Put Some Gay In Your Day, Dallas!

Road Trip: Chicken-Fried State

Didn’t quite make that goal to fit into that tiny swimsuit by Labor Day? Then why not just forget the pool this weekend and make a pilgrimage to taste a bit of Texas legend: Chicken-Fried Steak from Mary’s in Strawn, Texas.

We first read about this tiny café in The Dallas Morning News two years ago and it was always on our short-list of places to try. But we never seemed to have the true desire time to drive two hours out of town to grab a bite to eat. So we had to make time. And boy-oh-boy are we glad we did.

A great chicken-fried steak is a thing of beauty. Yet finding one can be like catching a leprechaun-unicorn hybrid and making him give us gold, grant us wishes and flying us over a rainbow. Yet when either is discovered, it’s a joyous occasion. In fact, we saved a small sample of our meal in a test tube so that one day when the science behind Jurassic Park becomes reality and we’re able to replicate dinosaurs, surely we’ll be able to clone Mary’s Chicken-Fried Steak and not have to make the long westward journey.

Until then, however, there’s only one real deal. And Mary’s not sharing the recipe with anyone. Even The New York Times was recently shot down according to gossip shared with us at the cash register. We’re sure Gay List Daily would’ve been given the recipe and shown how to make it with Mary’s blessing, but we didn’t want to pry.

But before we could even taste it, we had to get there first. And getting to Strawn is half the fun. (OK, it’s not fun at all, but the scenery can be breathtaking once you finally get out on the open road of I-20.) We decided if we can be forced to wait over an hour for Tex-Mex at Mi Cocina, we could drive two hours for something we can’t get every day.

Tiny Strawn doesn’t even have a stop light that we could find (yet it does have two flower shops and three cemeteries – perhaps because of all the Chicken-fried things people are eating). Didn’t see any other gays on our visit, but who cares? There was plenty of grass-fed Grade-A Beefcake seated throughout the restaurant.

As the sign says, Mary’s is famous for Chicken-Fried Steak, but the menu offers a ton of options. The Mexican food left a lot to be desired, so we urge you to stick with the one thing that makes people willing to make a trek to the café (we were told the majority of business comes from Dallas and Fort Worth).

So just how good is this CFS we’ve been praising? Second-best we’ve ever eaten (after our grandmother’s, God rest her arteries). Pounded thin and coated with a crisp, crackery breading, the signature dish comes in three sizes: small, medium and large. The large was only $12, so why wouldn’t we get the biggest one available? Size really is important to us, it turns out. What showed up was not a large Chicken Fried Steak at all, but THREE gigantic steaks overlapping on one plate. There wasn’t even room for the mashed potatoes or the sad little salad (we think they have to serve something green just to sleep at night). Every component was expertly seasoned, from the beef to the batter to one truly amazing cream gravy. And it’s all done on a griddle, not deep-fried. This is the way it was intended to be.

Needless to say, we didn’t even put a dent in the meal. We polished off one of the three slabs (how can anyone handle the All-You-Can-Eat CFS Night every Monday?) and felt like one more bite would make for a dreary, painful ride back to Big D.

Besides great comfort food, Mary’s is dedicated to service. Everyone was friendly, efficient and seemed genuinely pleased that we were there. It’s even written on the menu that we’re doing them a favor by dining in their restaurant. If only all the diva servers in Dallas could adopt that same attitude, we might not have to drive 100 miles for a pleasant howdy and iced tea refills without all the eye-rolling.

Our only real gripe, other than the mediocre enchiladas is the smoking policy. We live an extremely healthy, active lifestyle, so smelling cigarette smoke while we daintily shovel fried pickles, greasy tortilla chips and salsa, and seared animal flesh into our mouths is just plain offensive. Next time, we’ll ask if there’s such thing as a “non-smoking section.” That’s a phrase that’s not even part of our vocabulary any more, so we forget there are places that still allow smoking at the table.

As we left, we were so full of greasy meatiness that we had to do something really gay to balance it all out. So, what else, we headed downtown to purchase a bevy of bath products at An Ancient Art, the cutest little soap shop you ever did see. Our favorite handcrafted olive-oil soap? Manly Man, of course!

So forget the shirtless hunks, bikini babes and non-stop margaritas that everyone else will be enjoying this weekend and let it all hang out in Strawn, Texas. We promise you’re gonna love every bite.

Note: Lunch and dinner can be extremely busy, so we recommend arriving at off-peak hours like mid-afternoon, especially on weekends. We were seated within 2 minutes of our 1:45 p.m. arrival on a Saturday.

Mary’s Café
119 Grant Avenue, Strawn, TX 76475
(254) 672-5741
No website (are you really surprised?)

Got a Road Trip recommendation for us? We’d love to know! Send your suggestions to editor@gaylistdaily.com.