When we’ve had a particularly exhausting day in Vieques, or when we’re just feeling lazy and can’t bear the thought of cooking or spiffing ourselves up to go out to dinner, we opt for take-out.
Okay, don’t get excited. While the term “take out” suggests literally hundreds of choices back home in D.C….
…it suggests a grand total of three choices in Vieques: cheap Chinese or pizza in Isabel–or, drum roll please, fried chicken from Chicken King, a modest eatery across the road from Nales Hardware on Route 201.
Since we don’t eat pizza (yes, I realize that’s grounds for prosecution under the Patriot Act, but there you are), we can’t offer you any startling insights into “pizza Vieques-style.” Sorry.
And frankly the less said about the Chinese option the better. I’m sure the place has its fans, but every dish we’ve ordered from there has been smothered in brown gravy and plopped on a bed of greasy fries.
Chicken King, on the other hand, is a revelation.
We’d driven past the place dozens of times without paying it the slightest bit of attention—until the afternoon Jane mentioned she’d just had lunch there.
“Best fried chicken I’ve ever had,” she remarked.
“Really?” Michael replied, half-jokingly. “Better than Popeye’s?”
She rolled her eyes. “That garbage! Are you kidding?”
This got Michael’s attention. Although we normally avoid fried food like the plague, every six months or so we skulk up the street to Popeye’s for our biannual greasy chicken fix.
He even suggested we give Chicken King a try the very next night.
We couldn’t wait.
The place is certainly nothing to look at—basically a ranch-style house painted orange with a sign out front reading “Chicken King & Ice Cream.”
The front porch is dusty and starkly furnished with a couple of uninviting picnic tables, and the interior, if anything, is even less appealing—linoleum floors, fluorescent lights, formica tables.
But the chicken that evening smelled heavenly, and the clientele (seemingly all local) gave every indication of having a fine old time.
We studied the menu behind the cash register. Having determined that the chicken was sold by the piece, Michael placed an order for“seis presas” in his best junior high Spanish.
“No chicken,” he was told by the unsmiling lady behind the counter.
“I’m sorry?” he said, his mind boggling at the notion of “no chicken” in a place named Chicken King (it reminded us of the doctor’s bald announcement that he had “no medicines” at the emergency room several years earlier).
Noting Michael’s expression, the grim-faced lady turned to one of her more pleasant-looking colleagues for assistance.
“You wait for new chicken?” the colleague smilingly asked Michael. “They cook now.”
“Hmm,” Michael said, turning to me. I shrugged, feigning nonchalance. To be honest, it smelled so good I was prepared to pitch a tent and wait all night.
“Okay,” he said. “Si.”
We grabbed an empty table and studied the crowd around us, which ran the gamut from very young to very old and everything in between. Some were staring in rapt attention at the TV suspended high up on the wall….
…while others chatted amiably. All were munching enthusiastically on their food.
Finally our “seis presas” were ready.
With a little flourish the server flung open the glass window that separated the front of the store from the kitchen and reached in with large aluminum tongs to pull out our chicken, which she placed in a brightly colored box and overlaid with enormous fried potato wedges.
“Thank for you patient,” she said politely.
“De nada,” we replied in unison, bolting for the door.
We couldn’t wait to get home and eat.
And was it as good as Jane claimed?