“Oh my god.” My friend Liz stopped mid-first-bite, her eyes wide, her face a picture of disbelief. “That might be the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.”
We were on the patio at the Blind Butcher in late March, and our server had just told us about the restaurant’s brand-new smoked half-chicken. I tore off a piece and took a bite. Clouds parted, rainbows sprang up; a chorus of angels handed out free kittens and scotch.
Fast-forward a month. How much of that memory was the warm glow of friends and booze? How consistent can a dish like that be? A return trip was in order. Fewer drinks were had. A more chicken-skeptical friend was recruited as a third opinion. The results were the same.
The Blind Butcher’s new twice-smoked chicken dish ($18) is a stroke of genius. The bird is nestled at the bottom of the smoker underneath all the restaurant’s other meats — under the sausages, brats, pastrami, duck. Patiently, cunningly, the chicken absorbs all the drippings from those glorious meats, basted non-stop through the whole smoking process. As if that weren’t enough, it arrives on your table in herb-garlic butter sauce.
What does this wonder of the chicken world taste like? It’s not overly smoky, but the barbecue flavor is there, and you get notes of the other meats. “It doesn’t even taste like chicken," one dining partner noted. One bite might have a hint of pastrami. Another brings memories of Pecan Lodge brisket. Another is all about that garlic. Is there a note of sage?
The meat is fork-tender and absurdly juicy, even the breast. Hell, the breast meat might be the best part. On both visits, the table picked every bone clean and scooped up every vegetable underneath. (We do yearn for a few pieces of bread to sop up that garlic-butter-dripping sauce. We’re gluttons.)
But literal descriptions aren’t what come to mind when you’re eating the Blind Butcher’s smoked chicken. This dish turns people into poets. You know those Van Gogh paintings of fresh-cut fields with bales of hay and swirly-looking cypress trees? Imagine being in one of those paintings at sunset, sitting on a hay bale, listening to the crickets and waiting for the lightning bugs with a bottle of rustic Provencal wine by your side, a beautiful someone in your arms. That’s what the Blind Butcher’s chicken tastes like.
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My friend Lindsay joined my second visit as a skeptic, but she waxed poetic too. “It tastes like comfort," she admitted. "It tastes like I’m at home, on the hearth, and there’s a fire in the fireplace and it’s warm and I’m seven years old and I’m happy.”
After we finished, Lindsay reflected: “That might be the best...” and then stopped herself, maybe aware that the idea is crazy. “Some people might not be happy with it because the skin wasn’t crisp," she mused. "But I’m OK with that.” The question hung in the air, unasked and unanswered. Is this the best chicken we’ve ever had? Has the Blind Butcher invented the best chicken dish ever? That’s crazy, right? How could that be? Surely it’s not possible.
And then you taste it. And then you think: Maybe. Maybe it is.
The Blind Butcher, 1919 Greenville Ave.