Friday, December 18, 2009

Mel's Diner - Gidding, TX

Chicken Fried Road Trip - Part III

The finale to our trip, after a day of imbibing some of the best barbeque joints in Texas, we decided to end our trip with a chicken fried meal.
Mel’s Diner, right on Highway 290, is an old 50s style diner, although a bit rundown (not dissimilar to our waitress who looked a bit rundown herself). I’m fine with dives but the food must be good. Places like this give dives a bad name.

The meal was $8.99 for the “small” CFS. The CFS, which was good sized, was pan fried which made it crispy and gave it a smoky favor. This was a nice change from the more heavy southern style we’d had on the trip to date.
Unfortunately, the meat was chewy, a result of the quick pan fry. The meal came with the choice of a potato product – the French fries were pretty standard, nothing great. Sad little salad accompanied – lettuce and tomato (or some kind of reddish disc) were wilted and old and was not enhanced by the “Newman’s Own” packet dressing which arrived with the salad.

I pine for these kinds of places – wary highway travelers sharing stories, the history, tens of thousands of plates passed from the well-warn kitchen. If only the food were good.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kloesel’s Steakhouse - Malton, TX

Chicken Fried Road Trip - Part II

Properly soused with fine ale from the Shiner Bock brewery, we sought out in search of sustenance. The Kloesel’s Steakhouse is more like house than a restaurant (perhaps on purpose) with several rooms that could easily be someone’s living room, den and foyer. Big band polka music emphasized the part of Texas we were in (along with old photos on the wall of similar big bands).

The “lunch plate” was $5.99. Breading was nice and soft, southern style. Perhaps too soft. I like a little crunch to a breading. The meat could have been tenderer as though it could have been beaten a bit more to mash out some of the connective tissue. It was “meat forward” -- there was more meat than breading. The gravy was a traditional white cream gravy and was heavy and satisfying. Sides were set with the plate – mashed (really smashed) red potato “salad” with rosemary (they called them “new potatoes”) and corn which was canned but was mixed with sausage, onion and red peppers (a “meal in itself” according to Chicken Fried Father). The whole plate blended together and billowed with the bounty of yummy lunch fare.

Speed, efficiency and price. CFS in Central Texas. Count me in. Certainly the best food in Malton, Texas.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Werner's - Hattiesville, TX

Chicken Fried Road Trip - Part I

Weary from travel and with fatigue from the frequency of “fork to mouth” action from stuffing our faces with barbeque, Chicken Fried Father and I stumbled onto Werner’s on Day 1 of our road trip in search of some chicken fried joy to moderate our barbeque-filled afternoon. It turns out, Werner’s is a local chain serving home-style food. The Werner’s we visited was a ramshackle place – the outside was a bit run down and the inside matched. The restaurant looked like an old house with oblong rooms and sitting areas that mimicked (or were) an old farmhouse.

The CFS was disappointing. The steak was tough as a result of being overfried and the breading didn’t stick to it. Gravy was traditional and good but nothing to, ahem, write home about – an unfortunate turn of phrase since I’m now writing home about it. The potatoes were whipped and had good flavor. The green beans, while obviously from a can, had good flavor and a healthy does of bacon to balance the earthiness of the beans with the fatty saltiness of the bacon. Just the way you want them.

But, because it was only $4.99, we didn’t complain. Where are you going to get that value in Houston?

No matter how thirsty you are, don’t ask for a cold ale (or any ale). They don’t have it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Texas Land & Cattle -- Tomball, TX

I tend to be wary of Texas-themed restaurants – they tend to mask poor quality food with the spectacle of Texas, hoping non-Texans (and Texans) won’t notice. Texas Land & Cattle deviates slightly from this mold but isn’t without it’s problems.

Like other Texas-themed restaurants, the décor was western themed, although more tasteful than you might imagine. The notable exception was the giant steer head on the wall.
The CFS ($11.95) was a southern style breading soft and juicy round steak. The tenderness was unexpectedly moist and tender, almost fork tender. The breading was soft and not overly crispy. The gravy was a classic luscious white gravy. There was a nice hint of cumin that brought a nice smoky flavor. As good as the technical preparation was, the flavor was a bit bland. Every level (breading, meat, gravy) needed salt and at least a hearty dash of pepper.

