TLO Restaurant Review: Kendall’s Restaurant
6:13 AM EDT on July 19, 2016
When I am laying on my death-bed a few years from now, the spectral image of the Grim Reaper floating over me as the diabolic fugue of my death rattle begins to play, there are many things that I am going to tearfully have many regrets about. But failing to eat three large chicken fried steaks in an hour probably isn’t going to be one of them.
Ever since I started covering the chicken fried steak scene in Oklahoma, everyone in every comment section, direct message, personal email and brick through my window has told me that I absolutely need to go to Kendall’s Restaurant in Noble, Oklahoma, as it is apparently the end-all, be-all for the Oklahoma delicacy, that I won’t be able to even look at another chicken fried steak by the time I was ready to call for the check.
They were right. They were all right. For all intents and purposes, let’s subtitle this piece “The Last Temptation of Louis Fowler.”
Noble seems like a great place to live, for the most part. Kendall’s, 100 S 3rd St., sure does seem like a valuable microcosm of that community, a downhome diner with a decidedly welcoming rock and roll feel, a place where, on this past Saturday for lunch, was absolutely hopping with a nice mixture of locals and visiting lookie-lous, with almost every plate I passed on the way to my table covered in their famous chicken fried steak and white cream gravy.
A Noble landmark, Kendall’s has become something of a tourist destination, listed in every possible travel guide and road map for its chicken fried steak challenge. Deciding that this would be the battered and fried petard that I hoist the rest of my corpse upon, my own private Southern-style Golgotha, I went in knowing that not only might Kendall’s be my last chicken fried steak—to eat and write about—for a long time, but that it would be the double-fisted two-gun blaze of glory necessary to elicit such a grand finale. I was going to take the Chicken Fried Challenge.
Here’s how the chicken fry challenge works: you have one hour to devour a salad (with dressing), mashed potatoes or fries, green beans or fried okra, a biscuit, two cinnamon rolls and the ultimate clencher, three of their gigantic, thick chicken fried steaks, absolutely drenched in gravy and piled high like a stack of Caligula’s pancakes. The cost to compete is $25, but if you complete the meal you not only get it free, and they’ll give you a shirt as well. Not that it would fit when you’re done, natch.
As I sat there waiting, mentally preparing myself, looking at the pictures of past winners, it didn’t seem so daunting. As I was working out a plan of attack—ok, mashed potatoes first, a handful of okra, down the salad, etc…—all of those hopes and dreams completely drowned under a torrent of breading and gravy as an army of waitstaff began unloading the meal before me.
Treating the pile of chicken fried steak as though it were a lard-laden Gom Jabbar and I was the gastronomic Kwisatz Haderach, I repeated the mantra “I will not feel full. Fullness is the mindkiller…” in my head as I took my fork and knife and cut into the thick, rich cuts of prime beef, slowly chewing each tender, delicious bite of absolute Dixie heaven.
And here is where I started to fail.
Instead of shoveling bite after bite into my mouth, I figured that I have an hour, I might as well take my time and savor and enjoy this chicken fried steak and white cream gravy. It was absolutely hard not to; Kendall’s chicken fried steak is world-class and ranks right at the top of the list in all that I’ve sampled over the past few months. Tender and seasoned just right with a thick, spicy breading, every bite was a fabulous taste sensation…that started to wear me down…started to slow me down…
Recognizing that I was in danger of approaching terminal full-ocity, I cautiously enjoyed my side salad with tangy 1000 Island, brutally devoured a couple of handfuls of absolutely perfect fried okra and attempted to take down at least one lump of mashed potatoes, but they were a little too dry and needed water to wash them down, which only made me fuller.
As I took a spoon and slurped up as much gravy as I could, soup-style, those receptors in my stomach started telling the neurons in my brain I was full and to proceed with only the utmost of caution. As I sliced into layer after layer of the seemingly bottomless chicken fried steak, meat-sweats dripping down my brow, by the mighty and merciful hand of Jesus I gained the forethought and foresight to put my fork and knife down and realized that I had been beat. I was done.
Looking down at my work, I realized that not only had I barely made a dent, but I had thrown in the towel after only 15 minutes. But it felt more like 45.
Surveying the leftovers—to which I still have plenty of, days later—I was minorly proud of myself for at least enjoying it rather than inhaling it so fast that I missed out on the culinary craftsmanship of the Kendall’s cooks. But, as the manager told me, as she took my pic for the Wall of Shame, “Sometimes we win when we lose.”
Can we make sure we get that on my tombstone?
Whether it’s a lazy weekend lunch or a gluttonous point to prove, Kendall’s is top-notch in the chicken fried steak game and I, for one, can’t wait to go back in a couple of months for just a simple chicken fried steak dinner, or, who knows, maybe something else. Perhaps even their….what’s this? A “widowmaker” burger??
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…
There’s always the Indian Taco Challenge at the Miller Grill. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.
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