Country Fried Pflugerville

6 Oct

It’s been a long couple of weeks, with me traveling eyeball deep in work and the Mister suffering through two root canals and a tooth extraction. Despite having just come off the heels of a delicious Austin Restaurant Week (more on that later), I decided to treat him to dinner as a way of saying thanks for holding down the household duties… mostly. I mean yes, it’s a mess, but he didn’t burn the joint down; he even went to the grocery store a couple of times and bought actual food and necessary toiletries, instead of bubble gum, M&Ms and tube socks.

Anyway, I had a $40 gift card and asked him to choose where he wanted to go. After tossing around a few places, he settled on an old favorite of his, Springhill Restaurant in Pflugerville. Needless to say, it was a stark change of pace from Wednesday, when A and I finished up restaurant week at the heavenly Foreign & Domestic. But what Springhill lacked in sophistication and geographic desirability, it more than made up for in pure, unadulterated deliciousness.

First and foremost, Springhill isn’t going to win any prizes for decor. We were greeted by your standard small town, country kitchen motif — large, out of commission wood burning stoves, random signs and knick-knacks from frontier life adorning the walls and ceiling, faded, Depression-era pictures of unidentified white people and – my personal favorite – an 10-foot length of exposed air conditioning duct hand-painted with an ‘under the sea’ theme. See what I mean? It didn’t do my eyes any favors.

The menu is pretty straightforward: it’s heavy on fried fare — everything from mushrooms and cheese to shrimp and oysters, along with hamburgers, cheeseburgers and chicken fried fill-in-the-blank. Seafood is obviously their focus, so what did we do? Tried three items that do not originate from the sea. Any joint can have a specialty, but how strong are they really if they can only make one thing well?

Fried green tomatoes of goodness.

We split an appetizer of fried green tomatoes, and I was immediately hooked. Smaller and thicker than the ones I’m used to (from Threadgill’s), these were firm to the bite and beautifully coated in a cornmeal crust. I have no doubt it’s the same thing they used to crust and fry the catfish. It was lightly seasoned and perfectly flaky. Aside from the taste, the biggest showstopper was the sheer size of the order. I was expecting four, or five if we were lucky.  We had at least double that, though the Mister says we had an even dozen. We both ate our fill and I wound up with four in my to-go box. The entire order was piping hot and addictive.

My entrée was a steak finger basket (with fries, gravy and Texas toast), while Mister ordered chicken fried chicken. While waiting, we sipped sweet tea from styrofoam cups and took in our surroundings: little old men held out chairs for little old ladies, kids licked gravy from their fingers and local ads for plumbers, photographers and real estate agents jostled for attention from beneath the matte surface of our table. I was really beginning to like this place, I thought, and I was happy to see that others did, too. It had been nearly empty when we arrived, but no fewer than four groups were seated while we awaited our order.

Our food came out on disposable plates — everything was disposable, actually, except the silverware (and from what the waitress said, real silver is a relatively new feature). Mister’s plate was awash in cream gravy and I had to assume there was a piece of chicken beneath it. There was a second plate with a good-sized baked potato, and an array of condiments, each packed individually. For some reason, I really liked that; it seemed to say, “Hi there. We know you may not like chives or sour cream on your potato, but we’re here if you need us.” I watched him take the first bite of his meal and he fell in love; his fork cut through easily and the chicken itself was juicy and flavorful, which is hard to do when you’re forced to manipulate a piece of poultry as much as one has to when making chicken fried chicken.

Whose fingers are really this size?

After stealing from his plate, I turned my attention to my own dish; four giant steak fingers lay across two fistfuls of french fries and were accompanied by a small bowl of gravy and a piece of Texas toast the size of Aretha Franklin’s 2008 inauguration hat. I picked up a finger and it broke cleanly — the steak was just as tender as Mister’s chicken! The crust was crisp and just the right thickness, while the gravy was smooth and peppery. Half a finger down and I knew two things: (a) I was going to need a to go box, and (b) I was coming back to this place.

In the end, I polished off two steak fingers and a handful of fries, washed down with three cups of iced tea (the last of which I’m still working on). Mister managed to get down all but a couple of bites of chicken fried chicken (but he’s most definitely paying for it now). It’s not a place I plan to hit regularly, if only because I’d like to hit 40 without a pacemaker. But it ranks right up there with Hoover’s Cooking for me, in terms of comfort food and down home fare.

As I was putting the first bite up to my lips, I looked at him and said, “This could be the worst decision I’ve ever made.” When he asked why, I told him my thinking. “My favorite meal is chicken fried steak, potatoes, gravy and sweet tea… but I never eat it anymore. If this is as good as I think it’s going to be, there’s no turning my back on it again.” I now consider Springhill a bad idea.

-B

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