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Cowboy Up

All happy trails in Heber City lead to Chick’s Café.

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There once was a cowboy named Chuck


Whose steed was a shiny new truck


It burned loads of gas


But was good for Chuck’s ass


Insofar as Chuck’s truck didn’t buck


That little limerick is my contribution to the cowboy poetry oeuvre. Until the recent presidential election, I’d not considered joining in the cowboy fray. But when my man John Kerry got smoked by a faux Texan a couple weeks ago, I decided it was time to “cowboy up.” It suddenly dawned on me that I live smack dab in the middle of a red state surrounded by lots of other red states. And so if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I am going to become a cowboy just like George.


I thought the Cowboy Poetry Gathering & Buckaroo Fair (CPGBF) in Heber City would be a good place to start. So last week, I threw a new battery into my old mustard-yellow 1970 Chevy C10 pickup—since all real cowboys drive pickups—and headed to Heber to commune with my fellow buckaroos.


Now before you say, “Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute. Cowboys don’t eat sushi and drink Burgundy,” you should know that I was born in Montana. My mother was a horsewoman who competed in rodeo barrel racing. I rode horses before I got on a bike, and I was so young when I mounted my first horse that I’d have been stomped into gruel if I ever fell off.


With the passage of time, however, I’ve come to feel more comfortable in Armani, Cole and Canali than in Wrangler, Levi and Lee. In that sense, I’m a wannabe cowboy, just like our president.


The lack of pickup trucks at the CPGBF surprised me; the parking lot was mostly full of late-model SUVs and foreign-made sedans. For that matter, the only cowboys I detected at the CPGBF were onstage. The crowd was mostly senior citizens and NPR-listener types. I only spotted one teenager, a Goth girl who looked about as miserable as John Kerry the day after the election. Apparently the real cowboys and ranchers were too busy working and tending to their cattle to pay any attention to poems about their exotic lives.


Aside from poetry and music from the likes of Curly Musgrave, Doris Daley, Brooke Turner, Belinda Gail, Bar J. Wranglers, Riders in the Sky (“Woody’s Roundup” from Toy Story 2) and Michael Martin Murphy, it was Eddie Deen’s BBQ that attracted me to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering & Buckaroo Festival. Who is Eddie Deen? Well, Eddie is renowned for his East Texas BBQ and was the official caterer of the 2000 presidential inauguration, serving more than 32,000 people over the course of the 11-day celebration. That’s a lot of ’cue!


Last year, Eddie Deen & Co. catered more than 4,000 events, and he might be spreading himself a bit thin. Long lines for food at CPGBF and mediocre barbecue (dry meat, bland sauces) left me hankerin’ for some real cowboy grub.


Since I was tiring of cowboy schmaltz anyway, I decided to mosey over to where I knew I’d find real cowboys and ranchers: Chick’s Café on Heber’s Main Street. Although I’ve had delicious sandwiches (the hot ham and cheese is especially good), decent steaks and killer homemade pies at Chick’s, the place is really known for one dish. For 50 years now, Chick’s Café has been Utah’s Mecca for chicken-fried steak.


I’m not sure where chicken-fried steak originated. Some food historians say it was a Southern cooking invention; others attribute the dish to Texas. Certainly, chicken-fried steak has become as synonymous with Texas as beleaguered war presidents.


If you’ve never experienced the culinary delight that is chicken-fried steak, the first thing you should know is that it’s not chicken. Chicken-fried steak is usually made from beef cutlets (often from round steak) which are tenderized, dipped in egg, and coated with flour and/or breadcrumbs. The cutlets are then deep-fried à la fried chicken and typically served with white gravy.


At Chick’s Café, an order of chicken-fried steak can be an intimidating thing. It’s massive. First, there’s the option of soup or salad. Always choose the soup. I recently slurped a hearty cup of homemade split pea soup with shreds of ham at Chick’s that was as good as I’ve ever had. And I’ve also enjoyed great versions of potato soup and chicken noodle there as well.


The key to chicken-fried steak at Chick’s is the crispy crust; it’s perfect. Somehow, even under a coating of homemade gravy, the steak stays crispy and crunchy. The “steak” is large enough to take up most of a dinner plate, but there’s just enough room for a mound of Chick’s homemade mashed spuds, which are lumpy and luscious.


As if that wasn’t enough, with each order of chicken-fried steak at Chick’s Café comes a hot Utah scone about the size of my head. Smeared with a hefty dollop of butter (Why start worrying about cholesterol at this point?) and spritzed with sticky honey, the sweet scone serves as a nice counterbalance to the salty chicken-fried steak and gravy. I tend to count the scone as dessert. But convincing yourself that the scone is really just a serving of starch will allow you to indulge in a slice of Chick’s homemade pie. I’ve never tasted one that wasn’t superb.


For a culinary cowboy like me, wrangling up a plate of chicken-fried steak at Chick’s Café means happy, happy trails indeed.


CHICK’S CAFÉ 154 S. Main Heber City 435-654-1771 Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

This Saturday, Nov. 20, Metropolitan will celebrate its Ninth Anniversary with a special Dress to the Nines anniversary celebration. The Dress to the Nines dinner at Metropolitan restaurant will feature nine new dishes. According to Metropolitan executive chef Perry Hendrix, among the new dishes included on Metro’s anniversary menu will be roasted Utah elk with heirloom potatoes, seared sea scallop with cauliflower purée, and a tasting of chocolate with tangerine-Prosecco float. The cost for the nine-course dinner is $90 per person, plus an additional charge for optional wine pairings. Metropolitan is located at 173 W. Broadway in Salt Lake City. For reservations and information, phone 364-3472 (FOIE-GRAS).



Also on Saturday, Nov. 20, Log Haven restaurant will host a gala dinner to celebrate its 10th Anniversary. The Log Haven anniversary dinner will be held in support of Women’s Ski Jumping—USA and is titled A Night with Olympians—Past, Present & Future. Although ski jumping has been a part of the Winter Olympic Games since 1924, today ski jumping is the only winter sport in which women are not allowed to participate. The gala black-tie-optional anniversary dinner at Log Haven will include a band, silent auction and appearances by Olympians Jim Shea, Nikki Stone and Stein Eriksen, along with former Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini and Salt Lake Organizing Committee COO Fraser Bullock. Included in executive chef David Jones’ anniversary dinner menu are a grilled scallop and prawn salad, pan-seared filet mignon with truffled Gruyere potatoes and bittersweet Cointreau dessert truffle. The cost is $150 per person. For information concerning A Night with Olympians—Past, Present & Future, phone 435-649-3736 or log on to www.womensskijumpingusa.com.



Quote of the week: Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak.

—Larry McMurtry



Send Food Matters tips to teds@xmission.com. Hear Ted over the airwaves on Sound Bites every Thursday on KSL News Radio 1160.

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