Comfort food or “home-style” cooking is, generally speaking, not terribly complicated, nor is it particularly challenging to produce. Relying on rather simplistic cooking techniques and classic, commonplace ingredients, it’s termed “comfort” cooking and “home-style” because it’s familiar and accessible to even the lowliest of home cooks. But being simplistic or accessible does not imply that this cuisine need be drab, bland, or dissatisfying—indeed a large part of its comforting appeal is rich, satisfying flavors meant to warm the soul and fill the belly. Fried chicken, for example, requires only a handful of key ingredients—its preparation straightforward and approachable. But it’s no secret that a perfectly done piece of fried chicken is one of life’s great pleasures. Perhaps, however, it is this expectation of something comforting that makes poorly done home-style cooking such a tearjerker, a real disappointment. Thus was my experience with Homer’s West, a place (at least in its original location) has stood and a Little Rock landmark for years.
I’ve driven by the more recently erected western branch of the Homer’s family dozens of times; I’ve rarely had much interest in stopping in. But this particular night, I had a hankering for fried chicken—a craving that hit me suddenly like a bowling ball to the ten pins. Problem is, most popular home-style restaurants close early in the day or are only open on weekdays—a problem here, as it was late on a Saturday evening. Homer’s came to mind, they would surely serve some fried poultry capable of taming this growing pang in my stomach.
Unfortunately, Homer’s struck out, went down swinging, and never really had a chance with such a losing formula. First off (so far as I could tell), fried chicken was not on the menu that night— “chicken fried chicken” was—a completely ridiculous name for nothing more than flattened and batter-fried chicken. This was as close as I would get to fried chicken that night. But I’ve had decent chicken fried chicken in the past—very decent, enjoyable in fact. But Homer’s version and all it’s accompanying adornments left much to be desired.
The chicken was dry, lifeless, and lacking any crispness whatsoever. The thin, wispy sliver of white meat was devoid of any freshness or flavor, the breading and outer crust reminiscent of an item one might expect from a microwavable Hungry-Man dinner. The bombardment of bad did not stop there. The simple sides, staples in the comfort food armamentarium, were no more impressive. The macaroni and cheese was thin, watery, and left me wondering if there was actually anything in there that had ever even been near a cow’s udder. The mashed potatoes, an item so easily executed and reproduced by even the most amateur home cooks, were abysmal. Grainy, flavorless, and underseasoned—with enough butter and salt, I’m convinced you could create better mash from those abominable potato flakes. Even the yeast roll had an off-putting flavor, tasting slightly sour, as if it had spent a bit too long gathering dust on a pantry shelf.
The original Homer’s, while I’ve never eaten there myself, must be attractive enough to warrant opening a second location. But with food such as I was served, I find it hard to believe the two locations are equal in quality. Am I wrong here Homer’s fans? Did I miss something or was this an off night? Homer’s West boasts a location fairly convenient to my home, but I can’t say I’d be particularly anxious to return in the near future.
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