Thursday, April 19, 2007

Carnivores in the House

Despite the urgings from my vegetarian friends, I am an unrepentent meat lover. And on those days when I'm struck with a carnivorous craving the only obstacle to happiness is deciding what and where to eat. Writing about the best chicken fried steak or fajitas in town is a dicey business. Everyone has their fiercely defended favorite, so feel free to leave a comment informing me of where I should've eaten instead of where I do. At least I'm sticking with locally owned establishments.

1. What's the first thing that comes to my mind when conjuring up an image of a tender, juicy slab of prime Texas beef? A steak from Austin Land & Cattle. I always order the 10oz ribeye, black and blue, with a side of jalapeño blue cheese sauce, mashed potatoes and the veggies of the day. Ordering a steak "black and blue" ensures that it's charred on the outside but cool bordering on cold in the center. Definitely not for those who eat their beef grilled dead, but it's oh so fork tender and juicy.

ALC offers a choice of hand cut in house ribeye, filet mignon, top sirloin, New York strip, t-bone and porterhouse steaks, cooked to your specification. Prices range, depending on the size and cut of meat. Expect to pay between $20-30 per entree.

2. Did someone mention fajitas? I know this is a hotly contested topic, but I get mine from Enchiladas y Mas, where they come grilled with onions, bell pepper, tomatoes and even serrano peppers, if you order the spicy version. Add the usual sides of rice and beans and sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo for toppings and you're one bite away from sheer satisfaction. A spicy fajita platter for two is $19.95, a plate is $9.95.

3. Dining in? Order up a Carnivore Special from Mangia Pizza. Available thin or Chicago style stuffed, this pie features "two layers of pepperoni buried beneath beef and sausage". This pizza is not for the faint of heart (or those with high cholesterol). I've never gotten beyond two slices of the stuffed version before heading to the couch to sleep through whatever dvd was chosen for our dinner and a movie night. A 14" large stuffed pizza is $23.55 while the thin version is $17.95.

4. Ask five people who has the best BBQ in Austin and you'll probably get at least 4 different answers. My choice for a mixed plate of smoky meats is the Saltlick, just outside the city limits. My friends and I love the all you can eat 'cue served family style with beans, cole slaw, potato salad, pickles, onion and bread. For $15.95 per adult or $4.95 for kids under 12, you can devour all the pork ribs, beef and sausage you want. Even better, children under 4 eat for free.

The Saltlick doesn't sell alcoholic beverages, but allows you to bring in coolers of beer. There's nothing better with their just greasy enough ribs than an icey cold Lone Star, so come prepared. Be warned, this establishment is cash only.

5. Chicken fried what? My yankee friends don't understand chicken fried steak. But Hoover's Cooking does, and that's all that matters to me. Hoover's serves their CFS with a peppery breading and full flavored cream gravy, your choice of two sides, or "house mates" as the menu calls them, and a basket of hot breads, all for $9.79. I recommend the traditional mashed potatoes as one side item and the jalapeño creamed spinach as another.

Aficionados of CFS know that it's rare to find a fork tender one. Because of the cut of steak and method of cooking, it can often be chewy. Hoover's steak is as close to an optimum CFS as I've found in the Hill Country. I've been eating Hoover Alexander's CFS ever since I discovered the 1/2 price night at the now defunct Good Eats Cafe. There are others in town that run a close second, but this is my standard first choice for a beefy southern comfort meal.

Tell me, is there an entree I've not mentioned that will sate my most ravenous cravings for red meat?

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