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 sauté, 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.

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