A hearty old school taste of Texas.
by Ari Weinzweig
I’m sure you’ve been waiting anxiously for its arrival. I know I have. In case you forgot to put it in your calendar, October 26th is national Chicken Fried Steak Day. That’s right: a holiday. Don’t worry—banks and post offices will still be open. And, so will the Roadhouse, where every day is—or at least can be—Chicken Fried Steak Day! Though it’s certainly not our biggest seller (fried chicken, burgers, and ribs take those honors), it has a very loyal, almost cult-like following—folks who come and passionately order it almost every time they’re in.
To get into the spirit of the dish you have to think Texas, hot days, cold nights, cattle drives, Clint Eastwood in Rawhide. It’s a nice big plate of comfort food: really good dry-aged steak butchered in the Roadhouse back kitchen from pasture-raised beef, floured, dipped in egg, then breadcrumbs, and, finally, deep fried. (According to friend and food writer Robb Walsh, what we make is the Central Texas version.) Served up with three sides of your choice—homemade mashed potatoes topped off with a generous ladleful of homemade chicken gravy (you can have more, of course—just ask!), sautéed spinach, and the grits with cheese are just a few of my favorites. It really is a marvelous, big ‘ol platter of comfort food.
Ted Ownby of the University of Mississippi, says, “origin stories are always disputed,” and I’m sure the story of chicken fried steak would be at the top of the stack. I think it’s safe to say that floured or breaded pieces of meat have been getting fried and happily eaten by mankind for centuries. Texas State University history prof James McWilliams wrote in Texas Monthly that chicken fried steak was “a product of necessity and poverty.” I’ve heard tell that it came from the era in Texas when beef was cheaper than chicken—chicken fried steak was the poor man’s substitute! Beyond that, the prominent role of Germans and Austrians in settling Texas makes it likely that it has roots in the Central European tradition of Wiener Schnitzel—it’s not hard at all to imagine it as the frontier version of the upscale Austrian classic. The dish spread outward from Texas and, to this day, is popular up into Oklahoma and the rest of the South. The modern restaurant version seems to be credited to one Jessie Kirby who founded the Pig Stop drive-in restaurant on a Dallas-Fort Worth highway in 1921. In what was then a mind-blowing innovation, Kirby had teenagers who would hop up on the running boards of the cars as they pulled in to take the patrons’ orders (hence the name “car hop”).
At the Roadhouse, our goal is always to put out the most flavorful version of any dish we offer. In this case, rather than using tough bits of otherwise unused beef, we work with the same amazing sirloin steak we serve on the menu. Chicken gravy is homemade, as are the mashed potatoes! The whole thing comes together to make for what might be the consummate meat eater’s version of comfort food. So come on by on the 26th to celebrate National Chicken Fried Steak day in style (or any day, really!).