So the Girl and I have been planning a trip out to John's Island for a while now. The reason? Brunch at the Fat Hen (www.thefathen.com). There is something magical about having the words Local, Fresh, and French in the same sentence. Magical enough to drag me out of bed on a dreary December Sunday for a drive up Maybank Highway.
When going to the Fat Hen, the first thing you must do is drive appropriately. The parking lot is a gravel and mud quagmire that has the potential to eat even the most hearty of mommy cruisers. Vehicle of choice for us? Frank the Tank, my 1995 Range Rover. Temperamental, but not likely to bog down.
Inside, the restaurant is controlled chaos. The buzz is loud, vibrant, and cheerful. It's hard to tell if the Fat Hen is full because of the brunch menu, or the fact that it's located in the middle of such a rural area. Looking at the menu, the Girl and I have our fingers crossed for the former.
We were quickly seated at the long, and empty, communal table. The decor is a playful and eclectic mix of utensils. Our waitress, the Little Lost Old Lady, quickly shuffled off to fetch our drinks. Already a bad start. If you are serving sweet tea in a Mason jar, it had better be sweet enough to keep a spoon standing straight up. Sadly their tea was more Richmond Virginia than Mobile Alabama.
The Little Lost Old Lady quickly ran through an extensive and impressive specials list. Her halting, insecure pacing made it hard to follow, and in the end I was only able to pick up the Soup de Jour. I consequently chose the soup, a creamy potato mixture finished with creme fraiche ($4.95). This was a fully creamed potato soup with a delightful flavor. What it lacked, though, was a textural element to break the monotony of the creamy, creamy, creamy. If they had finished it with some candied bacon the balance of sweet and salt would have brought a new dimension to the dish it sorely needed.
The Girl, being the adventurous lady she is, orders the Bacon Cheese Grits ($2.95) as her appetizer. Great. Well, I have to take one for the team and try them. I'll give the Fat Hen credit, for grits (polenta's redneck cousin) these aren't bad. The texture is far less offensive than most, and the balance of bacon and cheese made them actually edible.
For a main I settle on the Southern Chicken Crepe ($8.95). This is sold as being roasted chicken with pimento cheese, mushrooms, artichokes, caramelized onions, with red chili and hollandaise sauces, served with mixed greens. When it arrived, I have to admit I was underwhelmed. It looked like a breakfast burrito built by a stoned culinary student after a Widespread Panic show. The Hollandaise was close to broken, and the red chili sauce had a striking resemblance to the red water at the bottom of a nearly empty salsa jar. My first bite confirmed my worst fear, it looked EXACTLY how it tasted. The crepe felt store bought and soggy. If there were artichokes and caramelized onions, they were hidden somewhere in the mess of underseasoned chicken. The whole thing tasted, and had the texture of, bad Kim Chee.
The Girl chose the BBQ Brisket & Macaroni Cheese Open Faced Sandwich ($8.95). I knew The Girl had won when the waitress placed it before her and said, "Here is Heaven on a plate." The brisket was tender and smoky, with hints of cumin and brown sugar. The macaroni, piled high atop the brisket, was a super cheesy rotini, cooked just beyond al dente. The potato caraway bread soaked up the mix of cheese and BBQ like a Jersey Girl at the tanning salon. The first fork full sends your eyes rolling into the back of your head. This is why I came here. This dish delivers such a concentrated punch of flavor that it is almost impossible to reconcile it with the crepe. Imagine going to a concert that gave equal billing to The Clash and 98 Degrees. The utter failure of the crepe is just magnified by the brilliance of the marriage of Brisket to Mac & Cheese.
Both The Girl and I end the meal full, but only one of us ends it satisfied. The Fat Hen takes chances with its food. Some are home runs, while others miss the mark by a wide margin. They have a great concept in need of a little fine tuning. The Girl still went home with me, so not a total failure.
Overall: 17.5 out of 25 Inconsistant service, hit or miss food, but worth the drive.
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