The color is toasty-brown; the light fried batter is crisp and not too thick; the meat inside is tender—what more do you need to know about the admirable CFS at Tony’s Southern Comfort, a family-operated place in East Austin. A spunky and exceptionally crunchy envelope of fried batter surrounds a properly tenderized round steak at Freddie’s Place, a contempo-retro-looking cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, the latter under giant oaks. Just one caveat: Bypass the pasty cream gravy. The sprawling CFS at Threadgill’s is so tenderized it’s almost like a burger in a lacy batter sleeve; both locations remind you of a forties roadhouse.
Sighs of utter happiness accompany your first bite of CFS at the Mecca, an old-school coffee shop that’s changed little since opening in 1938. This supertender cut isn’t especially thick, but with its crunchy, brownish-gold crust, it’s bigger than a linebacker’s outstretched hand. Ask for the warm, smooth, well-seasoned cream gravy on the side. The wait is long at peak hours for a copper-topped table at Celebration, the landmark where chicken-fried steak leads the list of pleasures. Clad in a big, fluffy, amber crust, the tender, thickish steak comes perfectly accented with a spoonful of lush cream gravy on top.
Massey’s, an age-old cafe on the near south side of town, truly deserves its sterling reputation for chicken-fried steak: The meat snuggles into a fresh, crunchy, burnished crust, and when you slice through, it’s as tender as all get-out; beneath, there’s a veritable pond of smooth, mild cream gravy. The large bovine statue atop the friendly barnlike hangout that is the Dixie House Cafe serves as a beacon to CFS lovers. Huge, well-pounded, and flavorful, the steak is surrounded by a thick but crisp glove of deftly seasoned fried batter.
Despite its name, the Barbecue Inn—an archetypal, mid-twentieth-century, Southern-style family restaurant—may serve the best