Learning to Love Chicken-Fried Steak

It’s Chicken-Fried Steak Day, if you haven’t heard. Unlike some of THOSE other holidays that are ordained only by the dark corners of the Internet, today is officially sanctioned by law in Texas. Even Dallas gives the meat blanket a nod, giving each of us a special excuse to indulge and reflect on how awesome chicken-fried steak is.

I didn’t always feel this way. The first chicken-fried steak I ever consumed was in All Good Cafe more than four years ago. I can’t remember much about that plate, but I do remember hearing sarcastic jokes from around the table about its health benefits and leaving the restaurant feeling like I’d wrestled a gravy-coated bear.

I also felt like I must have been missing something. Sure, it was good. Nearly anything deep-fried and smothered in a coagulated and creamy sauce is going to taste delicious in a homey way, but I didn’t understand how CFS had grown to become some great Texas food thing. Maybe mine needed more salt?

My second encounter only worsened my view. Chicken-fried hunks of fillet were mushy and bland at Tillman’s Roadhouse, and a third from Company Café hit my table cold.

I think it was Babe’s that bitch-slapped me with a perfect marrying of texture and flavor, convincing me not only that CFS was delicious but that it may be one of the best things ever produced by Texas. The steak had a super crunchy crust, while the meat inside had a pleasantly chewy texture. It was massive, and I ate all of it. And what’s crazy is that version didn’t seem as heavy to me. Most fried meals have a tendency to induce meat sweats and a grease coma, but while I was full I never felt uncomfortable. I certainly didn’t limp out the door.

There have been other great versions. The plate served at Ellen’s Southern Kitchen will always stick out in my mind. The crust didn’t cling to the meat as much as it should, but it had such a good flavor I used the shards as an excuse for forkfuls of gravy long after the steak was gone. Then there was the potato chip-encrusted version served at Tom’s Burgers and Grill. That neon sign still calls out to me every time I travel to and from Fort Worth, whether it’s chicken-fried steak day or not.