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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.

NEWFANGLED CFS

The chicken-fried steak was created to turn tough, inexpensive cuts of beef into something people actually wanted to eat. In the early days, the steak was pounded with a meat mallet, the side of a plate, or a bottle until it was "tenderized." Modern butchers run the meat through a tenderizing machine that tears the fiber and tendons up with lots of tiny needles.

But the upscale restaurants that dominate the chicken-fried steak rankings in newspapers and magazines use sirloin, ribeye and tenderloin steaks. Obviously, tenderized sirloin tastes a lot better than a tenderized round steak. But some CFS purists argue that this is an unfair comparison, as well as a waste of good meat. Chicken-frying a ribeye is like making chili out of prime rib, they protest.

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.

Better try an extra-fancy CFS at one of these places and make up your own mind.

Ouisie's Table

3939 San Felipe St.

Houston

713-528-2264

When Ousie's used to serve their chicken-fried steak on Tuesday nights only, it was transcendental. Since they moved it to the regular menu, The CFS has fallen a tad in quality. The formerly flawless crust is now a little greasy and slipping off the steak. You might be better off with their venison chicken-fried steak, which is made in the German schnitzel style with a bread crumb coating and lots of rich brown gravy. It's a CFS that you might want to wash down with a glass of Burgundy.

Rio Ranch Restaurant

9999 Westheimer Rd.

Houston

713-952-5000

Rio Ranch, which was opened by Robert Del Grande in 1993, is one of the earliest outposts of the "cowboy cuisine" cooking style. The chicken-fried steak here is actually two layers of paper-thin sirloin steak dipped in buttermilk, hand-dredged in seasoned flour and fried crispy. It's served over top of a large pile of steaming mashed potatoes with black pepper-speckled cream gravy on the side.

Reata Restaurant

310 Houston St.

Forth Worth

817-336-1009

Reata started out as a rough-hewn cowboy-cuisine restaurant in a little house in Alpine. They now have a huge, elegant restaurant in the center of downtown Fort Worth. The secret of Reata's CFS is a touch of sourdough starter in the batter. The CFS is served with cream gravy studded with big pieces of cracked peppercorns that really light up your mouth when you bite into them.

Perini Ranch Steakhouse

3002 FM 89

Buffalo Gap

325-572-3339

The Perini Ranch Steakhouse is owned by Tom Perini, one of the nation's leading experts on chuck wagons and cowboy cooking. Perini points out that cowboys on the range ate beans and biscuits, not chicken-fried steak. Since there's no reason to worry about authenticity, he uses the pieces of ribeye that are left over from cutting his steaks for his CFS. It's only served on Sunday for brunch. And it's some of the best-tasting meat you'll find in a CFS.

BIG HONKING-STYLE CFS

For some folks, the allure of the CFS is how much meat you get. Restaurants have capitalized on this tendency toward gluttony by offering ever-larger sizes. Here's three of the biggest.

Kelley's Country Cookin'

8015 Park Place Blvd. (and five other locations)

Houston

713-645-6428

Founded by a former motorcycle cop, this is one of the best breakfast restaurants in Houston. The Grand Slam Breakfast comes with a Frisbee-sized CFS, fried crisp and brown with lots of crunchy bits. Not only is the crust perfect, the meat inside is juicy. It's served with a biscuit, three eggs, hash browns and yellow chicken-flavored gravy.

Hickory Hollow Restaurant

101 Heights Blvd. (and two other locations)

Houston

713-869-6300

A rustic theme is suggested by the reclining hillbilly and the letters that face backwards on the top of the menu. The chicken-fried steaks are so big, they come on pizza pans instead of plates. The sides are forgettable, but if you think bigger is better, you'll be happy here.

T-Bone Tom's Steak House Restaurant

707 Hwy 146

Kemah

281-334-2133

This old Kemah meat market is a great place for barbecue, hamburgers and CFS. When you order a large chicken-fried here, you get two patties. They aren't excessively big around, but they are by far the thickest chicken-fried steaks you will ever see — with the crust, they have to be an inch tall. Because of the thickness, the tenderized steak stays very juicy. The green beans are fabulous, and the square steak fries are good, too. But ask for the gravy on the side. It's bland, and they tend to pour it all over the plate. ª

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