Kevin Martinez is a man on a serious chicken fried steak mission.
His current menu counts seven — yes, seven — versions of the classic comfort food dish.
And they’re not at all what you’d expect for an old-style place like his restaurant, the Homestead Restaurant and Bakery.
Back up to the beginning: Chicken fried steak always has been on the Homestead’s menu since Kevin’s mother Sumi had an inspiration to convert the family’s A&W restaurant into a giant barn-shaped building called the Homestead. That was back in the late 1970s.
She still comes to work every day, but Kevin handles most of the day-to-day operations.
Two versions of the classic dish are standards: chicken fried steak with eggs at breakfast (served all day) and another with mashed potatoes on the dinner menu (always served with a free slice of pie).
At the base of that dish is a crispy chicken fried steak made out of pounded-thin cube steak. Because of the volume served, Martinez buys a prepared product.
Martinez has been fiddling with the Homestead’s menu for the last handful of years.
“I go on runs, themes, every year. I’ll come up with new concepts, and I just run them,” said Martinez, who keeps a notebook scratched with ideas.
Why chicken fried steak, though? Why not dress up meatloaf or Salisbury steak?
“I started with the premise that I believe chicken fried steak was made for much more than gravy, and it built up from there,” said Martinez.
“It’s a base flavor of salt and has a great texture and it’s such a great comfort food,” he added. “I always wondered, what other flavors could possibly go with this? Then it became a sandwich and then a burrito. It was more about going to good flavor combinations than turning them into something unrecognizable.”
About four years ago, he thought it might be fun to add a burger-spin on chicken fried steak. He created a monster-sized burger served on an oversized sesame seed bun with a smear of chipotle mayo and all the usual burger accessories.
Then came his obsession with made-over omelets three years ago. That led him down the rabbit hole that he filled with a macaroni and cheese omelet, a meatloaf-and-mac omelet and one made with house-made bacon jam and Polish sausage.
The ultimate creation, and the omelet that resonated with his diners, was the chicken fried steak omelet.
In 2017, he went big. If he could wrap a chicken fried steak in an omelet, what about a tortilla? His next creation was an plate-sized burrito filled with chopped chicken fried steak, eggs and sauteed peppers and onions.
And if he could put chicken fried steak on a bun, in an omelet or in a tortilla, what about regular sandwich bread? Intrigued by the classic diners sandwiches — Monte Cristos and clubs — he added those to the menu in the summer.
They were a hit.
What’s next for his obsession? Chicken Fried Steak Version 8 will be joining the menu in the next few weeks. He’s put an updated spin on veal Parmesan with a chicken fried steak Parmesan. It’ll be served with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and a marinara sauce.
He’s also thinking about creating one with a sweet-and-savory flavor profile, something made with maple syrup. He also has a buffalo-chicken version stashed away in that notebook.
He’ll be working on those with one of his longtime cooks, Pete Villa, who also helped him figure out the sequence of ingredients on the club — because stacking order is important in Martinez’ world.
Here’s a rundown of each chicken fried steak menu item in the order in which I liked them best:
Chipotle Chicken Fried Steak Burger: Huge bun, huge steak. This burger was built for big eaters. The crunch and flavor of this creation was the best of the bunch. A side dish of more-than-you’ll-need chipotle mayo added smoky flavor and a little heat, with a little more smoke reinforcement from the criss-crossed bacon strips. The crunch of the breaded steak was satisfying in concert with the toasted bun and the cool crunch of the pickle chips, green leaf lettuce and red onions. Get it with the restaurant’s crispy outside/soft inside jo-jo potatoes ($13.99).
Cowboy Club Sandwich: As Villa and Martinez learned, sequencing is important for the order of meat on a club. With chicken fried steak crunchy and delicious on the bottom layer, an equal layer of crunch was needed at the top, so Martinez built it with double layers of ham and bacon. In the middle was lettuce and a thin slice of tomato on this triple-decker sandwich made with perfectly toasted house-made bread and a thin layer of Villa’s secret Cajun ranch sauce gussied up with lime and sour cream. ($13.49).
The Full Monte Cristo: This triple decker sandwich was all about the goo and crunch. Goo was in the form of double layers each of cheddar and Swiss nestled between layers of sausage and chicken fried steak. It was served on grilled French toast with a side of spicy raspberry jam for dipping ($14.99).
Classic chicken fried steak: Delicious. The crunchy-coated steak came with a lake of country gravy, crispy edged hash browns, two eggs and a fluffy biscuit at breakfast ($13.99) or at dinner with soup or salad, mashed potatoes, vegetables and a free slice of pie ($13.99).
El Gordito Burrito: I needed a fork, a knife and an extra arm for this monster burrito. It came loaded with chopped up crunchy bits of chicken fried steaks along with scrambled eggs, grilled peppers and onions. On top were dueling green-and-red sauces and generous zigzags of sour cream. I double-dog dare you to eat this in one sitting.($12.49).
Chicken fried steak omelet: This one needed a flavor boost and I think —with all things in life — a little more gravy would have helped. Tucked into a three-egg omelet, chopped up chicken fried steak was a crunchy surprise. On top was a drizzle of gravy and melted cheddar. Served with home fries or hash browns, plus a biscuit. ($11.99).
Homestead Restaurant and Bakery
Where: 7837 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma
Info: 253-476-9000; homesteadwa.com
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.