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Then we began the familiar litany of dearly departed Austin chicken-fried steak restaurants. The Stallion, Hank's on the Drag, Virginia's on South Lamar, the list went on and on. "When we were in college, we used to live on chicken-fried steaks," Lazarus said. "But college kids don't eat that kind of food anymore. Chicken-fried steak is outdated. It's not healthy, and it's not what people want to eat."
"Well not in Austin, anyway," I chided.
Back in Houston a few days later, I dug into a chicken-fried steak lunch special at Lankford Grocery. It was a petite patty that looked like a slightly flattened piece of Southern fried chicken. The crust was heavenly. It was crispy and chewy at the same time, with plenty of salt and pepper and maybe a dash of cayenne in the batter. I admired the light sheen of the fryer grease and the way the crust pulled away from the meat while I ate it. I could have sworn there was some chicken skin under there.
While I sat there taking in the scene, I thought about how much the falling-down building and eccentric decorating scheme at Lankford Grocery reminded me of Virginia's, which used to be my favorite chicken-fried steak joint when I was a college student in Austin. They don't make these kind of restaurants anymore.
Lankford Grocery is an old-fashioned country restaurant in a part of town where old buildings are getting leveled to make way for brand-new townhouses. It won't be around much longer. And there aren't a lot of new restaurants opening in Houston with chicken-fried steaks on the menu.
I am afraid Alan Lazarus is right, the chicken-fried steak is in decline at least in urban Texas.
From the Black-eyed Pea to Kelly's Country Cooking, most restaurants that serve chicken-fried steak in Houston are trying to conjure up the memory of our rural past. Houstonians think of chicken-fried steak as "old-fashioned" food, along with biscuits and gravy and other such throwbacks.
But out in the country, where chicken-fried steak is still king, innovative cooks in small-town Texas restaurants are creating some delectable new versions of the old classic.
At Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, just outside of Abilene, Tom Perini makes his chicken-fried steak once a week for Sunday brunch. He uses ribeye steak trim. The pieces of ribeye are dipped in Southern-style egg batter, pounded out into medallions and served with cream gravy on the side.
At the Beehive in Albany, Amanda Pearson, a former Navy cook, tenderizes top butt sirloin and dips it in a blend of flour and bread crumbs. Her awesome chicken-fried steak tastes like a cross between a German schnitzel and a West Texas panfried steak. Pearson beats the flour into the steak with such force that the crust appears to be welded to the meat.
On the Saturday night when I stopped by the Cliff House Restaurant in Stamford, they were serving panfried steaks with the inspired topping of sautéed green peppers and onions. It tasted like an Italian-style CFS or would that be a Milanese CFS?
Grading all of these variations gets awfully complicated. But if Scott from Dallasfood.org really wants to calibrate his rankings, he needs to go visit a whole lot of country cafes. Meanwhile, the panfried dogmatists in Fort Worth are going to have to deal with the fact that, given the choice, most people opt for the rich flavor of a Southern-style CFS over the more austere West Texas version.
But personally, I love them all.
Read more at "I Love CFS: 25 Lovable Chicken-Fried Steaks".