The garlic mashed potatoes were tasty and it was clearly prepared freshly and with care. The skins were left on and the garlic tasted like it was roasted, then added, giving the potatoes a nice smoky-sweet flavor instead of overpowering the dish. Still, a dash of salt would have again been warranted.

For a slow Sunday lunch in an empty restaurant, the service was slow, although our waitress was attentive and polite.

If you ignore the wall-spanning Lonesome Dove scene painting on the wall, Texas Land & Cattle ends up like other restaurants. A little more salt and I’d be right at home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Texas Burger - Fairfield, TX

Free from the vegetable-loving Mrs. Chicken Fried Steak, tater tot and I set out on a road trip in search of fried tasty vittles in central Texas.

One of my favorite chain burger places is Texas Burger – a place I insist on stopping by each time we make a long haul to Dallas.

This particular Texas Burger in Fairfield shares space with a Subway (and it seemed that most of the patrons were waiting in line for the subway at lunch on a Thursday). The inside is modest but comfortable.

The CFS: Departing from my usual “Double Texas Burger” order, I ordered the steak finger basket. The “meat” itself was too salty but was moist and chewy. I won’t speculate on exactly what it was, but the quality of the filler was low.

Breading: Very thin. So thin you could see the meat itself through the breading. It was also very salty and a bit unpleasant.

Gravy: The gravy came in a little side cup. It didn’t have much flavor but did have the look of a traditional gravy.
Knife: None. Steak fingers are for fingers.

Sides: A little bag of french fries. Texas Burger fries (at least at this location) have a nice little kick and rekindled tater tot’s love of the salted potato stick, thus making my life easier.

Cost: $7.99. A little expensive considering the quantity and quality.

Service: Very good. The woman who took our order also waited on us at our table. She brought our order out swiftly and also brought out our cookies when they were ready.
Music Selection: None.
I recommend sticking to the burger products at the Texas Burger. But, do try the homemade shakes! They can make up for a lot.

Monday, October 5, 2009

John's Cafe - Plano, TX

Tucked away in a strip mall in east Plano, John’s Café boasts a range of country cooking. They seem to specialize in breakfast and lunch items (and close early, so plan ahead).

Unfortunately, the inside matched the outside dinginess. There was an odor of fresh paint in the restaurant. The décor inside was minimal, with the television as the center of attention in the rather small dining room. The tables are covered with a heavy (clear) plastic sheet that detracted from the ambiance.

The CFS: The CFS was awful. The meat was thin and tough, like a McDonalds hamburger patty gone old. Needless to say, the meat was tough. I think it was sirloin, but I won’t speculate (I won’t share manner of meat we suspected). There was also an odd flavor of garlic powder or onion powder that was very unpleasant.

Breading: Breading was good not but without much flavor.

Gravy: The gravy saved the day. Just like chicken fried mom used to make! It was white, fresh and creamy.

Knife: Steak knife. The size (it being thin) wasn’t the problem – it was the density of the meat.

Sides: Choose two. The mashed potatoes were solid but unremarkable. It had good flavor and nice garlic and salty flavor. The okra was the best of the two: hot and tasty.

There were hot rolls provided to start which caused me mixed emotion. That they were free and hot was good. That they were dry and tasteless was bad.

Cost: $ 7.29. Not a bad price for a lunch, but for the quality, it was a little high.

Service: The service was OK. Very friendly but a little lax. Sides were forgotten. Drink refills were slow. Still, a smile and some good banter make up for a lot.

Music Selection: The din of something but I couldn’t make it out.

