Connecticut is great– we have beaches, a tasteful selection of outerwear and haircuts, and our babies are born with a keen sense of interior design and frigid sarcasm. But our fried food is self-sacrificially uninteresting. So when Hearty Kitchen entered the Hartford scene last month, I was really looking forward to trying their fare. The menu featured simple things- fried chicken as the main protein, paired with waffles or biscuits, all available gluten-free. Unfortunately, Nutmeggers are going to have to keep looking. Hearty Kitchen succeeds as a takeout operation and fails as a restaurant.
The space itself is tiny and bright and has the IKEA-permeated atmosphere of a recent Restaurant: Impossible success. The bathroom is gender-neutral, hallelujah! It’s a very convenient way of making a lone bathroom seem inclusive, but dammit, I’ll take it. We were one of three seated parties, but numerous takeout orders were being fulfilled on the sidelines. Our server didn’t seem too sure about some of the items on the menu, and the restaurant was out of gluten-free biscuits when we arrived. She recommended slices of gluten-free sandwich bread as a substitute, but we ordered a regular biscuit instead.As we waited, we anxiously anticipated the hot chicken, the homemade chipotle sauce another patron received, and syrup, butter and honey to go with our waffles. And we waited, and waited, and waited. Had we not already ordered, we would have walked out. For about 45 minutes, the entire dining area was ignored as the staff focused on four takeout orders, each of which consisted of at least four large boxes of food. It was alarming to see such a stark imbalance in the service. It seemed that the restaurant could neither fathom nor handle the larger volume of orders during the Friday night rush.
Perhaps if we’d been a little more persnickety, like the man who grilled the server about the gluten content of the root beer, or if we’d ordered enough chicken to feed a family of eight, we’d have received more attention. But like the lone woman sitting in the booth in front of us, we were marginal in comparison, and as such, cold chicken and limp fries were our penance. She didn’t eat them, either.The gluten-free chicken and regular chicken were texturally indistinguishable, but the former tasted heavily of onion dip mix. It was light on the grease and hot, with a very herbaceous flavor, likely from a brine. After seeing my fries, I regretted not nibbling on the fries left on the table next to ours by a previous guest. Mine were white and limp, flavored only by the residual chicken drippings. Despite our careful efforts to order a biscuit, I received dry, toasted sandwich bread. Our waitress brought us a biscuit after we reminded her of our order- and she charged us for it, too. The biscuit was cold and dense, with very little flavor. The waffles were tasty- cinnamon and nutmeg heavy, like the butter alongside, but also fairly cold. We received but a lone bottle of Tabasco- neither homemade sauce nor jelly to be found.After waiting almost an hour and watching tantalizing-looking plates waft underneath our noses, receiving cold, undercooked food was a travesty. I recognize that Hearty Kitchen is a fledgling business, but part of creating a business model is understanding the aspects of restaurant management that you want to undertake. Having takeout, delivery, and sit-down service does not strike me as realistic for such a small operation, at least not yet. On a recent Yelp! rebuttal, the owner even admitted that the food “DOES NOT travel well.” So why offer delivery at all? From the frustrated faces of the waiting takeout customers to the blatant flubs on our table, nobody left happy or hearty.