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Southwestern Chicken Fried Steak at Phoenix's Ranch House Grille Is One Serious Breakfast

The Guilty Pleasure: Southwestern Chicken Fried Steak Where to Get It: Ranch House Grille, 56th Street and Thomas in Phoenix (or if you're heading to Lake Powell, there's another location just off Lake Powell Drive in Page) Price: Ten bucks, give or take What It Really Costs: After one of these, your afternoon is gone.

So far this year, my curiosity's batting average hasn't been so hot. It's my fault, really. Drive-thru gringo-Mex tends to be bland and pasty? What a shocker! In further late-breaking news, you won't believe where a bear took a dump recently. Film at 11.

I had a long week at work. It was time for a serious stick-to-your-ribs breakfast. More important, I had to know this breakfast was a guaranteed home run.

I knew for sure I wasn't in the mood for any of the bevy of upscale breakfast eateries that dot this town. Don't get me wrong, I adore these places with their Googie Revival charms. But sometimes, I don't give a rat's ass if a place has free-range organic maple syrup.

I wanted a solid, no-nonsense breakfast. I wanted the kind of place where part of the ambiance is a corner table full of old geezers sipping coffee all morning, solving all the world's problems before noon.

More importantly, I wanted chicken-fried steak.

Naturally, Texaz Grill sprang to mind. Alas, it was Saturday morning and it does its brunch menu on Sunday only. I racked my brain for an alternative. Then it hit me. I hadn't been to Ranch House Grille, one of my favorite breakfast joints in town, for months.

Ranch House Grille does a darn good job with its classic chicken-fried steak. And it does a little something special that I haven't seen anywhere else. You see, the Ranch House Grille folks make a pretty mean pork green chili. It's thick and rich, with just enough kick to wake you up. And they'll put it on top of your chicken-fried steak instead of the usual cream gravy.

This, my friends, is one of the most brilliant breakfast ideas I've ever seen. Normally, at least some kind of gravy is absolutely mandatory on a chicken-fried steak. On this one, I didn't even miss the gravy. That savory Southwestern stew was a beautiful complement to the breaded, fried beef. Even better, get your eggs with soft yolks and let the golden glow run all over the place, taking the whole dish over the top.

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The standard version of the dish comes with toast on the side. However, anything worth doing is worth overdoing, so I inevitably upgrade my side dish to either biscuits and gravy or pancakes. For an extra 75 cents, how could I not?

I'd give an authoritative answer as to which is the better choice, but I go back and forth more than a politician's opinion. Each has its charms; the pancakes are rich and buttery, but the biscuits are better suited to soaking up any wayward green chili.

There is, of course, an optimal solution: Go with friends and get both.

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