Dee placed Dee’s Place at 2114 W. Division. I rode right past it because of a tree blocking the sign. Also, I expected it to be closer to Leavitt, which is 2200 West. I must have misremembered the address since I grew up just one house away from Leavitt on 103rd Street. Today, I live 140-some blocks north, yet still live only one city-lot off of Leavitt. Thus, I have an abiding close-to-Leavitt prejudice that ever misleads me.
I pulled my bike to the curb at the corner of Leavitt and Division and looked around, desperately, for a Place called Dee’s. Nothing. No name even close. Understandably, I decided that they had recently shut or burnt down. Depressed and despondent, I threw my arms up at the sky and screamed, “Why doesn’t anything ever work out!?!”
A prostitute offered me her jacket and a kerchief. I waved my hand and said, “Away. Nothing can console me.” She gathered me in her wiry arms and enveloped me in a stench of whiskey. I sobbed onto her shoulder. She sang a folk song about loss. “Wait,” I whimpered. “There remains one hope.” I texted Google for the address. Turns out it was at the other end of the block. I gave the prostitute her jacket back and wished her as well as one can hope in this City of Man.
Dee’s Place is B.Y.O.B. Not sure what that stands for, but they must have a reasonably-priced beer selection since I saw a few tables with entire six packs. The restaurant is small. I bet if I laid myself down twice and then a half, that would be the width, and if I laid myself down about nine times, that would be the length. I’d put the whole room at about 21.5 square Dennises.
So, it’s not very big. A three-piece blues band (this arrangement will prove a foreshadowing) played in the corner on a very small stage. The din was quite loud. Diners occupied each of the twelve or so tables. That’s fine, I thought. I’ll get it to go. I walked to the wait-stand in the back and asked for a carry-out menu.
No prices listed for the entrees, but sides were $3.95. I asked how much the fried chicken was. The guy (Dee?) said it was $7.50 and added, “It’s 13.95 for a dinner and one side.” He pointed to this option on the menu and then to a similar option beneath. “And it’s 15.95 for a meal and two sides.”
When I walk down LaSalle Street, businessmen do not point after me and whisper in hushed tones, “There goes ‘The Math Champion.’” It has never happened. It will never happen. But I do know that a fried chicken dinner at $7.50 plus a side of macaroni sold individually at $3.95 would total $11.45. If I got the “deal” I’d have to kick in an extra $2.50. Oh, it also promised “bread.” I own bread. I have lots and lots of bread. The bread that Dee peddles better taste like $2.75 cents to make the extra $2.50 worth it. And even if I got the Double Side MegaCombo MealDeal (not the real title), it would still be more expensive than if I got two sides and a meal separately. That is, the second meal deal is $15.95 while the sum of the parts of a dinner and two sides is $15.40 (minus this vague offer of “bread”).
Despair felled me yet again. I longed for my prostitute friend. Her spindly arms would console, her bourbony musk would heal. How many times have I been here before? I wondered. Again, a restaurantman wishes to best me in a game of Maths. It is more than I can bear.
These calculations and emotions raced through my brain at a pace no clock can measure. “I’ll just get the chicken,” I said in a whisper, in a sigh. I knew it would be far too confusing to say I wanted the fried chicken and a side but not the fried chicken and one side.
I asked how long it would take.
“Ten, fifteen minutes.”
“Aye,” I said not aloud but to myself. “I distrust thine arithmeticks. I shall grant ye twenty.”
As I “dee”parted Dee’s Place, the sky spilt tears over the deception the menu tried to play on me. I had twenty minutes till I’d grab my Meat Only meal and head north. What to do?
...no, I wasn’t crying. It was the rain speckling my cheeks. Hahaha! See, I was happy…
I looked about for a dry place with a wet bar. Across the street I spied a tavern called Innjoy. If that is a play on words, I don’t get it. I sat at the bar, ordered a Heineken, and demanded a glass with the explanation, “Because I am not an animal.” The Heineken was room temperature. I did not protest for fear of being That Guy.
With half the glass gone, I took leave to urinate. Do you remember 80s movies like Sixteen Candles? The staff at Innjoy do, and make posters with still-frames from such movies and hang them in the bathroom to advertise upcoming events. This created a fierce association between Innjoy and my childhood. As a result, when the bartender asked if I needed another beer I said, “No thank you, mom.”
