Like most delusional minds, I’ve always prided myself in my understanding of reality, especially when reality concerns itself with the edible parts of a wonderful, magical animal. I was therefore puzzled to learn that, apparently, bacon is a fad. As a man who pays more mental rent on Doug than on the rippling fabric of pop culture 2.0, I have trouble understanding what it means to have bacon “back where it belongs.” In my eyes (and stomach), there’s a place for extreme eating, and to wrap the constant of shock value in a dressing as cheap as “bacon backlash” is a disservice to both bacon and backlash (not that I wouldn’t renege on this statement for a salad dressing named “bacon backlash”).
Accordingly, I doubt that Frank Sodolak, owner of Sodolak’s Country Inn, has ever set finger to keyboard in praise of one of America’s most essential foods. To the cook who simply cooks, bacon is immune to the passions of meta-criticism. However, as Sodolak has shown in his roadside corner of Texas, bacon is not immune to the creative spirit.
I learned this fact firsthand on a five hour road trip along state highways to the town of Snook. I had first learned of chicken fried bacon in 2006, when Bob Phillips‘ video review of the creation found its way onto YouTube. Judging from Phillips’ harrying soundtrack cues and and the general hype-for-hype of “bacon mania,” one might expect a dish so extreme that it defies all good sense.
Fortunately, the reality of Sodolak’s chicken fried bacon differs greatly from the fantasy that has propelled it into the limelight. Those who expect the extreme, the chic or the vulgar are bound to be disappointed by what is little more than an appetizer, albeit a calorically prodigious one. The process behind this dish couldn’t be more transparent: Coat six strips of raw, thin-sliced bacon in lightly seasoned batter. Deep fry. Serve hot.
While the interview comments from Bob Phillips’ review could easily be filtered as sound bite-sized jabs at southern obesity, they make perfect sense when the platter of gold coated curls lies at your fingertips. A testament to Sodolak’s sensibilities as a cook, this is a surprisingly delicate dish- and it does need more salt. The breading of the bacon goes just far enough to provide a satisfying crisp, but stops far before it reaches the crusting point of a chicken fried steak (which is also on the menu). Because the bacon is cooked quickly, each bite is airy and tender. The flavor of neither the meat nor the breading is strong enough to overwhelm, and the accompanying country gravy is as authentically nondescript as the potholed marquee that posts its place on the farm road outside. In its understated beauty, Sodolak’s creation separates the stupidly simple from the simply stupid and makes seconds on deep fried bacon an entirely sensible notion.
However, seconds on any appetizer would be foolhardy at the Country Inn. While Frank Sodolak might have made his name on chicken fried bacon, he’s made his living on the impeccable southern cooking that underscores his restaurant. Front and center is a behemoth ensemble of Texas steaks: The “extra small sirloin,” for example, weighs in at a solid pound and covers an entire dinner platter like a beef blanket. Boldly pepper crusted and grilled medium rare to order, it’s probably the best steak I’ve ever tasted. Not coincidentally, it’s also the most inexpensive: At a cost of only $11.95 (including fries and toast), Sodolak’s sirloin smacks Peter Luger with a king sized Texas backhand, daring any witness to sell steaks at a more lopsided flavor-to-dollar ratio. When I make my way back to Snook, chicken fried bacon is sure to land on my tab, but it’s pork chops and porterhouse that I’ll be craving most.
If there’s a clear image that comes to my mind at the end of a meal at this restaurant, it’s not the bacon explosion, but the Skylight Inn of Ayden, North Carolina. Like the Skylight’s Pete Jones, who at one point had a cholesterol count of over 800, Frank Sodolak has no reason to concern himself with food fads. He’s been chicken frying bacon for ten years and eating bacon since before we were born. His love for the craft of southern cooking and perfect awareness of its position vis-a-vis the American heartbeat shines through any amount of memetic sensationalism as a primary source. If this isn’t where bacon belongs, I’m more than ready to cut a switch and clear some more room in its defense.
Sodolak’s Country Inn
9711 Fm. 60 Rd E.
Snook, TX 77878