TEXAS (KFDX/KJTL) — They say, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” One example of just how big things can become in Texas is when a local legend became a nationally syndicated news story, eventually earning a city a title it may not have any claim to.
It’s the story behind one of the most beloved Southern entrees, chicken-fried steak.
The concept isn’t complicated: coat a beef steak in batter, fry it in a pan, smother it in gravy, and add mashed potatoes on the side. Since its inception, chicken-fried steak has become a staple in households and restaurants across Texas.
There are several different accounts of how the chicken-fried steak came into existence, but the city of Lamesa, Texas, claims to be the dish’s birthplace, and holds the title of the “Legendary Home of the Chicken-Fried Steak”.
Lamesa is located in west Texas, about 60 miles south of Lubbock. In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed HCR 134, authored by Tom Craddick of Texas House District 82, a resolution declaring Lamesa the “Legendary Home of the Chicken-fried Steak”.
The title has become Lamesa’s claim to fame. Every year since 2011, the city has held Lamesa’s Original Chicken-Fried Steak Festival downtown.
According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, former Lamesa Mayor Kelvin Barkowsky came up with the idea of the annual festival as a way to attract tourists to the town and make the local legend of the origin of the famous southern dish part of Texas history.
The Avalance-Journal reported in 2011 that a century prior, in 1911, the famous chicken-fried steak was created by accident when a short-order cook known as Jimmy Don Perkins misheard an order from a waitress, or misread the ticket.
According to the story, the order was intended to be for chicken and fried steak. However, Perkins misinterpreted the order, and instead of asking for clarification from the waitress, he rolled a piece of steak in flour and milk and fried it the way he’d fry a piece of chicken.
Perkins then served the new culinary creation with fries and cream gravy, not realizing he’d given birth to a dish that would become synonymous with southern-style food for generations to come.
Journalist Larry BeSaw finally put the local legend into print in the Austin American-Statesman in 1976, according to the text of HCR 134.
BeSaw’s account of the dish’s origin spread around the country. The article was picked up by a syndicated columnist and later published in trivia books and news publications, including The Washington Post and Texas Monthly, earning Lamesa the honor of being home of the chicken-fried steak.
However, there’s just one problem with Lamesa’s claim to fame. According to the text of HCR 134, the story isn’t true.
“Mr. BeSaw had created his article as a spoof, never intending it to be taken as fact, but the story quickly took on a life of its own,” HCR 134 reads. “Though the journalist has tried numerous times to set the record straight, the yarn continues to be widely told, having attained the status of a Texas tall tale.”
Lamesa didn’t want to spoil the legend, instead embracing and celebrating the lore of the creation of chicken-fried steak and making it a part of their city’s identity.
Plus, everybody loves a good story.
“Residents of the Lone Star State have long demonstrated their appreciation for harmless exaggeration and some good old-fashioned leg-pulling,” HCR 134 reads. “Because the Jimmy Don Perkins tale is just a darn good story, it is indeed appropriate that the city of Lamesa be recognized for its role in this imaginative and imaginary incident in Texas history.”
So, Lamesa remains the “Legendary Home of the Chicken- Fried Steak”, even though legend is their only claim to the title.