It was going to be another one of my American breakfast “firsts” this morning: Chicken Fried Steak. What IS that? Is it chicken or is it beef? Mercy. I think I might be having a Jessica Simpson moment. Truly, I am not dumb; I am just a foreigner. With any luck, any confusion would be cleared up imminently since I was going to the Bay Café in Magnolia for the Best Chicken Fried Steak in Seattle. Whatever it is. Oh, plus, reputedly, the Best Hash Browns in Seattle. Two bests on one plate. The anticipation was mounting.
I was so busy having one of those pesky more-than-a-headache-but-not-quite-a-migraine pains all day yesterday that I entirely slept through the sunrise again. I blame it on the drugs. Having awoken from my medication-induced slumber at 7:15 am, I headed straight on over to the Fisherman’s Terminal. I did not want to wait in line for my breakfast…I was hungry.
The parking lot was pretty crowded when I got there so I didn’t take time to saunter up & down the Bay. I just wanted food. The Café wasn’t brilliantly sign-posted so I just opened the most obvious door & hoped for the best. It wasn’t very busy which was quite a surprise. Having read the reviews & also considering that it was a beautiful sunny day I had expected a line. Was I in the right café? And there was one more thing that made me wonder if I was in the right place: every server & cook that I could see was Hispanic. Now, don’t mis-understand me: it was just un-expected. In a 1950′s style American-as-you-can-imagine Diner in a Fisherman’s terminal I expected, well, Caucasians. It turns out that not ALL the staff are Hispanics, that’s just all I could see from the door & I have to say that the servers I experienced were quite lovely.
I was shuttled off to the back corner by a Diner’s version of a Maître D’. I would have preferred one of those cute little two-person booths, but I didn’t want to induce the wrath of my scary middle-aged Spanish-speaking hostess - my head was still throbbing & my stomach was growling. Let’s just get some grub!
The Bay Café is 100% diner, right down to the white Denny’s-style mugs that hold about 3 tablespoons of liquid. Wouldn’t it be easier to have mugs 3 times the size so that the servers don’t have to run around quite so much? Just thinking out loud. I ordered a hot chocolate knowing full well that it was going to be one of those terrible powder concoctions that had likely never seen a cocoa bean in it’s life, mixed with water & a with a dollop of that nasty whipped topping (what IS that stuff anyway?) ceremoniously piped on top, masking the grey, body-less liquid underneath. My expectations were met in entirety so I was not disappointed in the least. I just needed comfort food today – good or bad, tasty or tasteless. I suspected that this was a great place for comfort food. I hoped that despite the hot chocolate the food was good & tasty.
I believe that even the most dedicated foodies need to eat at a diner every now & then, just to keep us grounded.
My confusion over the whole Chicken Fried Steak thing got worse before it got better. I couldn’t find it on the menu. Not on the regular menu, not on the brunch specials menu. I checked the magazine: Best Chicken Fried Steak. OK, back to the menu. No Chicken Fried Steak. Hmmmmm. Enter the lovely Cindy.
CB: “Cindy, do you have Chicken Fried Steak?”
Cindy: “Oh yes. It’s right here.” Pointing to the middle of the menu.
CB: “Oh. So COUNTRY Fried Steak is the same as Chicken Fried Steak?”
Cindy: “Yes! And we’re famous for ours”.
Phew. Thank goodness I at least got that bit cleared up. Country Fried Steak is the same as Chicken Fried Steak. I think I am starting to get the hang of this. Cindy skipped off to get my breakfast a cookin’ & before I even had time to slurp at my hot chocolate, a gigantic plate of food was placed in front of me. It looked absolutely nothing like the photo in Seattle Magazine but I was so hungry I didn’t care.
This was comfort food at it’s finest. The hash browns were some of the best that I have tasted. The scrambled eggs were, well, scrambled eggs. I think they were ostrich eggs though. Either that or there is a coop of seriously over-sized chickens waddling around. And finally…the Chicken Fried Steak. First of all it was covered in a thick, white, speckled sauce which had large lumps of mildly spicy sausage in it. It was pretty darn good. I think you Americans call it Sausage Gravy. And nestled underneath the gravy was the prize – a Chicken Fried Steak. Now my confusion would be gone forever.
Chicken Fried Steak is, in fact…you know what…I couldn’t actually tell from eating it. It was tasty (& HUGE) but I seriously couldn’t tell whether it was beef or chicken. It looked more like chicken. It tasted more like chicken. So I am going with chicken. Then I came home & looked it up on the Internet. Wikipedia to the rescue. It’s beef.
Chicken Fried Steak = beef
Chicken fried chicken = chicken (although not to be confused with fried chicken)
Steak fried chicken = pork or beef or buffalo or chicken
Chicken of the Sea = tuna
Note: all the above are subject to regional naming variations. Got it. You know, they should ask these questions in the Naturalization test. It would be SO much more useful in navigating life in America than knowing how many Senators there are or which were the first 13 colonies.
The bottom line: if you want a trucker-sized plate of tasty diner food for under $10 get yourself over to the Bay Café, pronto – especially on the weekend when the Chicken Fried Steak is 2 bucks cheaper than during the week. Or if it’s one of those days when you just want a huge pile of comfort food…good old down-home cooking, nothing fancy, just the basics, the Bay Café does that really well. REALLY well.