Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Deep in the Heart of TEXAZ

The TEXAZ Grill, that is.

Since we are not steak eaters, this Texas steak house would not normally appeared on our radar screen. But the chicken fried steak sandwich was one of Phoenix Magazine’s Top Twenty-One sandwiches, and one look at the photo of this sandwich sent us out of the house, into the truck, and onto our trusty GPS system.

Opened in 1985 as Lone Star Steaks, the owners promised “to serve great food from a real Texan, done one meal at a time at Phoenix's Original Texas Steak House.” While the Arizona restaurant pre-dated the national chain with a similar name, the threat of a legal kerfuffle resulted in the name change to TEXAZ (Texas and Arizona – get it?) Grill.

Some owners put a lot of money into defining the character of their restaurants; others seems to turn over the character-definition work to their customers. With virtually every flat surface covered with some personal items of customers, TEXAZ's owners would seem to fit into this latter group.

We've seen business cards - even dollar bills - stapled or tacked to the ceilings of restaurants, but TEXAZ would call that work a "good start." Baseball caps and some type of small (unidentified) items also occupy space on the ceiling. Posters cover the walls. And the space on the interior of booths has ads and license plates covering the non-upholstered walls.

As we strained our necks looking at the ceiling and around corners of our booth, we felt like country folk straining to see the tops of skyscrapers in the big city. But TEXAZ found a spot that we had never seen covered with "I-was-here" markers. At the bottom of the seats in the booth were old license plates.

But it was time to take a look at the menu.

As might be expected, the menu is short on health food. The Pork Chop Southern Style is a center cut, boneless pork loin chop; it is double - dipped, fried, and served with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and a buttermilk biscuit. The Chicken Fried Chicken is the same meal with a boneless chicken breast substituting for the pork chop. The Fried Catfish is a catfish fillet, coated in homemade bread crumbs, deep fried, served with tartar sauce, and TEXAZ fries. There is also a barbecue brisket sandwich - beef brisket slow smoked over hickory and oak until tender, chopped, and served on a sesame seed egg bun with homemade BBQ Sauce and served with TEXAZ fries. And there is a considerable list of grilled steak items.

But we were there for the monster Chicken Fried Steak sandwich – two l-a-r-g-e pieces of double - dipped (buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour) tenderized steak that have been thrown into bubbling hot oil and served on a sesame seed roll. Chicken fried steak really does need to be deep - fat fried. No matter how good the coating, cooking on a flattop just can’t achieve the same result.

But knowing that there was no way each of us could eat one, we decided to share and to order an additional - but less filling - sandwich. The homemade meatloaf on Texas garlic toast seemed to fit the bill.

Each of the orders came with what are called TEXAZ fries – large cubes of potato that have been deep-fried to a crispy deliciousness. The only problem here is that not all of my potatoes were completely cooked, and I am not all that found of raw starchy potato. Chuck’s order did not share this problem.

The meatloaf sandwich wasn’t that great. First, the meatloaf itself was pretty tasteless and was dry and crumbly. Second, the garlic Texas toast idea sounds good in the abstract, but the idea has never lived up to its promise. There is something about picking up a buttery (oily) sandwich and getting grease all over your hands that lacks a certain appeal.

But the chicken fried steak was something else. Mike Piper’s (Hill Country CafĂ© in Kerrville, TX) is the standard by which we have measured every chicken fried steak and all have come up short. If Mike’s is a 5.0 Addie, TEXAZ’s is a 4.99. The only thing it lacked was the stalagmites of batter erupting from the surface. The meat was so tender and so juicy. And the double - dipped coating was crisp to the max.

I would have liked a little more pepper in the white gravy, but this was easily rectified by using the table top shaker.

So I have already said that the chicken fried steak earns a 4.99 Addie rating (I would like to eat Mike Piper’s and TEXAZ in a head-to-head "eat off"), but I can only give the meatloaf sandwich 2.5 Addies and the potatoes 4.0 Addies. However, the steak was so good that it elevates the entire meal to a 4.5 Addie rating.

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