Days Gone Bite: Steak And Eggs

The classic combination hasn't disappeared. In fact, during a recent visit to Fort Worth, I spotted the option on Grace's dinner menu.

Once upon a time, however, this double-wallop of protein was such a common feature it rivaled (perhaps even beat out) bacon and eggs, ham and eggs and other contenders as the signature American breakfast. During the decades I spent flipping through World War Two memoirs, I'd often come across references to the dish--soldiers eating steak and eggs before the Normandy landings, dreaming about it while huddled in frozen foxhole--that sort of thing.

There was even a story about two Marines who encountered a wayward bull on some Pacific island, killed it and started looking around for their powdered egg ration.

Diners back in the 20s, 30s and through the century almost always listed some form of the dish, including--brace yourselves--chicken fried steak and eggs. I assume the popularity stems from restaurants and home cooks using tougher--or fresher--cuts of meat. One old school trick to 'tenderize' steak involved basting the slab with butter as it grilled. Another, of course, involved pounding it flat. Topped with a fried egg, steak takes on a richer flavor and seemingly softer texture.

Plus it's simply a good combination. So when the crew of Apollo 8, with seasick Frank Borman in command, splashed down in December of 1968, one of their first radio messages was "give us two orders of steak and eggs and one Alka-Seltzer."

Why then did it lose its place to frozen waffles and bran cereal?

Well, the 70s happened. Or, more specifically, Americans became increasingly health conscious--and increasingly subject to fads.

Remember when eggs were bad for you? When Oprah railed against beef? Our moments of random food hysteria nudged steak and eggs to the sidelines. A year after the Apollo 8 astronauts yearned for the dish, Dr. George Christakis of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York assailed the gender association of red meat and manhood.

"We have been sold," he said, "on the idea that beefsteak and ham and eggs are the only food fit for a manly man to eat. Such a diet may be fine for a cowboy on the range, but it's death on the rest of us."

Don't know that a guy subjected to bran muffins every day would want to live, but that's another matter.

The real problem, as he alluded, was sedentary lifestyles rather than a portion of good meat and over easy eggs once in awhile. I'm glad it stuck around--even if you most often see the combination at places like Denny's. But it will probably never regain its place.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries