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Credit: Mark Hancock

For about 10 years, up until last Aug., I lived in Fort Collins,
Colo. From the start, the two things I wished for most were Tex-Mex and
Southern cooking.

Restaurants
in the Fort did neither of them, and when they attempted it, it was
almost like watching a particularly stomach-churning episode of Kitchen Nightmares. If
Gordon Ramsay were sitting with me, he surely would have taken a bite,
spat it out and launched into a charmingly British swarm of expletives.

So,
of course, as soon as I hit the metro, my first stops were just about
every hole-in-the-wall taqueria the south side has to offer.

But
even a Mexican guy like me needs a little variety, so I finally took a
break from the tortas and barbacoa to get to the other half of my
want-list: chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes. And maybe some okra.

Definitely some okra.

One
place I had never gotten around to sampling was a legendary Oklahoma
City staple, Ann’s Chicken Fry House. It was time to fix that while
getting my fix. Since 1971, Ann’s has been a go-to destination for
home-style cooking, featuring a menu filled with heart-clenching,
down-home fare such as onion burgers, meat loaf, pork chops and, of
course, chicken-fried steak.

While
the 1950s imagery that swathes the restaurant is almost overpoweringly
kitschy, Ann’s still manages to have a very warm, retro atmosphere to
it. I’m surprised local hipsters haven’t co-opted the look yet. But
don’t let the nostalgic bent fool you — this is no cheesy theme diner;
this is old-school Southern cooking, Oklahoma-style.

The
dinner menu offered two variations on the chicken-fried steak dinner:
the half-pound ($9.50) and the 1-pound ($14.75). After noticing from
other diners that the 1-pound took up the entire plate sans sides, I
opted for the half-pound which, miraculously, also took up the entire
plate, sans sides.

Now, I’m a pretty big fella, but this was a lot of food even for me, especially for the price. The value alone is worth a visit.

Standout successes
But what about the taste? As I’ve learned the hard way, great value doesn’t always equal great flavor.

Chicken-fried
steak is one of the easiest foods to screw up. Too many times, it’s
like eating soggy leather with a dark, bland coating. Not at Ann’s.

The
chicken-fried steak was one of the most perfect cuts someone craving
said meal could ever hope to have: a crispy, well-seasoned outside with
little grease and a flavorful inside so tender that I could cut it with
the fork. Complementing the steak was Ann’s signature creamy country
gravy, which was delightfully subtle.

My
dining partner had the half-pound chicken-fried chicken ($9.25), which I
sampled and I found it to be a fantastic companion, with the same
delicious crispy coating containing a lean, juicy piece of chicken.
Seeing how Ann’s handled poultry made me want to come back soon to try
its proper fried chicken dinner.

The
sides were also standouts, with the mashed potatoes being slightly
peppery and awfully creamy. The fried okra were natural and earthy
tasting, but without that slimy texture that turns most people off.

Also
served with the dinner was a basic house salad with garlic ranch
dressing and a nice-sized slice of Texas toast. To drink, I recommend a
tall glass of buttermilk ($2.25) to capture the whole Southern feel of
the meal.

The dessert
menu was limited, featuring cobbler and pie. What really captured my
attention were the deep-fried peaches ($3.75) with special sauce. Now I
finally understand what healthy people mean when they refer to fruit as
“nature’s candy.” Deep-frying firm, crispy peaches brings out their
natural sweetness in a way I’d never had before. Add the cinnamony
dipping sauce and, well, diet starts tomorrow.

Ann’s
Chicken Fry House is exactly the Oklahoma home-cooking I was missing
all those years. And I’m going to make darn sure I never miss it again.

Oklahoma
Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive
aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or
service when appropriate.

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