The first time I went to the Pirate’s House, I drank so many refills of Coke that the waitress figured I was trying to collect all the little plastic drink-stirrer circus animals.
Impressed or disturbed by the zoo I’d already laid on the table, she brought me an entire menagerie with the next refill.
They ran out of plastic animals sometime after 1985, so the waitress brought me cherries skewered on tiny swords this time.
We ate our meal in a room built in 1734, over a dungeon filled with legends. Yet the food was still impressive.
Pecan Fried Chicken – Like all great Southern fried chicken, this tasted like it began in buttermilk. There are no thick slabs of gnarled bready bits on this skin, however. Instead, a crisp and savory coating retains just enough oil and flour to carry bold notes of toastiness along with the juicy, seasoned chicken.
Had they stopped there, the plate would be graciously full of some of the best fried chicken in the South. But somebody got the idea to drop pecans on it.
“Look, pecans! We made fried chicken even more Southern!”
That sounds a lot like the type of thing you’d try as a chef, just as an attention grabber in a tourist-trap restaurant.
This is why the Pirate’s House is special. It is two things at once:
1) A family-friendly tourist trap filled with novelty crowd-pleasing dishes and theatrical self-mythology, dancing up to the edge of “Arrggh, me maties!”-corny but not leaping off,
2) A damn good restaurant filled with thoughtful, well-executed dishes.
The Pecan Fried Chicken gets covered with crunchy-toasted pecan bits and drizzled with a sweet honey-based sauce that elevates the whole thing. Yes, the pecans all fall off when you take a bite.
You will be chasing the sauce around the plate with forkfuls of rogue pecans, snarfing chicken and wishing they’d brought a jug of the sauce so you could dip napkins in it and wring them out into your mouth. It brings a sweetness that plays off the savory notes of the chicken and the nuttiness of nuts, while finishing the whole thing a subtle twist. The kind of subtle, ethereal, complex twist that usually means a splash of good bourbon hit the saucepan. Or cognac, or who knows. The chef isn’t saying.
Despite the fact that “Southern on Southern with a Left Turn” is a deliberate formula used elsewhere on the menu, Fried Green Tomatoes with “Smoked-gouda Pimento Cheese,” turns out to be a magic combination, too. Not only is it a novelty, but it works.
Kudos to the Pirate’s House for continuing to serve really good food for decades.
Even though they really don’t have to.
The Pirates’ House
20 E Broad St