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Mmm... gravy.

Image: Cory Garcia

As my eyes roamed across the entrée options in front of me at Cleburne Cafeteria, I couldn't help but feel a bit nostalgic. This was my first time at Cleburne, but I'm well-versed in the cafeteria concept. Growing up, my dad and I had many a Friday night dinner at Furr's, back when it was still a thing in my hometown. Eventually we lost Furr's and Luby's, leaving Golden Corral as the popular holiday dining destination in the area. 

Cleburne Cafeteria is easily the nicest cafeteria I've ever set foot in. Destroyed by a fire in 2016, Cleburne reopened for business last year, and the new space somehow managed to balance feeling bright and new while also feeling a bit lived-in. It's a throwback to a different time, but in a package that feels neither dated nor too modern. 

For my first visit, I went with the chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes, two simple classics that plenty of places still manage to mess up in the year 2018. I liked this white gravy-covered steak before I cut in to it. It was thick and crusty like the steaks I remember in my youth. Cutting into it I discovered a real rarity in the Houston chicken fried steak market: a steak whose crust didn't fall apart the moment you started hacking at it.  

And it delivered on flavor too. This was a meat-forward take on the CFS, as opposed to so many that I've had in the city that hide the meat behind a mass of breading and gravy. The steak alone felt like a meal itself, and at the halfway point I was very glad that I had decided not to go too hard in the paint by ordering multiple sides. The mashed potatoes did exactly what they were asked to do: be a light and fluffy delivery mechanism for gravy.  

All in all, my meal did exactly what a first meal at a cafeteria should do: give me a base dish I can fall back on when I'm not in the mood to explore the rest of their offerings. But explore I shall, because there was a lot that caught my attention on my first trip down the line.  

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