Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Think We're Going to Need the Large Box

Mama Els' Recipe Chicken -- Hill Country Chicken
Hill Country Chicken 

Let's be clear: Hill Country Chicken could serve spam and Ginger would most likely still frequent the place merely for its music selection.

A country music aficionado, she can be found warbling along with the likes of George Strait, Josh Turner, and Trace Adkins throughout our meal, while Vodka, whose musical taste begins and ends with the stylings of Bernadette Peters, looks on in judgment.

Lucky for Vodka, we are not at Hill Country Chicken only for Ginger's personal country karaoke session: we are here to eat Scott Conant's favorite FRIED CHICKEN: the Mama Els' Recipe, along with about 87 side dishes and a box of wine.
They Do Chicken Right
Entering Hill Country Chicken, it is a miracle that we found the place, as Vodka had mistakenly made us reservations at Hill Country BBQ, which is about a block away and the same in just about every aspect except one: it doesn't serve chicken.  Minor detail.

Anyway, we join the excessively long and winding line of poultry eaters and consult the menu board.  Vodka's suggestion of getting the Pick of the Chick sampling to split between us is shot down by Ginger, who believes eight pieces of meat is about seven too many.  After all of this scoffing about overeating, however, we proceed to place an order that includes just about every item that Hill Country Chicken offers: chicken, biscuits, cole slaw, corn salad, pimento macaroni and cheese, banana cream pie, and a box of wine.
Pretty Little Boxes
Yes, that's right: a box of wine.  Hill Country Chicken serves boxed wine.  To say we are in our element would be an understatement.

Considering it is mid-afternoon, Ginger at first thinks it is preposterous to order anything other than the small box, especially after the server explains that it contains two-thirds of a bottle of wine.  More than enough, right?  Wrong.

Upon laying eyes on the small box of wine, which is much more akin to a Minute Maid juice box, Vodka, without even bothering to consult Ginger, says to the server, "I think we're going to need the large box."
Supersize Me
(This choice is subsequently mocked by the server himself, who inquires whether we are done working for the day or just "have the best jobs ever," and he seems mildly disappointed to hear it is the former).

Acquiring our trays of food, we stumble upon an open table mere feet from the cash register, a rarity during the hustle and bustle of the lunch rush.  Pouncing on it, it is not until we sit down that we realize why the table had been vacant: it is approximately the size of a pool table, with only two chairs.
Beauty and the Beast-Sized Dining Arrangement
At first, Ginger tries to rectify this problem by pulling her chair up next to Vodka's, but when she feels this maneuver has placed her in the way of other customers, we have to resort to holding (read: yelling) a conversation from five feet away in an incredibly loud establishment.  Needless to say, upon leaving Hill Country Chicken hours later, we discover that we had spent most of the time in various states of confusion by misinterpreting at least half of what the other person was saying.  (And in truth, the large box of wine probably did not help this matter much).

Back to the food: we dive into the Best Thing I Ever Ate choice first, and it is indeed everything that Scott Conant had promised.
Little Drummer Boy
Unfathomably moist and tender, the chicken meat pulls easily off of the bones, and it is coated in a thin but tasty layer of crispy breading.
Finger Lickin' Good
Though Scott Conant feared he would be criticized by the fried chicken faithful for advocating a bird sans skin, Mama Els' Recipe chicken is so scrumptious that one doesn't even notice the skin is missing.  It is so good, in fact, that at the end of our meal, Vodka procures two more pieces to take home for "dinner" (and proceeds to eat them an hour later).

Please, Sir, I Want Some More
Living up to the hype of the chicken itself is the selection of side dishes, each of which is more mouth-watering than the next.  The cole slaw is much more crispy than soggy, as the cabbage has merely been "dressed" in the dressing, rather than smothered.  Ginger, a cole slaw fan in all seasons, mops it up with the enthusiasm of a child at a backyard barbeque.
A Hearty Cup of Slaw
Similarly outstanding is the corn salad, which is both slightly sweet and vaguely spicy, due to a proliferation of ingredients that we like but don't necessarily recognize.  The corn itself is a deep yellow and highlighted by juicy red tomatoes and crisp scallions, among other less obvious components.  It proves to be Vodka's vegetable of choice ("I love a corn"), and she devours it as if it were grown in her home Garden State of New Jersey.
Why Does the Word "Corny" Have Such a Negative Connotation with Masterpieces Like This to Its Name?
And finally: the pimento macaroni and cheese.  Holy mother of macaroni, this dish is ridiculous.
And We Mean Ridiculous in the Best Way Possible
Thick spiral noodles clutch mounds of gooey, slightly tangy pimento cheese, and it rivals some of the best macaroni and cheese we have ever tasted (and we know our way around a macaroni and cheese, Kraft or otherwise).  Sadly, this dish is not yet an everyday item, as it was listed as a special on the menu board, but its popularity should hopefully make it a fixture on the menu.
A Yellow Color Palate
The biscuit, which in this meal, seems almost an afterthought, is flaky and appealing, if less showy than all of the other food before us.  It tastes of enough butter to make Paula Deen proud, and it is more scone-like in look and texture than biscuits we have had in the past (a slab of fresh butter and Vodka's go-to salt shaker probably would have made it delectable).
Not Your Dog's Biscuit
And as if all of that eating weren't enough, we have the slice of banana cream pie with which to contend.  First of all, the pie is a thing of beauty: a light, thin crust holding together an overflowing layer of banana pudding and topped by droplets of fresh whipped cream.  It is a masterpiece, and its taste is just as satisfying.  The banana cream itself tastes almost identical to the banana pudding served at Magnolia Bakery, but it is enhanced by both the mildly sweet crust and the whipped cream.
Four and Twenty Bananas Baked in a Pie
Hill Country Chicken: you done good.
A Scene from Overeaters Anonymous
By the time we manage to get through our whole large box of wine, our meal has been long over, and we are back to discussing Ginger's favorite poet laureate: Ke$ha.  (Having performed a Ke$ha karaoke number after a few too many boxes of wine weeks ago, Ginger is fuzzy on the details as to what she actually sang, but she tells Vodka, "I wish you had been there for my drunken karaoke of Ke$ha."  This statement leads Vodka to retort, "I wish YOU had been there for your drunken karaoke of Ke$ha.")
Unfortunately, It Had Been Another Evening Spent with Boxed Wine, Spilled or Otherwise
Ginger continues to sing along to the country masters as we accidentally stumble into Eataly and Vodka gets lost (vowing to herself to save the fried chicken in her bag above all else).  If this afternoon has taught us anything, it is this: if given the choice, ALWAYS go with the large box of wine.

Hill Country Chicken's Mama Els' Recipe Chicken: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

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