Toque has been craving a chicken-fried steak for some months now, but the dish has been on our no-fly list because it's a grease bomb. A delicious, wonderful, traditional, heart-stopping, butt-expanding grease bomb. Deep-fried or pan-fried beef is slathered in cream gravy and served with mashed potatoes, also laden with copious amounts of cream and -- if they're done right -- half a stick of butter.
Listen...you hear that tiny whimpering sound? It's your gall bladder quivering in fear.
Oh sure, a pretty garden salad might be served on the side, but who do those greens think they're kidding, hiding under that quart of ranch dressing? Go ahead and add some green beans too, if you will. They're sure to have bacon, and we never say no to bacon. Never ever. Just don't forget the buttered Texas toast.
Look, no one orders chicken-fried steak thinking it will lead to thinner thighs or a longer life. (Those last few years of life suck anyway.) We order it because it's big, beefy and fried.
Lewis and Clark carried cast iron skillets and probably dreamed of whipping up their own chicken fried elk, beaver tail or buffalo on the trail. These were a few of the meats consumed on their expedition, and each would lend itself to the chicken-fried treatment (tenderize, batter, fry and slather). The explorers also ate grizzly bear (43 of them) and otter (16 of these critters). You think someone wasn't wishing for a little cream gravy to wash that down?
Whatever your meat of choice may be, most will agree that the Texas love affair might be German in origins. Chicken-fried steak is a close cousin of Wiener Schnitzel, an escalope of veal breaded, fried and served with lemon. Sometimes you can catch a version made of pork called Schnitzel Wiener Art (Viennese).
Thank a Texas Hill Country German next time you order your chicken-fried steak, but the creamy, peppered gravy thing seems to be all ours.
Today we explore a pair of local chicken-fried steaks in our long search for the perfect version. Not wanting to pin ourselves down to just a few of these beauties, we will continue our Toque to Toque search in future City of Ate posts. This will allow for more justified fat bombs, all in the name of research. We willingly give our body for you, dear readers. For this ongoing experiment, we certainly will entertain suggestions from our beef-eating readers.
We start the crusade by visiting the happy side of Deep Ellum, finding a cozy table below the ceiling full of origami birds in a room whose walls are plastered with posters of great musicians.
Ordering the first steak of the day, we overheard that the cafe had been closed for the holiday weekend, as the owner took the entire staff on an Austin field trip that included a river run and a visit to the historic Continental Club to celebrate the cafe's 10th anniversary.
The AllGood menu boasts local ingredients such as Paula's cheeses, meats from Rudolph's and bread from Empire. Sounds great, but a cool restaurant doesn't necessarily make a good chicken-fried steak.
Some contend that the steak must be pan fried, others say deep frying is the way to go. I think its all about the taste. The true standard is a great crust, nothing too thick or thin, and a freshly pounded steak without sinew. And the gravy. The gravy is best when made with fresh cream using pan drippings and plenty of cracked pepper. Nothing too thick or thin, and I prefer to add my own gravy.
I ordered the steak and chose green beans on the side. Within a few minutes I was staring down a handle of perfectly pounded tenderloin, smoldering and festooned with incredibly fresh green beans that had been steamed with little else added. As for my mashed potato -- a little thin, perhaps a bit healthy. No discernible cream or butter.
AllGood's was just that. Moist. Tender. Beefy. Crisp. Delicious. I had other steaks to sample this day, and it was difficult to stop with just a few bites. But I did try different sections of the steak to ensure complete tenderness.
On to Ozona Grill and Bar for the next round. I was assured by a few friends who wished to join me on this quest that this was CFS Nirvana, D magazine's "favorite chicken-fried steak."
I ordered the lunch portion at the bar and within a single minute was served a garden salad. A few more minutes later I had my CFS. It was served with fries. I didn't specify, but was somewhat disappointed to see this pairing. I was also a bit stymied by the over-abundance of gravy slathered across my plate. I could not see much of the crust under the sopping gravy and was again disappointed.
The proof of perfection is always in the taste. Unfortunately, my first bite set me back a bit with a crazy amount of saltiness. Flipping the plate around I scraped off some of the gravy, thinking this might be the culprit of all that salt, and it seemed to be. However, the steak was saturated in this gravy, so there was little escape.
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As for the beefy tenderness, Ozona seemed fairly good in that department. The tenderness ranked close to that of ground beef. It was, however, a tenderized plank of beef. Is this a good quality? I prefer more bite, but adore a fork tender CFS.
As mentioned, this should be an ongoing project for future Toque battles. There are plenty of fantastic versions of this Texas tradition for us to explore. But as for today's Toque challenge, we award Allgood Cafe the prize for its tenderness, attention to quality and its brevity of seasoning. Meriwether Lewis would have been proud.
AllGood Cafe 2934 Main St. 214-742-5362
Ozona Grill and Bar 4615 Greenville Ave. 214-265-9105