Cheap Eats: Wishbone

Wishbone is a curious name for a chicken shop that can go weeks without serving any sort of bone at all.  Alan Segel and Dave Clouser’s successor to the longtime Lee’s Hoagie House in University City promises “craft fried chicken,” but that turns out to mean boneless, skinless chicken nuggets coated with dried pretzels.  I can’t be the only customer surprised by that discovery.  But hey, who’s to deny the craft in separating breasts and thighs from their skeletons?

Chicken nuggets have had a rough run lately.  A 2013 analysis of nuggets from two unspecified national chains determined that chicken muscle only accounted for about half the content of one specimen, and a mere 40 percent of the other.  Plenty of ground-up blood vessels, nerve tissue, and bone fragments, though!

So in fact there is a decent case to be made for taking the industrial revolution out of the chicken nugget, and putting some craft back in.

Wishbone makes a good go of it.  The brined white meat is tender and moist, the dark meat is slick and fatty, and the pretzel crust lends a crispiness that’s just short of crunch.  It’s not the best fried chicken in town, but I can’t think of any better chicken nuggets.  A flat $8.95 per pound price structure struck me as a little rich at first, but a mound that seemed like a reasonable lunch ended up tipping the scales to the tune of $4.50.  (That is a high price to pay, however, for chicken wings, which were a special one week—and my only encounter with bones in three visits.)

Dipping sauces run 50 cents each.  My favorites were the red curry/peanut sauce and a lime-chipotle aioli.  Neither packed much of a punch, but both were long on flavor.

So, Wishbone gets nuggets right.  It still has work to do on other fronts.  Especially the vegetable one.  A few weeks in, the shop added a pre-boxed salad, but it’s going to take more sides than that (and mac-and-cheese) to make this a solid option for a weeknight take-home dinner.  How about some braised greens, guys?

Logistics could also be better.  Wishbone had different business hours posted  literally every time I tried (and repeatedly failed) to visit in its first couple weeks.   Other little details could use adjustment too.  For instance, I’d have liked my dipping sauces better if they all hadn’t been more or less ice cold.

Also, the sandwich that debuted a couple weeks after opening day needed more tweaking—or at least some restraint with the sweet tomato marmalade, which—like a crock of mulled cider another day—was cloying.

I hope Wishbone will reign in some of that sweetness as they find their footing.  Because as it happens, they’ve already got all the sugar they need in their pocket pies.  At $4 a pop, these threaten to drain my wallet this winter.  The classic McDonald’s apple pie has been waiting for an update like this: Braeburn slices, brandied raisins, walnut streusel, and a little sting of ginger tucked into a delectably flaky crust.  Pecan pie with whiskey-steeped peaches hit the spot as well.

No bone to pick with that at all.

Wishbone [official]