When I was seven years old, I almost literally died of embarrassment.
We had gone to a mall for some shopping. When it was time to eat, my parents chose Piccadilly Cafeteria.
To understand this story, you have to know something about my childhood. My parents made June and Ward Cleaver look like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Dinner was precisely at 5:30 every evening and always homemade. On the supremely rare occasion that we ate out, it was either a diner or a burger joint.
So Piccadilly, with its cloth napkins, and classical music, was the epitome of total sophistication. In my eyes, we were dining at Versailles.
Consequently, I was practicing my fanciest manners.
For some bizarre reason, I’d chosen a hard-boiled egg for part of my meal. At home I would pick it up with my hand, and take a bite. But I couldn’t do that at this glamorous watering hole. So I speared it with my fork, and put the whole thing in my mouth.
And promptly got it stuck in my throat.
There was no way I would be so gauche as to choke to death or even call attention to myself in such splendid surroundings. So, with bulging eyes, and sweaty brow, I struggled heroically, and finally forced it down.
Although my appetite for hard-boiled eggs was considerably diminished, my appetite for cafeteria-style restaurants was not. Even though most Piccadilly’s are but a fond memory, I still enjoy grabbing a tray and bellying up to the steam tables at similar eateries.
There are a couple of dishes that I choose over and over. They usually have pretty amazing shoe peg corn. My big brother Homer turned me on to fries with gravy. And 90% of the time my entrée is country-style steak. I just love the soft pillow-like coating, and the creamy brown sauce.
A few years ago I figured out how to duplicate it at home.
1 pound cube steak
Flour for coating and ¼ cup for roux
¼ cup butter
Oil for frying
1 pound mushrooms, cleaned
1 yellow onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup sherry
4 cups beef stock
1-2 tablespoons horseradish
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Bread steak: place heavily seasoned flour in bag, put in one piece of meat at a time, and shake to coat. Put steak on parchment covered plate and refrigerate until ready to cook. Save bag of flour.
Make roux: In small skillet melt butter and whisk in ¼ cup flour. Turn to medium-low. Cook until peanut butter colored. Remove from heat and set aside.
Prep ingredients: Slice mushrooms, chop onions, and assemble rest of ingredients.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put large heavy pot on a burner set to medium-high and add about ¼ inch oil. Flour steaks one more time, then brown each on both sides. Remove from pot and set aside.
Put in ‘shrooms and onions, and cook until lightly caramelized. Add tomato paste and cook for 2-3 minutes. Deglaze with sherry and allow to cook out. Add rest of ingredients, except roux and steak. Bring to boil, and whisk in enough roux to make a light gravy.
Lay meat into pot, making sure gravy covers it. Cover and bake for one hour. Serves 4.
Buttermilk mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas are the perfect sides for this dish. Although your body and your cardiologist might appreciate a green salad tucked in there somewhere.
Thanks for your time.