The Henhouse, on Mass Ave in Roxbury just a little south of downtown Boston, is a roomy over-the-counter joint that's a perfect late night hang after a night of partying. Community high-top tables are spread across what might have been two different retail spaces in the past. The Hen House is primarily a haven for chicken and waffles, but has expanded its menu to include ribs and pulled pork.
Chicken and waffles can be had with choice of waffle (buttermilk, banana, cornbread), choice of butter (regular, honey, Cajun), choice of syrup (maple, clove honey, maple BBQ), choice of chicken (tenders, wings or pieces) and choice of regular or extra crispy. Chicken is also available as wings, tenders, fried chicken buckets of various sizes, grilled chicken and rotisserie chicken. Bad Ass Meals feature a choice of any of the above, or pulled pork or popcorn shrimp, with fries and slaw for $6.99. Three pork ribs can be added to any meal for $2.99; you can upgrade to different sides for a mere 29 cents each.
Two veterans of the Boston barbecue scene joined me on a Saturday afternoon visit.
We tried two chicken items and two barbecue items, so there was no real demarcation between appetizer and entree.
Chicken and Waffles: The waffles were super light, fluffy, eggy and of high quality, assisted by a flavor jolt from the heavy use of butter. The requested Cajun flavoring was either missing from the butter or used minimally. The requested syrup was AWOL, but bailed out by the plethora of dispensers at the condiment station. The fried chicken atop the waffles was decent all around (thick, crisp batter giving way to moist, tender meat).
For the fried chicken that topped the waffle, we chose chicken parts (as opposed to tenders), specified extra crispy, and they were indeed extra crispy, with a thick, industrial strength batter that didn't have much seasoning. Inside, the meat was moist and tender, but while the waffles tasted homemade, there seemed to be a very processed feel to the chicken which I wish I could describe better.
Grilled Chicken: This one ($6.99 Bad Ass meal with fries and slaw) was even more processed. We were going to order the chicken both fried and grilled regardless of the details, so we didn't ask questions. Instead of a heavily sauced backyard barbecue version or an "are those grill marks real?" facsimile of the grilled chicken at KFC, this wound up being boneless, rubbery mini slabs similar to something out of the frozen food aisle or Subway. There wasn't any flavor here.
Pulled pork: Pulled pork (also $6.99 with fries and slaw) was heavily coated with thick, red sauce that wasn't as sweet as it looked. In parallel, the texture of the meat wasn't nearly as mushy as what usually resides under such a heavy dousing. It may have been smoked (that's what the menu claims), but the color (none), aroma (none) and flavor (none, other than the sauce) suggested otherwise.
Ribs: Ordered as add-ons ($2.99 for three) both sauced and unsauced, the thin but lengthy spare ribs were overcooked and wobbly. The sauced ones were oversauced, and the sauce wasn't particularly noteworthy. But they did present good size and very good moisture, plus some crusting and light smokiness (albeit with a little charcoaliness) in the unsauced batch. Color wasn't impressive, barely straying from brownish gray. Texture had a little chalkiness to negate the benefits of the nice moisture. The ribs were a mixed bag to be sure, and the only item without a unanimous opinion among our trio. Perhaps out of sport, I defended them, but only to a point. For the rib fan who seeks a fall-off-the-bone, saucy brand of 'cue, the ribs here are meaty, incredibly cheap, available at ungodly hours and executed at least better than at most of the national chains.
The good news is that the sauce station has about a dozen choices. The bad news is that most of the choices are commercial products you can get in any supermarket, and the remaining ones aren't much better.
Nothing really stood out as noticeably good or bad.
Pricing is extremely reasonable for the portion, especially with the ribs at a buck each. You can get filled for under $10, which is tough to do at most barbecue joints nowadays.
It took at least 20 minutes for our order (fried chicken, grilled chicken, ribs, pork) to come up. The atmosphere might scream fast food and the quality level might be fast food, but this food isn't fast.
The Bottom Line
I'm almost certain that the ribs and pork are smoked, which isn't always a given at joints where chicken is the main attraction but barbecue is the sideline. As for the quality of the 'cue, that depends on how done and how saucy you like it. If your answer to both is "very," you're in for a treat and a bargain to boot. If not, SoulFire is just a few minutes away.
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