The CFS at Avalon Diner

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When, at 12:30 one day last week, my wife announced that she simply had to have breakfast somewhere, I began wracking my brain for options. Avalon Diner popped into my head. It's only a few blocks from my house, serves breakfast all day, and is awesome.

While my wife and daughter ordered eggs, bacon, and pancakes, my eyes drifted over to the lunch specials, and landed directly on CFS. Earlier this month, Katharine Shilcutt waxed rhapsodic about the joys of chicken fried steak for breakfast. I like the way she thinks.

By now, it was almost one. Breakfast wasn't calling my name quite as loudly anymore. Needless to say, I elected to have chicken fried steak for breakfast, albeit paired with mashed potatoes and cream gravy, stewed mustard greens, and fried okra instead of eggs and hash browns. Consider it lunch for breakfast for lunch.

The menu's red-asterisk admonition that the CFS here is cooked to order always makes me smile. They do this the right way, breading and frying your steak themselves instead of pulling one out of the freezer and tossing it in the fryer. I find it a comforting sight.

The steak itself came out a beautiful golden brown and extra crunchy, with a gloriously irregular topography. That undulating crust is one of my tell-tale signs that a CFS is the real thing, made by hand and not machine. Same goes for the fact that the shape of the steak itself defies easy geometric classification. Is your CFS a perfect oval? Congratulations, cowboy, it was stamped.

Perfectly seasoned crust and tender yet toothsome meat are two of the hallmarks of good CFS, and this one made the grade. The dredge here is simple, tasting mainly of fried batter, with a gentle kick of black pepper and a level of saltiness befitting battered and fried meat. The meat itself tastes, as it should, like beef. No fancy marinades at play here, just a big hunk of properly tenderized, perfectly fried meat.

The sides, most of them anyway, were of the same order: simply stewed mustard greens, pungent but not overwhelming, still possessing enough integrity to lift a forkful, but not so much as to offer your teeth much in the way of resistance; proper mashed potatoes, buttery and rich, with just a few lumps for that homestyle touch; a cream gravy like Grandma would make, sweet and simple in essence, kicked up by black pepper, and served on the side (by request).

The fried okra, unfortunately, was a different matter. I knew I was in trouble there as soon as I laid eyes on it. The pieces were softly rounded and mostly uniform, aside from the odd clump of two or three, no doubt stuck that way since being frozen. I remember the fried okra here being a thing of beauty. What happened? These were soggy, manufactured-tasting, overly slimy affairs. I'm not one to look askance at okra's natural viscosity, but frying is supposed to be a way to enjoy the pods sans snot.

Despite that one hiccup, my lunch for breakfast for lunch was excellent. It reminded me of why I began going to Avalon in the first place, and why I (and you) should go back soon; cozy atmosphere, and (mostly) excellent diner food, whether you get the CFS with eggs and grits, or mash and greens.

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