First the good news. These people know how to fry chicken. Crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside. No hint of grease.
Now the bad news. They need to hire decent management and train their employees.
This is correct on both counts: I had lunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe, and can vouch for both the fried chicken and the well-meaning service that needs improvement.
Tupelo Honey Cafe is brand new, but looks like it’s been in place for awhile. The restaurant is on the corner of Wilson Blvd. (the street that heads from Rosslyn towards Clarendon) and N. Troy St., and there’s a decent little patio on N. Troy St. The restrooms are nice, and it definitely shows that this isn’t the first restaurant they’ve ever opened: It’s finished-looking without being over-the-top or gaudy.
They have 23 draft beers (there’s a charming set of chalkboards behind the bar that lists ABV%), and 30 in bottle. I didn’t realize they had some upscale soft drinks for $4.25 (no refill), so I got my usual Diet Coke ($3, with refill), sitting in front of one of the flat-screen TVs at the bar.
I ordered the Nutty Fried Chicken ($14.25) with an extra side order of Smashed Sweet Potatoes, but that’s not what I got; the gentleman who took my order had forgotten my side when he went to type it in the system, having to ask me what it was again, and he also typed in the wrong entree. Instead, I got the Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken Breast ($13). All entrees come with a side of Carrot & Kale Slaw w/ Avocado-Lime Vinaigrette (served cold), and I had my extra order of Smashed Sweet Potatoes.
A homemade biscuit arrived with a small tin of blueberry preserves and Tupelo honey – the biscuit had a slightly yellow tint to it, and tasted like it might – might – have a bit of cheese in it. I’m morally opposed to serving cheese biscuits with preserves and honey, but I wasn’t sure that’s what it was, so later in the meal, I asked my server, “What kind of crack do you put in your biscuits? Is it cheese?” He looked for a moment, and said, “No, butter,” so there might be some type of sourdough used, or something to give it just a tiny little bit of something other than flour and water. And the biscuit is very good, too.
My entree arrived, and it would have been somewhat lonely had the smashed sweet potatoes not been on the plate. I knew right away that he’d brought the wrong thing, but it was fine, and I highly recommend getting this, either as a standalone dish, or in the Fried Chicken Breast Sandwich (I’m sure it’s the exact same thing, but with bacon). This breast was seven ounces (I asked), moist, tender, perfectly battered, and fried without being greasy or salty, and yet it had a really nice flavor to it – this was a good fried chicken breast! There are two pairs of spices in this world that confound me: wild thyme and rosemary (for those who aren’t confused by these, go to the South of France and smell them side-by-side), and cardamom and cumin, when they’re used as an undertone instead of a primary flavor component. And indeed, one or the other is used in the slaw – either cardamom or cumin, and if I guess one, it will turn out to be the other – I’m going to guess it’s cardamom which means that it’s most likely cumin – I would consider nixing this and instead adding something on the order of halved green grapes. The smashed sweet potatoes were as good as I hoped they would be, and I would get them again without question.
The service is trying too hard. After I got my entree, someone came up and asked me something that I couldn’t believe I heard, so I assumed I was wrong, and chalked it off to middle-age hearing loss. Then, another gentleman walked by and said, “How’s that Southern Fried Chicken Breast?” I nodded my head. When someone is clearly enjoying their meal, it is sufficient to ask them twice after bringing the food, and if there aren’t any problems, then to let them finish in peace; in my case, another gentleman walked by and said what I pretended I didn’t hear the first time: “Sir, is everything with your meal perfect?” I just looked at him, smiled, and nodded. On another occasion, a man asked me if I wanted a refill right after I had taken a bite of biscuit, asking me what I was drinking and forcing me to talk when I wasn’t ready (I’m convinced the Evil Servers Association trains their members to do this). So, yes, the service needs work, and it isn’t for wont of being friendly.
Okay, so, Tupelo Honey Cafe has some potential. They have a weekday happy hour Mon-Thu 4-7PM on the bar and patio, featuring half-off wine, $3 pints of beer, and several small plates for $6. They also “offer” draft Sangria for $5, but that’s the regular price, so it’s no bargain. They also have a weekend “Moonrise Brunch” Fri-Sat 10PM-12AM. I’m going to initialize Tupelo Honey Cafe in Italic in the Dining Guide.
Tupelo (note pronunciation):