Dude Food: Tillman's Roadhouse
324 W. Seventh St.
Dude factor: 9, or "James Dalton," on a scale of 1 (Brad Wesley) to 10 (Wade Garrett).
Sometimes it can't be avoided. Occasionally, dudes have to go upscale. But if you're going to eat someplace that actually uses cloth napkins, you might as well pick one that recalls the title of Patrick Swayze's guy-movie classic.
Just a glance at the menu was enough to stir my interest: skillet cornbread, hickory-smoked chipotle barbecue ribs, braised bone-in buffalo short ribs. But the prices left me hesitant. Could a plate of French fries possibly be worth $9?
Yes, it can. The Trio of Fries, described on the menu as "parmesan black pepper Kennebec fries, chili dusted purple Peruvian fries and smoked salt scented sweet potato fries with housemade catsup--or ketchup, if you prefer that instead--and horseradish pickle mayo," proved just as purposeful as the descriptions, generous but not hefty enough to ruin our appetite for hunks of meat.
I ordered the chicken-fried hanger steak ($23), served with "garlic whippers" (a.k.a. mashed potatoes--no one can be straightforward anymore), bacon-braised green beans and poblano cream gravy. The server asked if medium-rare was OK and...and...well, I felt the same rush of emotion as on that day when I spotted a '70 Superbird tearing up the highway. As much as I love chicken-fried steak, I've never in my life had one cooked to order. I didn't even know it was possible to prepare one less than well-done. "Yes, that will be fine," I managed after composing myself and shaking the waiter's hand several times.
There's nothing like the sight of blood-red meat juice mixing with gravy. I don't mind admitting my eyes moistened a bit. It was beautiful. And speaking of gravy, the chipotle was aggressively spicy and absolutely delicious. The battering was crispy and salty. I don't know how they did it, but it was awesome.
I also tried a bite of my wife's honey and lavender glazed salmon filet ($23). It was some of the best salmon I've had, but lavender? That Superbird rumbling through my memory faded and a Corvair puttered into view.
Dessert options included the very tempting peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie sandwich with banana ice cream which, at $12.50, claimed to be big enough for two or more. But we were too stuffed, which is more than I can say after eating at other, less dude-friendly upscale restaurants.