Kansas has been an experience of firsts: first NFL game, first time watching Space Balls, first gun show, first country fried steak (CFS), and first time at a restaurant that has the word Cracker in it.
Fascinated by the name, and the common expressions of comfort that glide over people’s faces when I reference the Cracker Barrel restaurant in conversations, I simply could not miss the opportunity for this “first” experience.
It did not disappoint.
I devoured my first CFS and all the sides: mashed potatoes, carrots, hash brown casserole, biscuits, cornbread. All concern about ordering that much food – especially when the waitress kept forcing me to make so many decisions – dissipated after dinner as I stared at my clean plate. It was worth every bite.
The southern-comfort-style restaurant chain sealed my quest of CFS exploration during my time in Kansas – wondering if there was another CFS that could equal that self-revelatory experience of the first.
The search continued at Weller’s – one of Topeka’s many sports bars. Here I began to notice the back of my elbows rubbed raw from spending so much time laughing and resting on the beer-filmed tables. Dinner appeared with broccoli covered in Velveeta, the highlight of the meal, but the steak was thicker, fattier, and slightly too unpredictable.
We returned to Cracker Barrel for breakfast – replacing the hash brown casserole with creamy grits. The CFS was good, but still did not compare to that first experience. The intruding presence of the egg added a layer of guilt since I wasn’t eating all of it, so that may have also compromised meal’s integrity.
But then, unexpectedly, something blew our hypothesis apart. We thought that humanity often searches to return and recreate the feelings associated with “first time” events: first beer, first drag, first kiss, first chicken fried steak.
At Blind Tiger, Topeka’s microbrewery, I found the CFS that was meant to complete that part of my soul that was gaping open and yearning for the perfect CFS. The homemade breading melted in my mouth, covering an honest and thick steak.
That was the CFS that was right for me. The Cracker Barrel experience, though, will always remain so dear in my heart – it was the first impression, the first taste, the first foray, the first experience. Without that first chicken fried steak, I could never have known what was possible, I could never have found the one that was meant to be.
(See Chicken Fried, Zac Brown Band)