Guilty Pleasures Unmasked: In Which We Review Chili's Chicken Crispers

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Everyone holds dear a few suspect dishes from their past, usually from questionable chain restaurants. Because we like to watch him suffer, Scott will occasionally review those foods. This week: Chili's Chicken Crispers, a long-lost love of Observer editor Joe Tone.

I've had chicken tenders maybe eight times in my life, because, well, they're boring. But my editor recently professed his love for a specific tender -- no, a specific "crisper." I quickly became concerned. "They're fucking delicious," he told me, and argued that any dish that has more breading than whatever that breading is breading is bound to be tasty.

The editor who edits my restaurant reviews loves Chili's Chicken Crispers? If we had HR grievances, this would definitely be grounds for filing one.

But he described his guilty pleasure with such passion that I became intrigued. And that's how I found myself walking into the Uptown Chili's location last week, with double-fried chicken on the mind.

The Dallas-based Southwestern chain didn't make a good first impression. The bar was totally empty, which sucks if you're a guy who likes to sit at a bar alone. I ordered a Bud and thumbed through 11 sticky pages of the menu before finding chicken crispers on the second-to-last page. And because I have no concern for my own well-being, I also ordered the chipotle honey chicken crispers. If I'm going to evaluate crispers, I had to cover my bases, I told myself. My aorta winced.

The Original Chicken Crispers are, in fact, not the least bit crispy, though they're very salty. The soft, greasy breading resembles more of a funnel cake batter that in no way binds with the chicken it encases, and a thin veneer of uncooked batter remains between the golden brown exterior and the limp, rubbery chicken within. After taking a first bite, which indeed contained nothing but breading, I was able to pull the coating away in an act reminiscent of removing a spent condom.

The chicken itself was actually moist. It wept juices when compressed with a fork, probably because it was injected with brine. It had an interesting texture, a soft consistency that divides into pieces as you chew, like a wet rubber eraser. It lacked the heft and resistance of the breast from a whole roast chicken.

The chipotle honey crispers, branded as Crispy Chicken Crispers, had a different sort of breading, which is highly preferable, though the chicken inside was exactly the same. "The Chipotle Honey is where it's at, right?" I asked my waitress, who told me they were indeed preferred by most customers, though some thought the sauce had a bit too much kick. A discussion of piquancy followed, which lead to my sampling of a new secret crisper. You won't find honey habanero crispers on the menu, but I assure you they exist. Ask nicely and enjoy their saccharine and spicy glow.

By now my bartender had me thoroughly seduced, as evidenced my uncharacteristic ordering of the Paradise Pie. The dessert features a warm chocolate filling sandwiched between two independent strata of undercooked cookie dough, and is topped off with a tennis ball of vanilla ice cream. My bartender confirmed that not many people finished the behemoth. I tapped out halfway through.

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