Steve Freidkin of TEXAZ Grill On Great Texas Restaurants, the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off and His Last Meal On Earth

This is part two of my interview with Steve Freidkin, owner and operator of TEXAZ Grill. If you missed part one, where Freidkin dished about chicken fried steak, his favorite local deli and two local chefs he admires, read it here.

See also: -- TEXAZ Grill's Chicken Fried Steak is a Classic Guilty Pleasure

What's your guilty pleasure?: Jack in the Box tacos (please don't tell anyone).

What is it about the restaurant business that has kept you at it for so long?: I was raised in it (10 yrs old in a family-owned deli), and I seem to have a knack for it. It's a new challenge every day to make people happy, on many different levels.

Three of your favorite places to eat in Texas and why: Southside Market in Elgin: the best hot guts in the world. Babe's Fried Chicken in Dallas: great fried chicken. Los Barrios in San Antonio: wonderful Tex-Mex.

How did you get involved with the Terlingua Chili Cook-off?: One of the founders, Sam Lewis, was passing through Phoenix shortly after we opened TEXAZ. He stopped in because we had a Texas flag hanging out front. Sam and I became close friends and he invited me to judge the cook-off in 1986, and I've been going ever since.

What do you love about this event?: The camaraderie is wonderful. I've developed lifelong friends that I see once a year. Chili is just a good excuse for a good time with friends. I bought property there about 10 years ago, and I'm in the process of finishing up "Rancho Freidy".

What makes a great bowl of red?: Subtle seasoning, which is not what most people think. Good aroma, texture, and front & back burns in your mouth. It shouldn't blow your head off with heat. I prefer chili grind.

Tell us something about Texas BBQ: After attending BBQ Summer camp at A&M and the Foodways Texas BBQ Symposium in Austin, it's apparent that everything that is smoked is good. There are many different styles, ingredients, traditions, etc. I grew up in Dallas so Northeast Texas BBQ is my preference. There's nothing better than a well-smoked brisket.

Your jukebox at TEXAZ is full of Texas singers and bands. Who are your favorites?: Stevie Ray Vaughn because he's one of the finest guitar slingers to ever live, and Gary P. Nunn because he captures the essence of Texas.

How would you describe TEXAZ Grill -- cafe? Diner? Honkytonk?: TEXAZ is more of a traditional Texas Steakhouse, typified by large portions, friendly service, straightforward food, not a lot of frills. And of course, ice cold beer. The feel is Roadhouse but the flavor is Steakhouse.

I love the Big Nasty (a split buttermilk biscuit overlaid with fried chicken breast, cream gravy and grated cheese). Didn't you have that dish somewhere else and lift it?: I saw it on a food show. It comes from the Hominy Grill in South Carolina.

What does your partner Jim Mitchell bring to the table? What are his strengths and what are yours?: Jim is retired now, but the 20+ years we spent together were the best I've ever had in this business. Jim graduated Cornell Hospitality and I went to the school of hard knocks. He is an extremely astute businessman and I learned an enormous amount from him. He was also an excellent restaurant operator. I'm pretty much a back-of-the-house guy, but I really enjoy spending time on the floor with my customers. When we first opened, Jim would haul me out like an artifact to talk Texas.

Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: Jim Thomson. I worked for Jim at Victoria Station and he's probably responsible for me staying in the business. He taught me to appreciate good food, no matter where it comes from or how it is presented. He also taught me to respect your ingredients.

If you could jump on a plane tomorrow to try a new restaurant, which one would it be and why?: Tableau in New Orleans. Actually I did that last weekend. I know Dickie Brennan and he's worked very hard on this project, and I enjoy his other restaurants. By the way, the meal was outstanding.

Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: Hot pastrami sandwich on rye from Katz's Deli in New York.

What should be written on your tombstone?: I don't plan that far ahead.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with:

Vincent Guerithault of Vincent on Camelback, Vincent's Market Bistroc

Helen Yung of Sweet Republic

Jacques Qualin of J&G Steakhouse

Claudio Urciuoli of Noca

Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast

Jared Porter of The Parlor

Charleen Badman of FnB

Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger

Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador

Steve Olson of Valley Ho

Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco

Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM

Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe

Joshua Johnson of Kai

Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks

Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle

Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao

M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza

Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker

Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis

Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen

Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot

Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table

Cullen Campbell of Crudo

DJ Monti Carlo

Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca

Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu

Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table

Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue

Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe

Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar

Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House

James Porter of Petite Maison

Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar

Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails

Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge

Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia

Payton Curry of Brat Haus

Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's

Josh Hebert of Posh

Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant

Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery

Larry White Jr. of Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco and Trattoria Bianco

Ehren Litzenberger of BLD

Matt Taylor of Market Street Kitchen

Kelly Fletcher of House of Tricks

Jeremy Pacheco of Lon's

Michael O'Dowd of Renegade by MOD

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