The best chicken-fried steak ever

We all have at least one culinary guilty pleasure… admit it. Mine is chicken-fried steak. Bad chicken-fried steak is like eating a breaded and deep fried mudflap, but when you find a good one… well, it’s heaven on a plate. With real mashed potatoes (no fries, please) and rich, thick and peppery sausage gravy on the side. Purists may argue the gravy needs to be *over* the steak, but I say nay nay. With kitchen-applied gravy the crispy breading gets all soggy before you’re half done. I prefer to be in control of the gravy delivery process and thus enjoy my crispy breading right to the end.

I will add here that my mother-in-law Nadine makes a mean chicken-fried steak, and the best pecan pie (with pecans from their own trees) I’ve ever had. But for a world-class, out of the way, local hole-in-the-wall experience, it’s hard to beat Mary’s Cafe in Strawn, Texas. Strawn is about an hour-and-some west of Fort Worth, and about 30 minutes from my in-laws. For me, a visit to Texas is not complete without a pilgrimage to Mary’s. The place doesn’t look like much from the outside, or on the inside either for that matter. What they do have, in spades, is good food and lots of it. On my last visit a woman at another table was served the largest burger I’ve ever seen. She was of substantial size herself, but had to box up the leftovers as the burger was more than a match for her. But I digress.

Chicken Fried Goodness

Chicken fried goodness

Mary’s offers their chicken-fried steak in three varieties – small, medium and large (quarter, half, and three-quarter pound, I think). If you’re a normal human, order small. If you’re super-hungry, get a medium. If you are Mr. Creosote from the movie The Meaning Of Life, get the large. On my last visit I fell into the latter category - here’s a phone-photo to help visualize what appeared in front of me. My father-in-law and lunch companion, Pete, being far saner than I, ordered the small.

As you can see, it was hanging off the plate. I savored every bite until I could stuff my face no more. Yes, I had to admit defeat and boxed up the leftovers. We rolled out of there about an hour later and all the way home my lungs were locked in battle for room with my engorged stomach. But I can’t wait to go back. And I might just order the large next time too.

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