I can’t recommend a visit to John’s Café. It was a Sunday lunch, so a weekday meal might be better. I’m reminded of Anthony Bordain’s recommendation in Kitchen Confidential to not eat fish in a restaurant on Monday. Maybe we can add: “don’t eat CFS on a Sunday.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Swanson's Banquet Dinner - CFS Homestead, TX

Not being a CFS snob, and with Mrs. CFS out of town for a few days, Tater Tot and I decided to try something new: Swanson’s frozen “Chicken Fried Beef Steak Meal" with "Country Style Gravy." You can probably predict how it ended.

Inspecting it initially, the entombed, frozen components in the plastic tray made for a very unappealing “eat with your eyes experience.”
After the instructed microwave time, we dug in. The breading was soggy as a sponge. There was a hint if meat flavor but otherwise very bland. The gravy didn’t even resemble gravy – it looked like a marshmallow puff type gravy that congealed around the meat. It came with two sides. The mashed potato was bland and looked like wet cotton candy. The corn, oddly, was fine - plump and sweet, not expected from a meal locked in a freezer for three months.

Although I usually encourage Tater Tot to eat more of his dinner, I wasn’t displeased that he didn’t want to continue. Fortunately, in the same trip to the grocery, we bought (and devoured) a medium sized watermelon.

I didn’t expect much and didn’t get much. We’ll stick to watermelon next time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Star Cafe - Crosby, TX

Chicken Fried Neighbor and I happened across Star Café by accident. Getting a bit lost one day east of Lake Houston, we stumbled upon this jem of a place. Betwixt fields of cows and more fields of cows, Star Café is a perfect roadhouse café.

The inside is chock full of old movie posters and pictures of movie stars from the 1930s and 1940s. The hardwood floors compliment the classic diner table tops. The menu was pretty big, along with breakfast items which looked great, and mostly included diner-type fare.

The CFS: Superb. A tender and juicy cube steak that was cooked perfectly.

(I promise to get a better picture next time.)

Breading: Southern style – thick and crispy. My first impression was that the breading was a bit salty, but this actually turned out to be a perfect complement to the creaminess of the gravy.

Gravy: A nice, white cream gravy. Nothing really special here but the consistency was great and the flavor was a great complement to the CFS.

Knife: Steak knife. The steak was tender enough to eat with a fork but I used the knife so I could eat more of the awesome CFS faster.

Sides: Choice of potato (mashed, fried or baked) and one additional side. I went with the mashed potato and fried okra. The mashed potatoes were great – lumpy, creamy and full of flavor. Like the breading on the CFS, it was a bit salty but, again complimented by the gravy, the relationship was perfect.

Cost: $11.50. A little on the high side but the quality was great and worth the price. Hell, I’m still full.

Service: Wonderful. Our waitress was chatty and efficient. Chicken Fried Neighbor asked how large the CFS was and her coy reply was “you’ll see” with a sly smile.

Music Selection: Oldies (Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker). Check out some of their antique juke boxes.

Despite the out of the way location, it’s well worth a trip. You won’t be sorry. There’s also a “golf facility” in the compound of buildings, but I didn’t see what this meant. After that CFS, I needed a nap, not a round of golf, miniature or otherwise.

21522 FM 2100
Crosby, Texas 77532

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fried Fish Friday (Catfish Cafe - Humble, TX)

New feature! Man cannot live by CFS alone. Besides fish is good for you.

Catfish Café in Humble delivers on both words in the title. The restaurant is small but cozy – a perfect little cafe. The catfish (all you can eat or orders of 3 and 4 strips) was hot and juicy. Tarter sauce was pumped out of a big jug, allowing generous portions (and Chicken Fried Neighbor to mix some evil concoctions). All you can eat was $15.99 which includes a side of hush puppies and French fries. Both were tasty but the fish was the star. The staff was attentive and kept the catfish flying out of the kitchen.

7042 FM 1960 Road East
Humble, TX

Carriage House - Houston, TX

I discovered the Carriage House on accident because I was on my way to Hickory Hollow which is right down the road. Fortunately, I can’t seem to pass up a sign announcing chicken fried steak, so I made a return trip.

