Since we started reviewing restaurants in this space about 16 months ago, we have generally avoided the national chain operations on the premise that most diners knew about them, probably had eaten there and had made up their minds about the places. Instead, we focused on the locally owned and operated eateries. While that will still be our primary aim — always hoping to find that uncovered gem that escaped attention — we now will offer reviews of national chain restaurants we find interesting and worth investigating. If you have suggestions, please let us know.

The Cotton Patch Café, which got its start in Nacogdoches in 1989 and now has more than 50 restaurants in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, has a location in Denison, and that is where I headed for a late lunch with a friend last week. The eatery styles itself a place for “Southern Comfort Food,” and the menu reflects that theme.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I have eaten at Cotton Patch many times, have tried many of the items on the menu and have found it a good and dependable place for a meal. The prices are quite reasonable, the portions substantial and specials offered daily are good value for the dollar.

This time around, I decided to try Monday’s Express Lunch Special, beef tips over rice, something I had not had before. It comes with two sides — I went with baked squash and black eyed peas — hot rolls and corn bread muffins. My lunch companion got the chicken fried steak and chose fried okra and rice as his sides. While we waited, we tried the rolls: not bad, but not really hot, and cornbread muffins, which tasted good, but were on the hard and dry side, better for crumbling into something than eating out of hand.

When the entreés arrived, I tackled the big bowl of beef tips and rice and was glad I had made that choice. The dish had a lot of beef tips in a rich gravy and was more than I could finish, so another lunch was in the offing. The squash was excellent, as were the black eyed peas, which were even better with some crumbled cornbread. My friend’s CFS, which I have had before and can vouch for, was golden brown and delicious, and he left nothing on the plate save some wisps of cream gravy.

Remembering the name of this column, we left just enough room for dessert and chose to split a bowl of peach cobbler topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Good choice and a sweet finish to a good meal.

Cotton Patch may be a player on a bigger stage, but their food has a down home taste and provides comfortable satisfaction.

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