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I Love CFS: 25 Lovable Chicken-Fried Steaks

Who invented the CFS? There are a lot of competing theories. Whose do you love? Better try them all to be sure.

These are dipped in bread crumbs or cracker meal so the breading lies flat on the meat, giving it a texture like a German schnitzel.

Country Inn Steak House

111 Ave. B

CFS with a baked potato on the side at Barbecue Inn.
Daniel Kramer
CFS with a baked potato on the side at Barbecue Inn.
At the Country Inn in Somerville, size does matter.
Robb Walsh
At the Country Inn in Somerville, size does matter.

Somerville

979-596-1222

"Size does matter," is the slogan of the Country Inn in Somerville. When you order a large chicken-fried steak at this ramshackle old roadhouse, you actually get two of them. The thin, tenderized round steaks are dunked in a commercial "pre-dip" solution that contains a lot of vegetable starches, and then they're dipped in a flour-and-bread crumb mixture and fried. The result is an astonishingly crunchy, flat coating that puts your average wiener schnitzel to shame. Don't miss the mountain of peppery onion rings, served with a bowl of ranch dressing.

Heitmiller Family Steakhouse

203 N. Connally Dr.

Elm Mott

254-829-2651

At this fabulous old steakhouse north of Waco, the shades are drawn against the sun so the dining room is dark at noon when the locals eat dinner. The CFS is made with a tenderized sirloin dipped in flour, then buttermilk, and finally a cracker meal breading seasoned with salt and pepper. After it's fried, this crust gets so crunchy, you need to grind it with your molars like a mouthful of granola.

Hoover's Cooking

2002 Manor Rd.

Austin

512-479-5006

Hoover's is one of the few places left in Austin where you can eat black Southern cooking. But oddly, the CFS walks a fine line between the Southern and German styles. The crust is thick, but the crispy texture of bread crumbs predominates. Call it a German-style chicken-fried schnitzel with unabashedly Southern sides. Don't miss the sweet potato pie.

COWBOY-STYLE CFS

"Chicken-fried steak probably originated on the range," writes Dotty Griffith in the 1986 book Restaurants of Dallas. "It is hypothesized that cowboys on trail drives would fry pieces of meat from a slaughtered steer in grease-filled skillets over an open fire. This proved a very quick and easy way to cook meat, perfect for men on the move eating out of a chuck wagon."

For years I dismissed the cowboy CFS genesis story as a tall tale. If the point was cooking a steak "quick and easy," then why wouldn't cowboy cooks grill their steaks directly over the coals instead of messing with frying pans and grease and flour?

I was set straight by Tom Perini, a cowboy cooking historian and owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap. He explained that dried buffalo manure, a.k.a. "buffalo chips," was the only fuel to be found on the earliest trail drives. There were no trees on the prairie.

Mesquite didn't appear in West Texas until the range was fenced and the herds of buffalo and frequent prairie fires no longer kept the brush in check. Imagine what a steak cooked over buffalo dung would taste like, Perini said. Suddenly the idea of cowboys chicken-frying their steaks made a lot more sense.

Here's some outstanding examples of West Texas cowboy-style chicken-fried steaks.

Fort Griffin General Merchandise Restaurant

(The Beehive)

Hwy 80 W.

Albany

915-762-9034

The Fort Griffin Fandangle and the CFS at the Beehive are Albany's main claims to fame. The CFS has gotten so famous, they've opened a new location of the Beehive in downtown Abilene. Their distinctive chicken-fried starts with top-quality tenderized top butt sirloin. After it's dipped in a seasoned flour-and-breadcrumb mixture, the breading is literally pounded into the meat before it's fried. You get a crispy bread crumb crust that you couldn't separate from the sirloin with a crowbar.

Cliff House Restaurant

1611 N. Swenson St.

Stamford

325-773-3431

The Cliff House is located in what was once a mid-century modern motel, and it still has the trapezoid-shaped windows to prove it. Gourmands will want to visit on a Wednesday night during the CFS special, when they serve one the size of a welcome mat. The simple flour-dipped pan-fried steak is sometimes served with sautéed onions and peppers for a refreshing change of pace.

Finish Line Café

600 Main St.

Paradise

940-969-2525

Don't order the chicken-fried steak at the Finish Line — it's a previously frozen patty. Get the pan-fried steak, which is what they call a hand-breaded CFS in Paradise. Rayanne dips hers in flour and milk, while her mom, Marie, adds a beaten egg for an extra-tender crust. Ask for the "home fries" if you want hand-cut French fries.

Mary's Café

119 Grant Ave.

Strawn

254-672-5741

If you are serious about CFS, you must make the pilgrimage to Strawn, a town with a population of less than 800 and two of the most beloved CFS restaurants in the state. Mary's Café has been called the "mother church" of the pan-fried steak. But other CFS fans swear by Flossie's across the street. The town with two CFS cafes has become a favorite destination of weekend motorcyclists.

Massey's Restaurant

1805 Eighth Ave.

Fort Worth

817-921-5582

Herb Massey is gone, but the new owners have tried to keep everything the same. The little chicken-fried steak patties are served on toast with cream gravy poured over top. The beer comes in those bowling ball-sized schooners that are so popular in North Texas.

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