in the Brazos Valley and am grateful they have been more pleased than you. Our cutlets are fresh from Ruffino Meats and hand breaded every day and our gravy made from scratch, making our own rue and using chicken base and seasonings. You didn't mention it but I hope you got one of our hot, homemade rolls to sop up the gravy with; most folks really enjoy these! Nonetheless, I am sorry for your disappointment but glad you got good service; we work hard on that, too. Please come in again. Feel free to ask for me or my manager, Joe Ruiz, who has been with me 38 years. Sincerely, ken martin.

Returning to Ken Martin’s, I was curious to see if I would have the same experience. Patterning my trip the same as the first, I arrived for an early lunch, ordered the same dish (yellow gravy with a side of okra and mashed potatoes).

The dish was better! The CFS arrived steaming hot and the texture was great. Plus, the mashed potatoes and fried okra were excellent. The waitstaff were friendly and efficient, as with the first visit.

But, I still didn’t care for the gravy. I’m not beholden to traditional white gravy but the yellow gravy didn’t do it for me. It needed a touch more salt and a bit more pepper. It needed to be more savory and stand up against the saltiness of the CFS.

The upside is that I’d go back. There was much to like and it’s certainly my kind of place.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brady’s Restaurant -- Brady, Texas

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.


“The Duke” approves. Brady’s Restaurant, located just off Highway 87 in the little town of Brady, is a tidy little roadside place (if a bit over decorated with western style motifs and John Wayne pictures).

Dizzied by traveling many miles from Amarillo and hungry for some classic road food, we started with an order of jalapeno poppers with a blue cheese dressing for dipping. This was a mistake, as the poppers were clearly store bought. They also came out with the fiery heat of a hundred volcanoes. Famished by road hunger, I bit in and was scalded with a scorching blast of processed cheddar cheese. The memory (and scar on the top of my mouth) still haunts me.

Seeking a bit of a change, I chose chicken fried chicken over the chicken fried steak (Chicken Fried Father ordered the steak). It was a good choice. The chicken was well seasoned and pounded very thin (very, very thin). It was so thin that it ended up curling up into a winged origami shape. With a tasty gravy, we’d be all set. Unfortunately the gravy was too soupy and with very little taste. Even a liberal dose of salt and pepper could not bring this CFC back to quality. The chicken fried steak, on the other hand, was also pounded thin but was flavorless. Coupled with the flavorless gravy, there wasn’t much good to say about it, except that I was pleased I hadn’t ordered it.

The CFS was accompanied by green beans, which tasted tinny and were clearly from a can (a tin can), and the CFC was sided by corn, which was also from a can but was less offensive. The mashed potatoes were actually quite tasty. They were lumpy with the skin on and a good garlic flavor. A perfectly buttered and toasted Texas toast was the saving grace for a meal that didn’t satisfy in terms of quantity.

A few tweaks and the CFC would be a good dish. As it is, ask for the gravy on the side.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hill’s Burgers – Canyon, Texas

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.


Just outside Palo Duro State Park is the little town of Canyon, Texas. South of town is Hill’s Burgers, a little burger cafĂ© with a wide menu. Since it was 10:30 in the morning and we had several hundred miles to cover that afternoon, we chose to eat…uh, light… and go for some sandwich fare.

I chose the chicken fried steak sandwich. Inspired by the traveling the highway and the Canyon, I noticed that all the sandwiches had the option for chili to be added. Done. Our friendly waitress said she had never heard of it before, but seeing the smile on our faces made her a believer. The flavor combination was excellent – the smokiness of the chili and the salty bite of the chicken fried steak made for a wonderful amalgamation. Unfortunately, the steak was as tough as an old shoe. On my first bite, as I moved the sandwich away from my face, the remnants exploded away from my mouth as the steak remained behind. The onion rings (“best in the state” as proclaimed on the window) were tasty with a flaky crust, although the rings were cut a bit thin for my taste.

The motto of Hill’s is “you cook ‘em, you build ‘em” (a sizeable middle table allows you to put all the fixings on your burger or sandwich). So, you can only half blame them if your food isn’t good. Still, this is a fun little burger joint and I’d go back, although I’d probably opt for the burger.

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