Ten minutes to kill. Five-ish ounces to drink. The warm beer actually tasted fine. Honestly, it hit the spot. On each of the roughly 74 rectangular televisions, ex-baseballmen spake baseball while wearing suits and ties. You could not hear them since music from the stereo filled the air. (I can’t remember the song. Let’s assume it was the prelude to Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin.) Dennis Eckersley bobbed his head and gesticulated in silence. If his mouth moved, his mustache did not say. I texted my brother that “Cal Ripkin = Bald John Boehner,” and texted my friend Sean Monahan this question: “Did never missing a game turn Cal Ripkin orange?” (Here is Sean’s email address if you would like to be friends with him too: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
There. Time well spent. I took my last sip and slipped my phone into my pocket. I donned my jacket, hefted my pack onto my shoulders, and went Deewards to fetch my chicken.
The blues trio was finished or on break now. I went to the back and paid a different man (Dee himself? His brother Eee?) for my food. “The damage,” as cool people say: $8.35 or something, with tax. I handed him ten and he handed me two dollars back. I said “Thanks!” in a bright, almost boyish voice. The inexact change was either the generosity of a busy man with room full of patrons to tend to, or evidence that this man set the prices for the meal deals.
The box felt light in my hand.
Let me put it bluntly: I know fried chicken better than you do. I can tell if I hold two, three, or four pieces of chicken in my hand without looking. I can do it drunk. By now one simply assumes that, in America, an order of fried chicken in a bona fide restaurant means four pieces. I.e., half a chicken. I.e., a wing, a thigh, a leg, and a breast. Hmmm... my hand said. This is no four-piece.
I did not protest. The menu promised no exact number, and I should have known better than to assume, for assumptions are how empires fall. I simply packed it away and rode north to my home.
How far, home? Four miles as the Dennis rides. The rain had stopped. The puddles were meager. ‘Twas a beautiful, windy night with the wind somehow whipping at my back. (It seemed to be a northerly blow, a cool emissary from Canada and beyond, but it came from the south at street level.) 20 MPH the whole way. The notes of Ravel’s lighthearted elegy playing in my head and whisking me along in 12/16 time.
I got home and turned on the broiler. I took out six small slices of French bread and prepared garlic bread. When the broiler was hot enough I (duh) put the bread under the fire. But here is how I run game on a motherfucker: I got out a baking pan to re-warm the chicken in the oven. If you thought I would eat it cold you were cold wrong.
I retrieved the chicken from my back pack and opened the carry-out container for the first time. Sure enough: only a three-piece. A wing, a thigh, and a leg. No breast.
Did this chicken mastectomy hurl me into a rage? Well, no—believe it or not. Sure, I would have liked the fourth piece. I might have cut it up for soup or a sandwich on another day. Really though, three pieces are plenty, and the breast is actually the worst part of fried chicken. Breasts are almost impossible to fry right. You need a pressure cooker or a Broaster (capital B, it’s a trademarked term) to cook it all the way through without drying it out. Two other methods are: cut the breast in half, which has obvious drying-out problems of its own now that the meat is exposed and skinless down the middle; or, fry it partially and then bake. Which, again, is no guarantee that you won’t dry it out. Even if it’s as moist as a Duncan Hines cake, it’s white meat. How good can it get? As far as breasts go in general, baked or fried, I pretty much adhere to Cicero’s axiom, “Nam cum sint duo genera decertandi, unum per disceptationem, alterum per vim, cumque illud proprium sit hominis, hoc beluarum, confugiendum est ad posterius, si uti non licet superiore.” That is: “If a chicken breast is not cut up in small pieces and stir fried, it’s a waste of time.”
So basically, screw the breast. If it was a three-piece with the thigh missing, Dee’s place would be dee-ead to me. But it was just a breast, so no worries.
My chicken sufficiently rewarmed and the garlic bread browned, I at last dined.
Verdict: a very good batch of fried chicken, but not excellent. I had to supplement the spicing with my own salt and pepper shakers. I’d prefer not to have to do that. I’d prefer a chef to subject me to his or her own concept of proper spicing. Dining out is, after all, surrendering one’s taste to someone else’s will. Once I have done that, wow me. Then again, maybe the elusive Dee thinks that a well-breaded bird speaks for itself. Indeed, the meat was tender and quite juicy, and the breading crisp and tasty as an apt simile.
I paired the three-piece with some Whole Foods 365 Lemonade from concentrate. Their fresh-squeezed version is much better—one of the best drinks I’ve ever had, in fact, and accodingly, it's as expensive as a quality microbrew. Still, with its overtones of lemon and its adey finish, the concentrate version held up well with the chicken.
I will return to Dee’s place, and I will eat my next three-piece on the premises, perhaps while listening to a three-piece band. I will also get some sides next time and not make a big stink about the lousy math on the “deal.” After all, if the change left over is generous enough, I might even make money.