"Chicken Fried Steak. There's a new place serving good ones." whispered one of my foodie friends.
That's one sure-fire way to get my attention. There are some great chicken fried steaks to be had in the Houston area, but they're few and far between, and there are plenty of mediocre ones that are better avoided. I've been hoping for a great CFS that's closer to the Woodlands than Tomball.
The establishment that generated this comment is the new Texas Beer Garden, located just northwest of the Woodlands, on Hwy 1488 just west of 2978. It's a roomy, comfortable place that's already become a neighborhood hangout. For those concerned with a dark, boozy bar, rest assure that this isn't it -- the focus is more on the food than the beer.
The menu is long on traditional Texas grub - burgers, BBQ, sandwiches, and the aforementioned chicken fried steak all caught our attention. So we sampled a few items on two visits, and here were our impressions.
First up was the burger. It's large, hand-formed, and made with good quality beef. Toppings are generally fresh, but the lettuce looked a bit long of tooth. One snag is that the kitchen insists on cooking the burger to medium well or above - if you like your burgers medium rare, you're not going to be happy. The beef could have also used a touch more seasoning, a minor quibble which is easily fixed.
Next we sampled a BBQ plate, with pulled pork and sausage. The serving was generous, and the pulled pork was good - it had a nice rich smoky flavor, and very little of the sweet BBQ sauce was required to be added. The sausage was unremarkable. They do offer a variety of different sausages, so perhaps more exploration is required.
The lauded chicken-fried steak wasn't available on our first visit, but we sampled it when we returned. A nicely crisped crust wrapped a tender but not overly juicy slab of beef. We suspected that this wasn't hand-breaded in-house, and this was confirmed by the staff. The gravy was tasty but a bit under seasoned. We see serious potential here, and hope that the dish will be taken to the next level.
I'd be remiss in pointing out that this is a family-friendly place... perhaps a bit too family friendly. When we visited on a weekend night, the place was literally overrun with kids from toddler to elementary school age running wild around the restaurant.
The outdoor patio was more daycare than dining area, and one couldn't walk around the dining room without the risk of stumbling over an unruly kid. The harried wait staff didn't have time to deal with this, but we think management needs to be willing to talk with parents who won't keep their children seated at the table.
We see great promise for the Texas Beer Garden. The food has the potential to become very good. If the management can get control of the dining room back from the hoards of children that run rampant, we'll be looking forward to returning.
Texas Beer Garden | 2714 FM 1488, Magnolia | 281-356-2337