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Day Trips

How the chicken-fried steak was invented in Lamesa, Texas

By Gerald E. McLeod, Fri., Aug. 23, 2013

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. Mcleod

Chicken-fried steak ranks with the best of the great foods that Texans claim the bragging rights to having invented. Other popular foods in this category include, but are not limited to, kolaches, margaritas, Fritos, and, Texas cooks' crowning achievement after Tex-Mex food, the hamburger. Foodies have debated the origins of the chicken-fried steak for years, but it seems that Larry BeSaw's 1976 version in the Austin American-Statesman is the definitive version of the tale.

The story goes that Jimmy Don Per­kins was a short-order cook at Ethel's Home Cooking in Lamesa. One day in 1911, the waitress turned in an order for "chicken, fried steak." Perkins missed the comma and thought the order was for one dish. He dipped the steak into the fried chicken batter, and since then history has only been improved upon.

The breaded steak is now a menu staple at any respectable Southern diner, and some that aren't. The Texas Legislature made the legend official in 2011. Every April, Lamesa remembers Perkins with the Chicken-Fried Steak Festival.

Unfortunately, Jimmy Don Perkins' story didn't end so happily. He left Ethel's because of a dispute over a waitress' affections. He was later found dead under mysterious circumstances in a Lubbock alley.

The Dal Paso Museum in Lamesa tells many of the local stories, from an Army glider base to Texas' largest cotton gin, and a tip of the hat to native son Don Walser.

1,151st in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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