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The server scrambles over to the hot table, spoons some red beans and rice onto a plastic plate, tops it with a pair of scrawny wings, and adds a soupy side of collard greens. Between the take-or-leave-it menu (fried chicken or…fried chicken) and the cafeteria-like preparation, the food service at HR-57 has all the charm of a mess hall.
While HR-57’s basic-training approach to food would seem to belie the increasingly upscale dining expectations of Logan Circle, it does dovetail nicely with the organization’s mission to preserve the music that grew out of Southern culture. The no-frills chicken reminded me of the bowls of chewy, homemade oxtail stew I use to choke down at Third Ward blues joints in Houston. I never complained, of course, since those gratis servings of soul food, regular attractions at Southern blues clubs, didn’t set me back any coin.
But even if the $6 fried-chicken plate at HR-57 isn’t the best bargain—I mean, cooks used to just throw chicken wings away, for chrissakes—the dish still manages to deliver the goods. The wings are crispy, salty, and practically greaseless; the recipe seems as straight-ahead as the jazz onstage: little more than flour, seasoning, oil, and chicken. The accompanying red beans and rice are watery, starchy, and bland, while the greens leave a nice peppery kick in your mouth.
HR-57 clearly wants to break away from chitlin’-circuit cooking and get all Così with an expanded menu that offers sandwiches, fish, and desserts. Hard to fault the owners if they want to scratch that capitalist itch. But the last thing we need is another purveyor of soul-less finger food and cappuccinos, particularly in this space, dedicated to this music.