With horses on the premises and the acreage surrounding the restaurant including old building and, of course, carriages, the Carriage House is part diner and part historical grounds.
More barn than restaurant, the Carriage House is like no other place I’ve ever seen. It is literally like walking into an old barn, complete with wood all around, horse harnesses, hay bails and creaking floors. It is a cavernous place with many rooms that evokes a dark old saloon from yesteryear. The décor is more like an antiques store, with more china hutches than the collective grandmothers of my readership. This made for a very homey feel, especially for being inside of a barn.

The CFS: Very tender and cooked perfectly, making it hard to believe that it was cube steak. How they got it this tender is a mystery beyond my cooking skills. I wish more places would do it like this.

Breading: Flakey and crispy. It was as light as one could make such breading after frying it. It had a taste that reminded me of a cafeteria style breading , done with more care and thought.

Gravy: The gravy was flavorful – creamy and peppery with great consistency.
Knife: Regular knife. I usually lean toward something more substantial, but the tenderness of the CFS made anything more than your fork unnecessary.

Sides: Salad bar + one side. I chose the fried okra as my side: it was delicious. Fresh, hot and very crispy. The salad bar, which I used simply as a way to kill time until the fried items arrived, was well stocked but not very large.

Cost: $ 7.29. A great deal.

Service: Walkup service (which got crowded around lunchtime). The food came out hot and fast.
Music Selection: (Very) old country. It fit the location perfectly!

This place is certainly a throwback – a unique specimen from inside to outside. And the food is also unique. The quality of the CFS and the ethereal quality of the preparation ensures I’ll make another visit. I’ll bring Trigger next time.

7955 Fallbrook Dr.
Houston, TX 77064

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Love and War in Texas - Plano, TX

Chicken fried parents have been singing the praises of Love and War for several years. The perfect storm of hunger, location and need for salt merged and we paid a visit. If anything, they undersold it. Despite being right behind Central Expressway, Love and War is a great place that could be anywhere in Texas: bar, outdoor concert venue, requisite Texas decorations inside, Shiner on tap and great food.

The CFS: The “Big Tex Chicken Fried Steak.” Super (fork) tender and very moist. Cube steak.

Breading: Thick, southern style but needed a little salt.

Gravy: A creamy gravy with ham. The flavor was good but the ham overpowered the CFS. There was a significant amount of heat too – more than you might expect. Cayenne pepper on the top (dotted with a little pasilla chili which chicken fried father unwisely gobbled down).

Knife: Steak knife. But, the tenderness of the CFS made it almost an adornment.

Sides: As good as the CFS was, this visit was all about the sides. Choose two. The mashed potato was creamy with great potato flavor and lumpy as Hill Country. The cream/ham gravy was ladled on top with a generous sprinkling of cayenne. The Texas Caviar (black eyed peas) had a great blend of peppers, heat, bacon and earthy bean flavor.

Cost: $ 11.95. A bit expensive but the quality of the food made it worth the cost.

Service: Friendly but not totally efficient. French fries were brought instead Tot’s mashed potatoes. We had to repeatedly ask for silverware. But a little banter, an earnest effort and good food makes up for a lot in my book.

Music Selection: My perfect playlist: Uncle Tupelo, Willie and more.

Try the wagon wheels (fried pickles) if you are really hungry – you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wunsche Brothers Café and Saloon– Spring, TX

A trip to Ole Towne Spring is like a trip back in time. Wunsche Brothers is where you’d eat if it were 1900, you were fresh off the trial and needed a starch fix (just ignore the neon).

Wunsche Brothers is a neat old style café with an old timey feel: wood paneled walls and floors, old pictures and rusted farm equipment adorn the walls.

The CFS: Southern style and deep fried. It was plenty big (long) and the cube steak was very thick. It was good but a little soggy and cold.

Breading: It thoroughly covered the CFS but it was unfortunately, as I mentioned, a little soggy. I would have preferred a bit more crunch to accentuate the differences in textures among the component parts.

Gravy: White and traditional. It was good but nothing to write home about. I make no qualms about preferring a gravy with a little zing.

Knife: Standard knife provided. It would have been good to have something larger, given the relatively large size of the CFS to the relatively small plate.

