Popeye's Psychodrama

Recently I was trapped on a bus going to New York City with 70 strangers (and Julia) for five hours. It was actually a fine experience until the rest stop. A typical, modern facility you see on big travel highways, with the token Burger King, Cinnabon and, the all-too-innocent-looking Popeye's Chicken. Being good little yuppies, who don't typically eat food like that and who had reservations at nine at one of the nicest restaurants in New York (future post), it did not take very much to get us to abstain from the rest stop pre-dinner.

Apparently we were in the minority. As we re-entered the bus for the final leg of the trip, I was inundated with the knock-you-over pungency of the smell of fried chicken, a dish I save for only the rarest of occasions. As I looked around, nearly all of our traveling counterparts were presently digging their faces into little cartons of fried chicken, and well, fries. Conveniently, this was mixed in with just the right amount of Cinnabon smell from those who needed dessert as well, to truly make it a knockout punch. My hungry self was suddenly salivating over this menagerie of gross, and I found myself deeply hankering fried chicken. Popeye's, for lack of a better option.

At this point, it was too late to even think about getting some (as if Julia would have allowed that), so I tortured myself over the smells for the last hour and a half and eventually got myself over it. We got into the city and had a terrific dinner (remember: future post). Let's just say that I ultimately consumed far more spinach than fried chicken that night, so my Popeye the Sailor instincts thankfully “out-muscled” my Popeye's Chicken ones.

Or so I thought. Fast forward two weekends.

After completely forgetting about my little bus craving, I made a Saturday night reservation for a restaurant back in DC with Julia and some friends. The restaurant was between Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle, Hudson Restaurant and Lounge, at the corner of 21st and M. I was inexplicably attracted by its tag of contemporary-chic comfort food. Now it probably seems obvious why, but at the time, I was none the wiser.

When we got there, I was instantly impressed by the ambiance and decor. It is one of those dark, loungy places that I love, and it had a very crisp, and yes, chic feel to it. I'm not usually a big decor guy, but this is one of those places that makes me want to stay and talk (and eat, and drink) all night. It's loud enough to know that the place is happening and not lame, but not so loud that it hinders conversations.

We ordered a pitcher of their white fusion sangria, which was big, reasonably priced and very flavorful, if not a tad too citrusy for sangria. They served a nice, crusty bread with butter and weren’t shy about refilling it. We found the price to be very reasonable: dinner for four including 1 large pitcher of sangria, 2 entrĂ©e pizzas and 2 regular entrees was less than 100 bucks.


The menu was relatively close to what was advertised: new takes on comforts and old faves. The “starters” section included Matzoh Ball Soup (with pulled chicken), Tuna Tartare (with wonton triangles), deviled eggs, cheese steak sliders and mussels. They had a variety of brick oven pizzas with interesting topping combinations, at least four of which were vegetarian. The entrees were a little more main stream and less within the restaurant’s theme (like risotto and whole grilled fish) but were highlighted by duck confit (with truffle fries), truffle macaroni and cheese, and – wait for it – buttermilk fried chicken. Oh the horror!


Mashed potatoes. Buttermilk Biscuit. Pan Gravy. Clover Honey. My silly brain, upon seeing this description, reverted back to bus torture mode and was immediately begging my better judgment to order this dish immediately. “I mean, how bad could the dish be,” it asked. “This is a nice place – not Popeye’s!”

Well for some reason that brain of mine has unbelievable control over me, and I went for it and finally ordered the chicken that I so didn’t need. And it was good. For fried chicken, I’d say it was very good, maybe even darn good. But it failed to send me over the moon like my craving and my nose and my stomach and my brain all told me it would. Again, I reiterate that I have no complaints about the dish. The breading was crisp and peppery; the chicken was moist and flavorful; the mashed potatoes were creamy; the biscuit was dry but the honey was a delightful remedy for that. And the gravy was, well, indulgent. So it was a fine meal and I don’t fault the restaurant for anything. It just didn’t add anything too new or too memorable to my fried chicken repertoire. And thus, my craving is now gone, and I feel it will be a long while before it returns. Strange, those cravings. And that brain.

The others in my party were not so affected by their deep psychological underpinnings as I was, and ordered sensible and interesting dishes like Shrooms. Had you going there? That was the name of one of their pizzas, and it was topped with mushrooms, garlic confit, brie and black truffle oil. Another ordered pizza was Hawaiian House, with ham, pineapple, fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce. The pizzas were both thin but not crispy, pretty big and very tasty. I would say that the toppings seemed a little scarce, especially on the Shrooms one, but I suppose with all those rich flavors it didn’t take away too much. The last dish ordered was a wild mushroom and smoked Gouda risotto, which I did not try, but it got a very nice review from the eater.

All in all, I think we would return to this place, if for no other reason than to further explore some of the interesting other options. Not necessarily to reorder anything we happened to order this time. Or to necessarily quench deeply recessed cravings. That is, unless we go back to New York and the bus stops at Popeye’s Confit or something.

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