Helen Villines 12:30 p.m., Dec. 12
Some dishes are confounding in their ability to draw me to them over and over again. Count chicken and waffles as one. Over the last several years, as the dish has become more popular and widespread locally, I’ve sampled multiple versions, looking for one I really enjoy. Funny thing is, in all those years, only West Coast Tavern’s has won me over. That’s a success rate that makes a 2012 Padres batting average sound good.
Yet, during a recent pre-Padres meal at Bootlegger in the East Village, as I perused a menu with plenty of appealing entries, I once again succumbed to the draw of batter served two ways — crisped up in a press and slathered around poultry parts. And again, I was disappointed…but not terribly.
The chicken itself came in the form of boneless tenders that were nice and juicy. Big plus there, but the breading was bland and uneven. I could see meat peeking out like skin on a scantily clad Gaslamp goer. I don’t know when this trend of bucking thick batter — you know, the kind that makes for full, crispy coverage associated with traditional fried-chicken cookery — became so en vogue, but I’m longing for a buttermilk renaissance.
The waffle was just fine. It could have been crispier, but that’s not such a huge deal considering it was bound to be doused with butter and syrup (a maple gastrique, actually, but since it lacked a gastrique’s vinegary characteristics, it might as well be referred to as syrup). And speaking of butter, somebody there either loves it or overestimates customers’ affection for it.
The dish is one of a trio of Bootlegger TV dinners, which come served on platters that have been fabricated to look like compartmentalized TV dinner trays of yore. The largest compartment holds the chicken and waffles, the compartment that was reserved for dessert in my day holds the gastrique, and the compartment beside that holds a choppy mound of butter so immense, everyone at my table mistook it for mashed potatoes.
I’d have prefer they put spuds there…or any side dish. Even some clever take on carrots and green beans would have been welcomed. Man cannot live on carbohydrates alone and something should have been there to break up that heavy dish. As it was, the only other thing they offered were some cut-up, macerated strawberries. Were they a part of the dish? Were they a dessert? Either way, they were badly matched and severely lacking.
So, it would seem this quest, the origins or continuation of which even I don’t understand, will continue. Or maybe I should just go back to West Coast Tavern. Bootlegger is located at 804 Market Street.