Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I decided to take a short road trip in search of – what else? – food. The target this time? The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Strawn, about 110 miles west of Dallas. Here, you’ll find Mary’s Café, a restaurant that has a reputation as having the finest chicken fried steak in the Lone Star State. Now, that’s quite a claim, one that the food critic at The Road More Traveled just had to verify. And so, the Saturday before Memorial Day, my wife and I dodged the rain and hit the road in search of some Southern fried goodness.
- 119 Grant Avenue (State Highway 16), Strawn, TX
- Hours: daily 11 A.M.-10 P.M.
- Price: $15-25 per person, without alcohol
Directions: from Dallas or Fort Worth, take IH-20 east to State Highway 16 (Exit 361). Turn right (north), and proceed 5 miles to the town of Strawn. Restaurant is on the right-hand side on the south side of town. Driving time is approximately an hour and 40 mnutes from downtown Dallas.
Mary’s has been featured numerous times in the Dallas Morning News, and other newspapers throughout Texas, for its signature home cooking. My ex-boss, who hunts deer and hogs in the nearby area, confirmed that hunters flock to Mary’s after a long day of hunting for the hearty meals. And my current boss’ secretary tells a story of how my boss tried in vain to convince the restaurant’s owner to open a second location at nearby Lake Palo Pinto.
But you’d be forgiven for driving right past Mary’s on your way elsewhere. As you can see from the photo above, it’s nothing much to look at from the outside. And inside, you might think you’re in a biker bar, what with the dim lighting and community-style tables (the lighting made it hard to get photos inside, but the ever cheesy grab game plucked straight from the 80s tells you everything you need to know).
But hey, I’m never one to judge a restaurant by its cover. The only thing that counts is the food. As you can see from this menu excerpt, comfort food is indeed what you come here for.
Oh, and when they say “Texas-Size Burgers”, they mean it. I have read somewhere that the patties weigh in at a pound and a quarter. I’d believe it. The guy sitting next to us ordered one, and it was easily as big as my fist. I might well try the burger another time, but today, the purpose of our trip was to eat chicken fried steak. This is the “large” portion, by the way.
Yikes. It’s basically THREE chicken fried steaks served on one platter, with fries and gravy served in a separate bowl. (I actually prefer that so the steak doesn’t get soggy, and it makes it easier to pack up leftovers). It’s a good one, with a crisp, crunchy crust and a tender, nicely seasoned steak underneath. I don’t know, though, that I’d call it the best CFS I’ve ever had. The gravy was probably the star of the show – real country gravy with a sausage base, thick and hearty with a nice helping of black pepper. Dip a chunk of steak in the gravy, and you’ve got a real nice, meaty flavor. The fries were so-so; fresh and hand-cut, but too much oil made them limp and chewy after a few minutes. So how did I end up doing?
Yeah, that’s a #FAIL. I got through maybe 40% of it. At least I’d have dinner for a couple of days, and $17 for three meals is actually a pretty good deal. Even better, this is one of the few chicken fried steaks I’ve had that has reheated well. Stick it in the oven at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes, and it comes out just as crisp and juicy as the original. Bonus points for that. If you’re not feeling brave enough to order the large, they do have two smaller sizes available. The smallest, while still a large steak, is doable in one go if you’re hungry.
My wife decided to be an oddball and get the crab legs.
Crab legs are a decidedly strange menu item at a country café located 350 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. But hey, to each her own. Prita seemed to enjoy the meal, and took the leftovers home to eat.
Service was friendly, but bordered on painfully slow. We were there for a late lunch (~12:45), and the restaurant was maybe 2/3 full when we were there, but it still took nearly an hour to finally get our food, and both me and our neighbors had to chase down the server a couple of times for drink refills. Seems they were a little short staffed that day.
Rating: I’d say that Dallas’ own Babe’s serves a somewhat better chicken fried steak, but it’s still good. 4 stars. Good enough that if you’re driving down IH-20 on your way somewhere else, it’s worth detouring 5 miles out of your way for lunch.