You can't put lipstick on a pig. Well I suppose you could, but then we'd have another set of issues to discuss. At any rate, this is the phrase that jumped into my head when I tore into the chicken-fried steak at Tillman's Roadhouse a few weeks ago.
The kitchen used filet mignon in the recipe -- breaded and fried and served as hockey puck-sized hunks of tender meat. The breading was crisp and delicious, and the steak was tender and juicy, but it lacked a big beefy flavor. Tenderloin has an excellent texture, but the muscle does no work, resting all day in the center of the back of a cow. It's got no beef. It's a steak for people who don't love steak.
Hanger steak is filet's polar opposite. It's a tough and chewy cut attached to a cow's diaphragm. It "hangs" just near the kidneys and adopts a flavor distinct from other cuts. Served medium rare, it's my favorite cut of beef. Served a hair past medium, it's inedible.
That's likely why Tillman's switched from hanger to filet when preparing CFS (multiple calls to the restaurant went unanswered during the course of my review). Filet could be cooked to any customer's liking without turning into rubber, but what the move gained in tenderness it gave up in flavor, which is ultimately why I disagree with Tillman's choice.
The top or bottom round traditionally used in this recipe is a perfect mix of lean and beefy flavor. Tenderness is addressed with good old fashioned muscle power, via a heavy-handed mallet. It's not refined, and it's not meant to be. It's a humble cut.
Tradition aside, Tillman's CFS loses something in translation despite being delicious. The green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy that complement the plate are stellar examples of country cooking, but they should stick to a traditional cut that's more suitable for the chosen recipe.
I'm sure many will disagree. It's a popular plate at Tillman's but it's less chicken-fried steak, and more deep-fried filet, which certainly can be delicious, if that's your thing. You can read more of my thoughts about Tillman's Roadhouse in this week's review now on our restaurant page and in print soon.