I know a lot of friends have been periodically ordering takeout from restaurants during the pandemic. And I understand why, and that they've been safe. And I understand the interest in supporting restaurants. I haven't done so, though. It just wasn't worth the health risk to me. I knew it was likely safe, but I also knew I was fine cooking at home.
I did order takeout once at the very beginning of the shutdown. There's a good pizza place a couple blocks from me, and I wanted to give them my business. So, I ordered a pizza and walked over to pick it up. But I think that was last February, and I haven't eaten restaurant food since, for over a year.
As I've written here, I've had my two vaccinations, and the two week waiting period has ended. And my friend, the inveterate Chris Dunn has had this two shots, as well, and passed the waiting period. And that set up the idea of getting together to order takeout at some place, and bringing it back to one of our homes and eating it there, perhaps outside. Therein lies the tales.
Not long before the pandemic, Chris introduced me to a new restaurant, Hotville Chicken that was one of the leaders of a new style of food being introduced into the Los Angeles area. It's called "Nashville hot chicken," and basically is fried chicken served very moist and with a particular hot and spicy bread coating. Hotville has its direct history in Nashville, coming from the family that invented the style, rather than being just a local restaurant participating in the trend.
And its reputation was high. Los Angeles magazine rated them as the best in the area. And the New York Times even wrote about the place -- very well, noting that "the result is juicy, seasoned to the bone, crisp and crimson.". And yes, it's hot. Hotville has four levels of heat, and double-check that you've been there before if you ask for just the second hottest level. (I think they may have a fifth level that's off the menu.) The New York Times article begins this way --
At the bar, a man insisted on Hotville’s hottest level of hot chicken (“Nashville hot”), though he hadn’t tasted medium or even mild before. The cooks had seen this a hundred times, and when the chicken came out — a large, gleaming quarter of a bird — a teasing call came from the kitchen: “Hot enough for you?”
It was very good. Very friendly, as well. I got The Shaw sandwich, which is a chicken breast in a substantial bun, some pickles, a side of kale slaw -- and a mound of seasoned fries, for $12. I think I ordered it at the second level of heat -- fairly mild but with a good kick. But I also love chicken wings, so I ordered their small portion to take home. And tried the level three head. The "small" is four massive wings, and was absolutely wonderful. And definitely hot, but no uncomfortably so. But good to have water at hand.
The place is a bit of a drive in the Crenshaw district of Baldwin Hills, located in a large shopping mall. But I was looking forward to going back. And then the pandemic hit. Fortunately, Hotville Chicken was able to survive because they have a small outdoor patio, and there's a big park nearby with tables. Plus, it's a food that travels well.
By the way, this is The Shaw. To be clear, the photo makes it look like a small slider, so you get two. In fact, it's a big chicken breast, a bit larger than your fist, and you just get one.
Anyway, after my second vaccination, and as I neared the two-week mark, I wrote to Chris about going back after he had his own second shot and two-week waiting period. His response was, "How about going next Thursday." Hey, good enough for me!
The restaurant inside was blocked off, but they seemed to be doing respectable business. It was slow when we got there early -- which was the point of going early -- but by the time we finished eating on the patio, there were half a dozen people waiting for their orders.
I ordered the same this time -- The Shaw sandwich and chicken wings to go -- although Chris and I both had now graduated to that third heat level (what they call Music City Medium). The heat level was great, it was definitely necessary to have water at hand, but not "burning." That said, Chris discovered one issue worth noting -- while dining on Music City Medium was fine, when you put your face mask back on (which also makes it really hard to drink water...), the lingering heat really kicks in. Fortunately, he finished first, so I learned my lesson from him, took my time, and drank a lot of water after the meal. All was well. For me, at least.
And I look forward to the chicken wings for my next meal at home. (Again, I'm not sure if the photo does them justice, but each wing is about six inches across.)
Anyway, going there -- or anywhere, for my first trip to a restaurant in a year -- was a total joy. On the one hand, it was a weird experience, actually ordering from a restaurant. On the other hand, I just fell right into it, and it seemed totally normal. Even Chris's legendary "four stories" (which he explains are the only four he knows, and so "Stop me if I've told you this one...") were a treat to hear again. And contrary to his insistence, he's added new stories, as well. What helped, too, was that it was delicious – and getting extra to take home.
(Total digression. One new Dunn story came after our conversation moved to Billy Wilder. I mentioned having seen Wilder at a Writers Guild event for a Q&A after one of his movies screened, and I repeated a story he told about Sabrina that William Holden had co-starred in. Chris mentioned tracking down this video from the 1978 Academy Awards.)
I have a few other friends who are also past the two-week waiting period after their second vaccinations, so more takeout is in the future. I know for many people who have been ordering takeout from restaurants the past year, this is no big deal. It was for me.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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