New Year's is a time for resolutions, many having to do with working out, losing weight or eating healthier. With that in mind, we figured now is the time to load up on calorie and fat laden foods before we're forced to start battling broccoli and sugar-free crap.
This week's Battle of the Dishes is a heavyweight fight in more ways than one. Read on to see whether one longtime restaurant staple rumored to have the best chicken fried steak in town held its own against a relatively new contender in the comfort food scene.
The Heavyweight: Texaz Grill
6003 North 16th Street in Phoenix
Returning for a second Battle (they claimed victory in Battle Pecan Pie), Texaz Grill is a neighborhood steakhouse & bar that first opened as Lone Star Steaks back in 1985. The windows are papered over and the parking lot always full, which gives you an idea what to expect when you walk through the front door. Two words: RED NECK. (Ok, that's technically one word, but who cares about spelling and grammar in a place like this?)
The staff at Texaz seems determined to cover every square inch of the place with something, whether it's baseball caps, custom license plates that say "DOPEY2" and "B HAPPI" or the business cards lining the ceiling. The only light has a strange reddish cast and the wooden booths are less than comfortable. Apparently, it's the food that gets people in the door. Their chicken fried steak has won numerous awards including one of our coveted "Best of Phoenix" nods.
As our chicken fried steak dinner arrived I understood why. You know how everything in Texas is B-I-G? Our eyes and stomachs bulged in delight and horror as our server set down a ridiculously large, crispy steak that fell off the edge of the white diner plate and onto the table. It was massive. "There's another piece under there too," she told us with pride. Good God!
I dug into the giant beef slab and was surprised at the tenderness of the steak. For such a large piece, the meat was remarkably good -- lean and succulent, yet cooked through. "This a good piece of meat," said my dining partner. "It's still a little juicy and the breading is crisp, but where the heck are the spices?"
The white sawmill gravy had the only sign of any seasoning, and that was strictly salt and coarse black pepper. It was decent for flour-based gravy, but lacked any distinguishing flavor. The breading was our biggest disappointment. Sure, it was traditional, but the crispy fried coating was also greasy and bland with no added spices to kick up the flavor. The good news is that Texaz grill give you so much food for your $12 that you can custom-spice the leftovers at home.
FOUR meals later, we finally finished all of Texaz's Chicken Fried Steak dinner...
The Contender: The Breakfast Joynt
14891 N. Northsight Blvd. #119 in Scottsdale
With a good ol' Southern boy in tow, I ordered up a helpin' of Chicken Fried Steak with Eggs. A half a pot of coffee later, a dingy white diner plate topped with bright yellow eggs, crisp shredded hash browns and a man-fist sized steak smothered in white gravy arrived on our table.
The eggs were mildly spiced and cooked exactly to our preference, neither runny nor too firm. Hash browns were standard, if a little bland. The chicken fried steak was anything but.
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SHOW ME HOW
The crisp outer shell was browned to perfection, the breading crackling against my tongue as I put the first bite into my mouth. It was heavenly. A light dusting of traditional fried chicken spices permeated the coating.
The thick slab of beef was thoroughly cooked inside, but retained all of the juice and flavor of a rare steak. As any chef knows, that's tough to accomplish. Medium-well steaks end up textured like shoe leather at most restaurants.
"The gravy is just like the kind I had as a kid," voiced my companion. "Thick and rich, with a heavy pepper taste." The black pepper was strong, but worked well in the context of the starchy white flour gravy. I could taste the love -- and the flavorful sausage that added depth to the thick gravy.
The Winner: Texaz Grill's big-ass meat slab is definitely a better value, but The Breakfast Joynt's non-greasy, nicely spiced version gets our vote as the new chicken fried steak champion!