Monday, April 18, 2011

Comfortable food at Master Chef.

DINNER:  Strips of Chicken, Supreme Nachos at Master Chef
  • DINNER: Strips of Chicken, Supreme Nachos at Master Chef
You gotta hand it to any restaurant that’s managed to stay in business for 42 years. There have to be reasons for people to keep coming back. In the case of Harrison’s Master Chef, I believe it’s a combination of friendly service, free salsa and the siren song of free delivery.
Dropped in late on a Saturday night, about 15 minutes until closing time (we were unaware the restaurant closed so early). We stared dumbly at the menu on the wall for a few moments — it had been a long day. There was a great big picture menu of Mexican favorites on the counter, but somehow I wasn’t drawn in. I wanted something that would stick to my ribs. So I asked.
“Everything’s good,” the counter girl told me. “The quesadillas are good. The big plate number two up there, that’s good. The nachos are good.”
I briefly noticed and dismissed the burger on the menu — good heavens, have I really eaten 20 burgers in the past two weeks? Egads — and settled on some home favorites. “How’s the fried chicken?” I asked.
“The Strips of Chicken are the best,” she said, breaking into a smile.
“We make them from scratch from chicken breasts here,” she told me, and I was sold. My traveling companion made his order and we went to sit down.
A mere moment later as we were discussing the pies in the case, she came over with a bowl of salsa and a basket of chips. No matter how rough I’m feeling, it is very hard to ignore such an offering of free food, and I had to try some. The thin tortilla chips were just right for scooping up the somewhat thin salsa… strong with tomatoes, cayenne, dried red chilies, cumin and onion. It had a nice, well-cooked taste to it and no hint of cilantro — which has been in just about every salsa I’ve sampled the past few years. This tasted like a good old-fashioned Americans-attempting-Mexican salsa.
My dining companion had gone for the Supreme Nachos ($6.49) and received a dinner plate overloaded with those same thin chips topped with cheese, tomato, lettuce and sour cream. The beef and bean spread were underneath this top layer, as were slices of pickled jalapeno pepper and the remnants of a bottom layer of chips. It’s a fork-style nacho dish, that’s for sure. But the blend was pleasing… for the local palate. Certainly the dish caters to a rural tongue, which is fine. After all, Master Chef has been serving up lunch and dinner to generations of Harrison-ians, all the way back to 1969.
I can even recall dropping in a few times over the years — during a family trip in the very early 90s, once with the hubster back in 2000. This may also be the restaurant my Girl Scout group stopped at back in the mid-1980s on the way to Silver Dollar City — it has the right feel. And I can always remember the Mexican influence. I think until this trip all I’d ever had there were enchiladas and chips. Maybe some cheese dip.
But this time around I was trying something new, and my hot plate of Strips of Chicken (6.49) arrived shortly. Unlike the pre-processed sometimes-pre-formed hunks I’ve become accustomed to, these were half inch thick hand-pulled strips that went along with the grain of the chicken breast. They’d been egg-washed and rolled in a nicely seasoned flour batter and briefly deep-fried… and they were juicy. I found them too hot to devour on their own at first.  The potatoes were typical with a nice white pepper gravy that went well with the chicken.
And that slaw… that’s one damn fine slaw. The finely diced cabbage was sweetly seasoned, similar to KFC’s version but not near as sweet, with a nice almost spreadable consistency. I wonder if they offer it up to go on the barbecue beef sandwich that’s on the menu. I think it’d be a winning combination.
The crew closed up as we quickly ate, trying to get out of their hair in an expedient manner. Still, our hostess kept coming by to refill our beverages and see if we needed anything, even as she broke down the soda machine and cleaned the tea bin out. This was much appreciated.
As was fitting for a Saturday night in Harrison, there was little going on outside when we exited. We later learned it was the night of at least one local prom. Still, quiet night in H-Town.
You’ll find Master Chef on Main Street (US 65 B) a few blocks south of the intersection with US 65 and Industry Park Road. It's open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed Monday). Next time I’m getting a salad… I heard the next day they’re massive. Ah, well. (870) 741-5700. And they do some local delivery. Can’t beat that with a stick.

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