Iâ€™m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Hays, Kansas.
Greetings from Hays, Kansas
N 38Â° 51.8428â€™ W 099Â° 19.0759â€™ Elev. 1985 ft.
Alâ€™s Chickenette was recommended by my friend Tony. Heâ€™d recommended another place once before â€” Grayâ€™s Coors Tavern in Pueblo, Colorado â€” that was spectacularly funky and spectacularly good. Needless to say it didnâ€™t take much faith on my part to follow his lead once again.
Along the way I got a song stuck in my head. I kept hearing the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross version of a Cannonball Adderly tune, Sermonette. It turned into a real ear worm, one of those songs that keeps playing over and over in your head. I just couldnâ€™t shake it.
Alâ€™s Chickenette is located 2.5 miles south of I-70 on US 183 (Exit 159). By the time you get there you think youâ€™ve missed it and youâ€™re about to leave town … because you are. Alâ€™s is one of the last places on the left. Itâ€™s easy to spot by the vintage late â€˜50s/early â€˜60s-style sign out front. Iâ€™d love toâ€™ve seen it lit up at night as it has all the requisite neon and 100 light bulbs to render it truly representative of the sign design of that era. I like to believe it flashes.
Inside is equally reminiscent of â€˜50s-â€˜60s â€œmodernâ€ design, with wood floors and a low-rise, 4-stool formica counter. The decor has a look and feel so evocative of that simpler, duck-and-cover time that the only thing missing is the zzzzzzzzz-ing whir of a vintage stainless steel Hamilton Beach commercial milkshake mixer.
Alâ€™s serves soft-serve ice cream but no shakes. But as sort of a throwback they offer 25Â¢ coffee, which, curiously, is a dime cheaper than the price listed on one of the old menus posted in the foyer. And itâ€™s okay coffee.
Itâ€™s an interesting place and the staff is exceptional. I was greeted heartily and my server, Allison, (I hope thatâ€™s how she spells it) was vivacious and kind. In fact, I had her help order for me; I always do that because they know.
After I ordered I was walking to the bathroom (I ended up choosing the door with the cock, er, rooster on it) as one of the other servers brought out his lunch, a bowl of chicken noodle soup ($2.95/$5.95). It looked so good that I had to take a picture of it. I first thought it was chicken and dumplings. â€œNo,â€ he said, â€œI put some mashed potatoes in it.â€ Mmm, mmm good idea.
I experienced a most pleasant olfactory blast from the past in Alâ€™s bathroom. Itâ€™s a commercial hand soap I run across from time to time. It smells much like Jergens Lotion, which, to me, smells faintly of cherries. Every time I smell it Iâ€™m reminded of my childhood. My mom used it when I was very young and when she did Iâ€™d often ask to smell her hands. I love that scent. Oh, the fond memories. But I digress.
I had THE WIZARD ($9.95), three pieces of dark meat chicken with two sides and a somewhat silly name; yet another example of Kansanâ€™s ubiquitous habit of linking to The Wizard of Oz. Seriously, theyâ€™ll link anything to The Wizard of Oz. Itâ€™s just a matter of time before I find a Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean or, hell, a Swiss restaurant in Kansas serving The Toto. But I digress, again.
The chicken â€” two legs and a thigh â€” was very, very good. I read on one of the old menus that â€œOur chicken is fried by a Special Method …â€, whatever that means. Alâ€™s chicken has an unusual outer â€œcrust.â€ Itâ€™s very thin, the thickness of the shell of a dipped ice cream cone, and very crispy, crackly. It was spiced interestingly, in a good way, and the chicken was very moist and perfectly cooked.
I only ate the legs while I was there. When I nibbled on the thigh later that night I thought the breading tasted distinctly of pork rinds â€” cracklins, yâ€™all. I was dumbfounded enough that I saved some to try again later. But then it didnâ€™t taste like that at all. I was confused; Iâ€™m always confused. This may explain why some of the fine folks in Kimmerer, Wyoming (scroll down to the Comments section) donâ€™t cotton to my opinions too much.
The real highlights for me were the real mashed potatoes and real pan gravy, though the gravy had a somewhat unusual taste to me. I think I was expecting it to taste exactly like the chicken pan gravies Iâ€™ve eaten so many times before. Cracklins? Still, it was pretty good. And the mashed potatoes were the real thing â€” they actually had lumps in them â€” so I was in love. The cole slaw was truly fantastic, a blast from my childhood. Drenched in an old-school mayonnaise-vinegar-sugar dressing, it was sweet, crunchy, and heavenly. Just the way I like it.
In all Alâ€™s Chickenette was a great visit, with great people. Truly a really great experience.
Next month Alâ€™s Chickenette will mark its 65th year in business. To commemorate that milestone I made a really bad slideshow/ad, replete with yours truly singing really badly. I rewrote the words to â€œSermonetteâ€ and, well …
My apologies to Mr. Adderly and the other American Treasures that are Misters Lambert and Hendricks & Ms. Ross.
And so we roll.
Alâ€™s Chickenette, 710 Vine St., Hays, Kansas
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.