Sides: Choose two: I chose the mashed potatoes and the okra and tomato. The mashed potato was good but nothing memorable. It had a good potato flavor, find seasoning balance and a hint of garlic. The okra and tomato was a recipe worth stealing! Stewed together, the marriage of the thickly sliced okra and the diced tomato was a heavenly match and highlighted the meal.

Cost: $ 12.99, a little on the high side.

Service: Friendly but not terribly engaging. She did her job (waitressing) and we did ours (eating).

Music Selection: Contemporary rock. (bonus points if you can name the song with the following lyric: “I met her in a Kingstown bar…”)

Walk a few blocks around Ole Town Spring and you won’t be sorry. It’s a fun little place for a stroll with interesting shops and a wide availability of other fried vittles, like funnel cakes and fried Twinkies. If I hadn’t been so full, I would have gained 5 pounds.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kelly's Eastside - Plano, TX

Part of the reemergence of Downtown Plano, Kelley’s Eastside is a cozy little bistro in the heart of downtown. The inside has a clean and organized feel but is still warm and inviting. There is also an outside seating area.
The CFS: The cube steak was overdone and chewy. The stringiness of the meat made me exercise serious jaw muscles to swallow.

Breading: A bit too crispy, suggesting it was overdone. Combined with the chewy steak, it made for a most unpleasant bite.

Gravy: Southern cream gravy. The flavor of the milk was fresh but it was a little bland.

Knife: A steak knife was provided and much needed.

Sides: Choose two. I had the queso mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes with queso poured on top) and the cole slaw. Although the concept was inventive, the execution fell short. The mashed was dry, unsalted and without much flavor. The balance of flavor needed to be better between the queso and the potato. The cole slaw was also subpar – it was crunchy but not enough acid to make the perfect creamy/acid nexus required of good cole slaw.

Cost: $ 11.95. Frankly, too much for the quality and quantity of the lunch.

Service: Efficient and friendly. We were in and out quickly.

Music Selection: contemporary pop.

Kelley’s didn’t serve up a great CFS but it was a nice place with a lot of potential. The creativeness of the menu and the great location downtown. I could easily see strolling over after work for a beer or just a quick lunch.

1422 Avenue K
Plano, Texas

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Kettle Restaurant - Houston, TX

Let me start by saying this: all you can eat chicken fried steak. Interested?

Kettle is a thematic mix between Dennys and IHOP – a more diner style Black Eyed Pea. The inside (sorry no picture) is simple with wood tables and benches. There was an eclectic mix of locals and travelers (since the restaurant is located pretty near Bush Intercontinental).

The menu is pretty diverse. But, after glancing for a few minutes, our waitress turned us on to the buffet. The buffet, that is, which included CFS. Other items (none of which looked too good) were a large roast, lasagna, rolls and some like of lo mein noodle.

The CFS: Pretty good. The steak was a little overdone and a little on the dry side but was still tasty (cube steak). But, even though it wasn’t the best I’ve had, the neverending tray certainly made up for it.

Breading: Southern style – thick and very crispy. The CFS held up remarkably well despite being in a bin with his cousins all morning.

Gravy: A pretty standard white cream gravy. A little bland. It wasn’t on the buffet line, so you had to ask for it.

Knife: Kitchen knife. Something larger would have been more handy, given that the steak was a bit tough and the breading formed a thick shell.

Sides: Just grab a ladle and scoop. Greens, mushy corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and a few other goodies. Nothing great here. The mushy corn on the cob was…mushy. The mashed potatoes were good – tasted like instant but the flavor was good and they were moist and warm.

Cost: $ 6.99 for the buffet. A good deal for the quantity, even if the quality wasn’t spot on.

Service: Skilled and friendly. There’s something about a good waitress in a diner that screams “efficient” to me. Our waitress kept the cups of gravy coming and the drinks full.

Music Selection: none.

Look, you’re not going to find gourmet food here. But if you want to strap on a feed bag, you now know the place.
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15360 John F. Kennedy
Houston, TX 77032

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