Strawn— If you ever find yourself driving between Fort Worth and Abilene, a stop in Strawn may not seem like something to steer for, unless you like Chicken Fried Steak.
“Oh my gosh, I was like, ‘I got to show you this chicken fried steak,'” said customer, Megan Cronkright.
“We always stop in and get chicken fried steak,” said another customer, Bob Nichols.
“I’d had no idea that it would be anything like this,” confessed Mary Tretter.
Mary is the reason people trek all the way to this small town for something a bit more sizeable than the city—massive meals.
“You never know [about the weekend]. I always say, ‘My business is like a man, it’s unpredictable.’ I always tell people that. It is, it’s crazy,” said Mary.
Considering she serves over 50,000 pounds of chicken fried steaks and over 200,000 pounds of potatoes every year, I think business is moving along just fine.
“They’re famous for their chicken fried steak,” said Megan.
“They just make good chicken fried steak,” confirmed Bob.
Mary got her first job at the only other restaurant in Strawn after the 8th grade. In 1984, she started working here at the restaurant when it was called the Polka Dot. By 1986, she owned the place and changed the named to Mary’s Café.
“It was tough. It was hard. I will tell you that. I’d wait for the restaurant across the street, for their overflow to come over here, and if I had five or six tables that night, I was excited,” explained Mary.
Things have certainly changed. Today there is a long line of eager eaters looking to fill their bellies.
“It’s incredible that she has maintained actually, I think that her business is probably stronger now, as strong as it’s ever been,” said customer, Bobby Schuman.
Mary is a very hands-on kind of owner—she does it all, so much so that people don’t even realize that she is the fabulous and famous Mary.
“They’ll stick their head in and they’ll say, ‘We want to meet Mary.’ And they’ll look at everybody but me, I’ll go, ‘I’m Mary,’ and I’ve got flour from head to toe, and they’re going, ‘Oh, you’re Mary?’ I go, ‘Yeah, I’m Mary,'” she said. “Sometimes I’ll walk by and I’ll hear somebody say, ‘I think that’s Mary.’ And I don’t say anything, because I’m just like them, just another worker… And if they go, ‘Can we have your autograph? Can we have your picture?’ I’m going, ‘Oh my gosh.'”
Mary was willing to showcase her signature dish, but she didn’t stop there. She is also very proud of her two pound burgers.
Now, there have been a lot of burgers on the Texas Bucket List, but this is the biggest one yet.
“I’ve had some big ballplayers, him and his friend, they were both big guys. And they come in, they ordered a burger and an order of fries, they split it,” she said.
Since it takes about 30 minutes to cook the burger Mary got to work on a chicken fried steak right on the flat top.
“Right now, I’m [going to] just fill the grill with what I have. I don’t know how many will be on here. Probably enough for about four large maybe,” said Mary.
At Mary’s Cafe, the chicken fried steak doesn’t touch the deep fryer, Mary has her own methods.
“It’s too much batter. It is, just batter that you’re getting when you have chicken. We deep fry our chicken fried chicken, but that’s about it,” she commented.
The chicken fried steaks are finished off with a few final touches. Some butter is splashed on top along with a very secret seasoning.
The burger is topped with cheese and toppings while the chicken fried steaks gets a massive side of real mashed potatoes.
Although one would never expect such a gigantic hamburger to have such good flavor, at Mary’s the secret seasoning is the touch.
On to the star of the show, the chicken fried steak. The flavor, texture and taste of this Texas treat is totally terrific.
“They know how to cook one,” said customer, Bob Nichols.
Chicken fried steak, flipped on a flat top, has a much different texture than you would get out of a deep fryer. Not as crunchy, but just enough crunch to make it incredible. It sure keeps her customers coming back for more.
“Usually, chicken fried steaks are super breaded and it’s not as healthy. And I’m not saying this is healthy, but you know what I’m saying,” said Megan.
“The crust is right, and the meat’s not over done, and it’s just a very well cooked chicken fried steak,” added Bob.
“It’s word of mouth, reputation. Everybody knows, that’s ever eaten here, they remember,” commented Bobby.
Over the years, we have seen plenty of quality across the Lone Star State, and plenty of quantity, too. But Mary, she is the queen of both, making Mary’s Cafe in Strawn well worth a stop on the Texas Bucket List.
“As long as I know, and that man upstairs knows I’m doing my best, that’s all I can do,” said Mary.