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October 17, 2012

The Taste Bud: All about the breast

I admit that when I first walked into a Hooters restaurant — it was circa 1988, at the DuPont location — I wasn’t necessarily there for the food. A buddy told me about this wondrous place where the women were lovely and friendly, the TVs always flickered with sports, the beer flowed like, well, beer, and one could feast with reckless abandon on fried pieces of chicken slathered in hot sauce.

When you’re a young man, this sounds like nothing short of Utopia.

But times change, and people mature. (OK, I personally haven’t matured much, but I’m given to understand that some people do.) Hooters has been much maligned over the years for its image, even though I always found it to be a fairly tame environment. Whatever the case, I want to come out and publicly say that, yes, I’m a full-grown man and sometimes I still go to Hooters. I admit it, OK? (Even as I typed that, I could feel the majority of LEO’s female readership collectively roll its eyes.)

But I swear, I don’t go for the wings or, god help me, the half-my-age servers. Why? Well, because the wings are really kind of greasy and breaded, and as for the servers, well, my girlfriend regularly reads this column, and I don’t need that kind of trouble.

Rather, I go for the culinary wonder that is the Hooters grilled chicken breast sandwich. (Yeah, yeah, I typed “breast.” Please compose yourself so we can move on.)

Now, I have to be brutally honest about Hooters: Even during my heyday, I often found the service to be erratic and the food to be average. But I’ll give Hooters credit for their Daytona-style BBQ wings, because they are tasty and grilled (not breaded), and I do love the Hooters shooter (an oyster shot with beer, horseradish, cocktail sauce and hot sauce). But all in all, Hooters can keep their food.

Heck, even on my recent visit there (at the Jeffersonville location) on an NFL Sunday, it was a challenge to get a look at an NFL game thanks to all the golf and NASCAR on the TVs. (Golf? Really?) Worse, the channels kept randomly changing. One minute, you’re set to watch your team line up for a third-and-five, and the next minute you’re watching the U.S. blow another Ryder Cup. It really disappointed the 21-year-old inside me and partially tarnished all those fond memories.

And so it was that on this particular day I went back to my tried and true: the grilled chicken breast sandwich. (Yeah, yeah, stop your giggling.) As usual, it was spot on. Truly, of everything I’ve had on the Hooters menu through the years, this is the one that always brings me back. I mean, I’m too old to flirt with the servers, I don’t care for the wings, and apparently you can’t even watch a whole football game there these days. What else is there?

The chicken breast sandwich, that’s what. Why do I like it so much? Because it’s always packing a huge piece of breast meat, for starters (yeah, yeah). Also, against all odds, Hooters cooks consistently grill those things over an open flame without drying them out. I really don’t know how they do it or what they use to marinate the meat, but those breasts are always moist and tender. (OK, seriously?)

The sandwich comes on an oversized sesame seed bun with a side of coleslaw or baked beans (I prefer the beans), and to top it off, I always add a layer of cheddar cheese. Mmm. The cheese ends up melting all over the place, which just makes it better. A few of the bites around the edges even end up tasting like grilled cheese and chicken juice sandwiches — sounds weird, but it’s really quite delicious. And compared to all the fried stuff on the menu, the grilled chicken sandwich is relatively healthy at 420 calories (sans cheese) and bursting with plenty of animal protein.

So yeah, I said it: I am not a frat boy or a redneck or a sexual deviant, but sometimes I go to Hooters. I am taking a stand to say there’s no shame in it, regardless of what my girlfriend and her exaggerated eyerolls might assert. And yes, I do go exclusively for the tender, juicy breast.

Sigh. OK, OK. That one’s on me.