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 Texas : Features : Columns : Along the Way with Britt

Chicken Fried Steak:
An Unbiased Recommendation

by Britt Towery

One thing I have tired to do through the years is to visit Underwood's Bar-B-Q when near Brownwood. Pity the poor traveler who is in Brownwood on a Wednesday. (Every lover of good food knows Underwood's is closed on Wednesdays.)

"Apple's America" is a new book by R.W. Apple, was the roving New York Times food journalist. His book is not only about the food and restaurants, but the people and cities and their distinctive charms.

There is one huge shortcoming to the book: he did not get to Brownwood's Underwood's Bar-B-Q.

Underwood's began during the Great Depression when M.E. Underwood started cooking and selling Bar-B-Q door-to-door in Brady, Texas. He was doing it out of desperation as a way to feed his growing family. There were eight sons to feed as well as Mama Underwood.

M.E. and Mamma's cooking and good business sense, led them to build a small white frame shack by the side of the road and opened what became a chain of Take-Out Bar-B-Q stands.

As World War II came to an end, the family moved from Brady to Brownwood. M.E. and his son Morris opened a stand on West Commerce Street, next to Bill Day's Auto Repair Shop. (Across the highway from the present location). Mama, the story goes, cooked everything from scratch for her hungry boys, so why make a little more and sell it.

With such good food, the Underwood clan began spreading all over. Gradually they opened Bar-B-Q stands in Lubbock, Amarillo, Abilene, Odessa, Wichita Falls, Dallas and Arlington. They even gave Albuquerque, New Mexico, a shot at real Texas Bar-B-Q.

While two of M.E.'s and Mama's grandsons (Leonard's boys) were learning stuff other than cooking at Baylor University, they opened a modern cafeteria on Waco's main drag, Valley Mills Drive. Lots of Waco people were disappointed when the boys sold out and put all their energy into the Brownwood cafeteria.

R. W. Apple wrote about another restaurant in Dallas where "you could slice the atmosphere with a knife, for the beef, you don't need one." That describes the kind of beef I like and that is the kind of beef Underwood prepares. And nowhere have I found hot rolls to even compare with theirs. If Mrs. Beard wanted to up her bread profits she would wisely get this hot roll recipe.

Faithful readers of the columns ( I started writing in the Brownwood Bulletin in 1997) already know how I have searched the land over for a real Chicken Fried Steak. Many claim that title; some skimp on gravy; some hide the gravy under the steak and some use too thick a piece of meat. At Underwood's I found the closest thing in Texas for a perfect Chicken Fried Steak.

If you believe Texas Monthly (and most of what they write is trustworthy) you know that magazine voted Underwood's Cafeteria one of the top ten restaurants In Texas. As for me and my house, it is number one.

Copyright
Britt Towery
Along the Way with Britt
, October 4, 2009 Column
Britt Towery, author of "Along the Way," welcomes comments.
Email: bet@suddenlink.net

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