First Bites is an occasional feature in which RFT restaurant critic Ian Froeb, not a St. Louis native, tries classic St. Louis restaurants and foods for the first time.
How do you know when your restaurant has become an institution? When you can dispense with waiting lists and buzzers entirely and make diners line up, amusement-park-style, on a ramp.
I didn't know about the ramp. My buddy Chris is a local boy but he hadn't been to Hodak's in years. And I'm pretty sure I was drunk when I watched Rachael Ray visit Hodak's in an episode of Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels. (I did a shot every time she called our fair town "St. Louie.")
So Chris and I entered through a side door and looked in vain for someone to seat us. A waitress, out of pity or scorn or maybe just as a Pavlovian response after hundreds of thousands of tourists and newcomers like yours truly, nodded toward the ramp.
The wait on this weekday afternoon was only a few minutes. Once we were seated, Hodak's was a model of efficiency. I bet our waitress didn't even write our order down. We got what everyone else was getting, what had drawn us and Rachael Ray (or just her producer and a cameraman; I really can't remember) here in the first place, Hodak's claim to fame: the fried-chicken dinner.
For $6.25, you get half a chicken (breast, wing, leg and thigh), crinkle fries, cole slaw and a slice of white bread. The fries were a travesty, the cole slaw decent, and the slice of white bread was well, a slice of white bread.
Like I said, though: We were here for the chicken. It didn't disappoint. The breading was a deep golden brown and uncommonly smooth. There were no gnarled bits of breading in which grease had collected, waiting to scald your mouth. The meat itself was tender and moist though I did find myself reaching for the salt more often than I would have liked. Still, this was a satisfying and mighty filling meal. Yummo, indeed.