It was an easy decision to pick Tupelo for a late breakfast and a long drive north to Santa Cruz; that’s because the decision was made by my long-time friend, local resident, and cardiologist.
I wouldn’t have expected to find one of my all-time favorites, chicken fried steak, on a Santa Barbara menu. I would have expected egg-white omelets or something.
However, it makes total sense to have a whole crab claw garnish my bloody Mary cocktail. A welcome Bloody Mary it was. The spice came from chipotle pepper, rather than the standard Tabasco or horseradish. But the crab claw was made this cocktail special. I don’t think I’ve ever had a crab claw in a Bloody Mary before.
I’m rather fond of chicken fried steak. While not quite an expert yet, I need to eat and cook about 20 more of them, I do know that the use of a flank steak, rather than chopped steak or pounded round steak is a protein selection that has great merit. While I’ve eaten mainly cheaper cuts, the flank steak was a delicious beef cut choice.
Secondly, the fry job has to be top-notch. Chicken fried steak should have a crispy breading, just like great fried chicken. Tupelo didn’t disappoint. The fry job was properly done.
The third element is of course, the country gravy; and this is where Tupelo departs again from the American original. With a hint of smokiness in the country gravy, maybe a smoked paprika or more likely a little bit of chipotle in the gravy, made the dish pop. The gravy itself was creamy, as if it were made with heavy cream, rather than a thick béchamel.
I’ve said this many a time before, there is no substitution for classic technique and Tupelo executes each of the three elements, steak selection, fry job, and gravy very well. Where they choose to innovate and improve, flank steak and chipotle, they do remarkably well.
Beyond having a tasty breakfast, it was good to catch up with a long-time friend.