Signature dishes, it's food that embodies a region, it's a celebration of iconic cultural flavors, where natives and tourists alike embrace that bowl, that plate, that sandwich, that finger food and say, "You HAVE to try this!"....
Examples of iconic signature dishes includes the Rueben sandwich in New York; crab cakes in Baltimore; The Philly Cheese Steak in Philadelphia; Fried Chicken in Atlanta; Deep dish pizza in Chicago; Bratwurst in Milwaukee; Gumbo in New Orleans and Cedar plank Salmon in Seattle.
So with all that iconic food in mind, does Wichita have a signature dish, or is the Mid-Continent City a melting pot of foods and flavors?
Having fun and inspired by this Signature Dish Challenge, I decided to take a break from burgers, pizza and barbecue. What else on a plate has the potential to represent Wichita as a Signature Dish?
Chicken Fried Steak
It's a classic comfort food dish, a classic Diner dish, it's one of my all time favorite dinners. Chicken Fried Steak, smothered in a creamy country gravy with mashed potatoes and some fried okra on the side.... It's another dose of YUM!
Typically made with a cheaper, tougher cut of meat like round steak or cube steak, the meat is tenderized, seasoned, breaded and fried to perfection.
Having heard Jimmie's Diner serves up a pretty good Chicken Fried Steak, that's where I decided to have lunch today.
Entering the Diner located on North Rock Road at about 11:15am or so, I headed straight for the counter. The restaurant was about half full, with waiters and waitresses alike tending to customer needs, dressed in the Jimmie's Diner '50's look. I've always liked that look, it adds to the Diner ambience. To note, Jimmie's has served Wichita since 1987.
I sat at the counter for a bit, before I was greeted by a waitress named Lucy.
LUCY: I'll be with you in just a minute, is that all right?
ME: Sure, no problem.
It appeared that Lucy was not only working the counter, but some nearby tables as well. After another minute or so, she was back and wiping down the slightly dirty counter top.
LUCY: Can I get you something to drink?
ME: Water will be fine.
And observing the menu was no longer being reviewed by yours truly....
LUCY: Are you ready to order?
ME: Yes, I'll have the Chicken Fried Steak.
LUCY: And how did you want your eggs?
LUCY: Oh, did you want the dinner?
ME: Yes please.
LUCY: Did you want mashed potatoes with that?
ME: Oh yeah
I completed my order by getting a side of fried okra - in my humble opinion there is no better veggie to go with Chicken Fried Steak than fried okra - and a side salad with Ranch dressing.
Soon after being served my water, my salad was plated and delivered.
But you don't care about the salad, how was the Chicken Fried Steak you ask?....
It looked fantastic on the plate, a big generous portion of breaded steak smothered in creamy gravy...... My expectations were high, what a great visual! But sadly, that's where the greatness came to an end.....
The beef was tough, under seasoned and the breading completely fell off the steak when I sliced into it. I had separate bites of breading, separate bites of steak. The key to a good Chicken Fried Steak is to tenderize it before breading and frying, I'm not sure that happened. Tenderizing the steak not only does the obvious - the tenderizing - but it also aids in the breading sticking to the steak. And about that under seasoned steak - it's like whoever cooked this thing up, was relying on the breading to carry the day. Sure, the breading was good, but I ordered a steak, not breading. The
mashed potatoes were whipped nicely, but also bland as was the creamy country gravy. I had to load it up with pepper and salt was needed too but I didn't add a whole lot, I'm trying to cut back. My side, the okra was also a disappointment, the bites were inconsistent. The smaller pieces were fried and seasoned nicely, but the bigger cuts of okra needed more time in that fryer. What was the best part of my meal? The roll with butter. That's a sad statement. I expected a far better Chicken Fried Steak meal than what I got from an established Diner. Heck, I make a better Chicken Fried Steak than Jimmie's Diner does!
Costing me $13.75, the compliments Jimmie's Diner supposedly receives for it's Chicken Fried Steak Dinner didn't measure up on this day. Jimmie's Diner gets just two out of five stars. The service was adequate, Lucy was attentive, asked if I wanted a drink refill, a to-go box, or dessert, but she missed on asking a very key question: "How was your Chicken Fried Steak?"
Perhaps she already knew the answer.....
The Jimmie's Diner visited is located at: 3111 N. Rock Road, Wichita 67226
But my search has only just begun.... I'll be visiting a large variety of restaurants and sampling all types of food, getting input from patrons and restaurant gurus alike, trying to get a feel for what Wichita's Signature Dish might be..... Oh, and national chain restaurants will NOT be a part of this challenge, I'm keeping it as local as possible, a true evaluation in finding what might be Wichita's Signature Dish.
What a challenge huh? I am SO looking forward to the rest of this challenge!
What do you think might be Wichita's signature dish? Comment below.