It was a sunny fall Saturday, we’d slept in late after an exhausting week, and we’d heard great things about the newly reopened Silk City Diner in Northern Liberties, so Joe and I waited for the number 5 bus and schlepped over to Spring Garden St. We arrived at Silk City at 3:50 pm, salivating with anticipation, only to be told that they were closed already and would reopen at 5. There was no sign to tell hungry potential diners they were out of luck, of course.
I’m generally a friendly, easygoing person, but don’t get between me and food. It’s just a bad idea. We made our unhappy way up the street to Honey’s Sit’N’Eat and arrived at the stroke of four, just at closing time. We weren’t expecting to get anything to eat, but popped our heads in anyway, and a friendly, bearded server told us that if we ordered quickly we could still eat.
We both ordered chicken-fried steak, which came with gravy, two eggs, a potato latke and a buttermilk biscuit. Yes, a potato latke. Honey’s is run by Jewish foodies from Texas, and the cultural combination makes for a fascinating and eclectic menu— beef brisket and biscuits and gravy share space with Mexican breakfast dishes and matzo ball soup. Our latkes tasted and looked more like spicy hash browns, but they blended well with the slightly spicy gravy and savory buttermilk biscuit. And oh, the chicken-fried steak…
Now, my family’s roots are in North Carolina, so I grew up on chicken-fried steak. Joe, an Italian-American from New Jersey, had only tried inferior diner versions, so he was a little leery. For those not in the know, chicken-fried steak is a Southern breakfast tradition. It’s a cheap piece of meat, usually a round steak, pounded till it’s flat and tender and then breaded with flour and a mix of spices (usually a closely guarded secret) and fried in a skillet. It’s normally served with sawmill gravy and biscuits. Done badly, it’s a tough, greasy mess. Done well, it’s just a little crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, creamy from the gravy, and free of grease– the sort of protein-rich breakfast cooked for farm workers who have a long day ahead of them. It can be mild and savory or spicy; there are lots of regional variations. (Alton Brown’s recipe is here, if you’d like to try your hand at it.) The use of the term “chicken-fried” as a pejorative to insult all things Southern has given the dish a bad reputation among those who’ve never been lucky enough to taste the real thing, but I trust you gentle readers are smarter than that. Interested readers can learn more from the Southern Foodways Alliance.
As for Honey’s? Their version was chicken-fried steak the way it should be. The breading and gravy were both bright and flavorful with just a hint of heat, and I was pleasantly surprised at how very light and delicate the breading was. The steak was tender and perfectly cooked. The portion was absolutely huge– I ate about a third of it, had another third for dinner, and will probably snack on the last third later today. It’s a massive plate, but for $11 well worth it. Honey’s has a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere and a few outdoor tables, which makes it a pleasant spot to eat, and the cheerful staff never rushed us, even at the end of their day. We plan to make this a regular brunch spot.
[where: 800 N 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123]