The Fortnightly Rave – Chicken-Fried Steak Style

It was the summer of either 1996 or 1997, and my small team of buyers from Alpine Experience were headed home from Summer Trade Show in Salt Lake City.  Unlike the fancy rich outdoor stores in Seattle that got to take airplanes, this crew drove for 14 hours in my 1986 Jeep Cherokee.  After the show ended Sunday afternoon, we committed to drive through the night, and arrive home Monday morning.

Town after town driving north we tried to find some dinner that wasn’t fast food.  But it was Sunday, many years ago, in Utah, and nearly every restaurant was closed.  There’s a section of freeway, almost 200 miles, with no exits, no towns, and no food.  We knew we had to eat before that.  But nothing was open.

Finally, at the last exit before the dreaded ‘dead zone’, we pulled off, even though there wasn’t any businesses at the exit itself.  We drove northeast, hoping to fins something.  A couple of miles later, about to turn back – there was a diner.  and it was OPEN.

Not only that- it was comfort food like in the Comfort Food, Platonic Ideal sense – the epitome of perfection.  Freshly pounded and breaded chicken fried steak.  Covered in creamy, rich gravy.  So much gravy.  We feasted.  It was the best chicken-fried steak ever.

I’ve tried to find that exit, and that diner, several times on trips since, to no avail.  Perhaps it was some weird shift in the space-time continuum, and what we most needed was placed there in the desert for us.  Perhaps it just closed, or I was at the wrong exit.  In any case, I have never found it again.

More important, I have never found chicken-fried steak like that again either.  I have tried it in many states, in cities and off in the country, but never had it taste as good as that night in Utah.

Until last month. When I went to Cafe 186 at the top of the Fourth Avenue hill on Olympia’s Eastside, and tried Steve Sleasman’s chicken fried steak.  It was better.  It is better.  Even the second time.  And third.  It’s comfort food in a funky atmosphere with antlers on the wall – now that’s Olympia, friends.

You will notice there are no pictures in this story.  That is for a reason.  No, not just laziness.  You see, this story is about taste and memory.