Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We Were Looking For . . .

Montana Mike’s. No. Not the home of our cousin Mike Dannenberg in Billings, Mt. But the restaurant called Montana Mike’s.

We realized that we had been in Texas for two weeks and had yet to consume a Chicken Fried Steak. This was a problem that required immediate rectification. And our on-line search told us that Montana Mike’s served the best Chicken Fried Steak in San Marcos. But where was it? Not where the address told us it would be.

Fortunately, I had a backup plan. Grin’s restaurant out by the University was supposed to serve a good Chicken Fried Steak.

Grins was described at www.imagessanmarcos.com as a “popular San Marcos eatery.... Owners Johnny Ferrell and Paul Sutphen began as cooks in 1975, when they were still in college. They stuck around, eventually bought the place, and still deliver meals to tables when the restaurant is busy. ‘One of the things customers like is they can come back 10 years after graduating, and we’re still here,’ Ferrell says.”

As you might expect at a college hang-out, the décor is basic and is mostly limited to this tribute to a favorite professor. [Below the wall decoration at this table (below) is a plaque with the tribute shown in the next photo below.]

But college students are not usually interested in decorations. They want what Grins provides. “Huge Portions – Low Prices.” And if a mountain-sized full order of fried mushrooms being consumed by the four young men at a table next to us is any indication, the students are in the right place.

And one should not be surprised that the appetizers are mostly “bar food”—Chicken Quesadilla, Chile con Queso, the Triple Dipper (tortilla chips with guacamole, chile con queso, and salsa), Nachomoles (bean nachos with sour cream, guacamole, cheddar cheese, and jalapenos), Potato Skins, and the previously mentioned fried mushrooms. And there are seven variations on the humble hamburger plus a veggie burger.

But we were on a Chicken Fried Steak mission. So this was Chuck’s lunch choice while mine was the steak’s close relative—the Chicken Fried Chicken. Is the latter a redundancy? No. The use of the term “chicken fried” implies the application of or presentation with a white cream gravy.

All dinners come with your choice of two side orders. The choices were tortilla soup, broccoli cheese soup, green salad, Caesar salad, french fries, mashed potatoes, vegetables primavera, baked potato, steamed broccoli, pinto beans, Spanish rice, and green beans. Nothing outré here. We’re talking home cooking.

With his Chicken Fried Steak, Chuck requested two orders of the mashed potatoes. These weren’t your fluffy whipped mashed potatoes. These were dense, heavy, skin-on mashed potatoes. These were filling mashed potatoes. Even Mr. Potato couldn’t finish all of his double helping.

The meat, in addition to being as large as the whole cow, was a masterpiece. Dipped in a beer batter and then deep-fried, it developed all of those little crispy crunchy edges that I love (and kept stealing from his plate.) The beer in the batter gave off a slightly hoppy essence and served to reduce some of the richness of the fried steak. The white gravy was somewhat “tannish” in color and had a slight spicy heat. I suspect that some form of southwest seasoning—perhaps chipotle—had been added.

My chicken was a huge breast that had been pounded to about a third of an inch in thickness and had a different type of coating which also contained a spicy seasoning. The meat—even after being pounded thin and deep-fried—stayed moist and juicy—under its crunchy coating. I was glad that my chicken came with the gravy on the side. This way I could dip every mouthful individually without making the coating soggy. For sides, I chose the mashed potatoes and green beans. I should have known that the beans would be the overcooked canned variety. And I only ate a third of the portion.

No gourmet food here. Just the basics. Both of our meats warrant 4.0 Addies, but the sides disappointed and only merit 2.5 Addies (and that’s being generous to the beans).

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