TLO Restaurant Review: Chuck House
9:53 AM EDT on April 25, 2016
Have you ever visited your old, wizened grandfather in the nursing home, his frail body now merely a dying shell of the former man he once was? You look at the photographs of him in his World War II prime and hear stories about what a strong, virile man he was…
That’s what it feels like returning to Chuck House –4430 NW 10th in Oklahoma City – for the first time since 1991 or 1992 – when my family first moved to the Metro, I remember dining here with my father a few times and what a bustling, clean, modern establishment it was, from the phone at the tables to the truth-in-advertising slogan of “Home of the Best Chicken Fry in the Universe.”
To look at it now, however, it’s hard to believe just how much of a legendary staple this eatery once was. Founded in 1972, it was long time a chicken fried steak standard in OKC, even more so than Del Rancho or even Cattleman’s. However, as NW 10th disintegrated into the row of strip clubs and Seadoo dealerships it is today, it’s kind of mindboggling as to why Chuck House didn’t pull up stakes for less-methy pastures.
Maybe like the aforementioned grandpa before you stuck him in that home, it’s gonna stay its ground, dammit.
Entering the place you immediately feel unstuck in time, from the tight plasticine booths to the ordering by table-phone, I’m surprised that I didn’t look over to see a man reading a paper from June 28, 1981. As I viewed my surroundings, realizing this was how that latest Stephen King novel started, I picked up the phone and immediately ordered, without hesitation, the chicken fried steak dinner: ¼ pound real beef steak breaded with their “Original Steak Breading,” natch, and deep-fried. It is then smothered in their “special creamy gravy” and served with Texas toast and your choice of French fries, baked potato or my selection, mashed potatoes with even more "special creamy gravy."
Waiting for my order, I vaguely remembered that Chuck House was also famous for their salad bar, right? Wasn’t their house dressing supposed to be the best thing ever since ranch? Am I remembering all this correctly? Because, to see the state of their salad bar now, well, it is just CiCi's-level pathetic—some iceberg here, some obligatory onions and cucumbers there, two bowls of bacon bits and a row of dressing. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like in the House’s heyday.
When your food is ready, the buzzer at the table goes off and you go up front and pay and, as I handed the kid my debit card and caught not only a look at this bountiful harvest laid out before me, but then the price on my receipt—$7.33 with tax—I have to admit I did a literal double-take, followed by a comical spit-take. Even if the food is lousy, for seven bucks I ain’t gonna bitch too bad if it is.
But here’s the kicker: it was damn-near perfect. The crunchy, crispy breading was golden-fried and thick, breaking off evenly and unsealing that deliciously juicy steak entombed within it, the fork tender meat perfectly blending with that smooth and creamy peppery country gravy like two forbidden lovers intertwined in the heat of passion, each drop of sweat sizzling off the seasoned cast iron skillet of Southern-style temptation.
(I almost asked for a travel cup of gravy to slurp up on the ride home, but then I remembered I just got out of the hospital for congestive heart failure. Maybe next time.)
The Texas toast, on the other hand, wasn’t really all that Texasy and the potatoes, while they did the trick, had the taste and feel of box-made; next time, I’m gonna sub out some of that fried okra the guy at the table next to me was having. He sure seemed to enjoy it. I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it.
While the brutal march of time may have hidden this once beloved staple, giving the Chuck House a sadly “out of sight, out of mind” existence, after stopping by there for the first time in about 25 years, we’re all, as a city of chicken fried steak fans, missing out collectively. Like the grandpa in the hospital bed, he may look like he’s on death’s door, but shake his hand and it is just as firm and tight and menacing as ever.
I don’t know if Chuck House is still the “best chicken fry in the universe,” but, as far as this doomed metropolis goes, it’s definitely in the top ten.
Louis Fowler is determined to find the best chicken fry in the universe, or at least Oklahoma, before he dies. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisFowler.