For some reason, a lot of people (two people) have recently asked about the difference between American Chinese and Chinese Chinese cuisine. Here’s Chow, Baby’s rule of thumb: Chinese Chinese, lots of bones; American Chinese, not many bones; P.F. Chang’s, spineless. (In the Chinese-authenticity sense. Personally, Chow, Baby is quite fond of P.F. Chang’s wok-fried shrimp with honeydew and candied walnuts. But if you think that’s classic Chinese, Chow, Baby wants to sell you a $14.95 Lebanese panini that’s really a grilled-cheese sandwich with thyme sprinkled on it.)
The new location of First Chinese B-B-Q (5310 E. Belknap St.) is bone city. What the menu calls “Delicious roast duck” ($7.95) is nearly half of the bird macheted into bite-size pieces, of which a third are mostly bone, a third are mostly fat and skin, and a third are chunks of the most incredibly juicy, flavorful duck meat (and a bit of bone) you’ve ever had in your life. At least the head has been removed, though if you want eye contact with your food, there’s a large case of hanging-by-their-necks dinner specials by the front entrance – another good clue that you’re in a Chinese Chinese place.
A third tip-off: combo plates like marinated pig stomach, ear, and tongue ($6.25). Though the truly squeamish shouldn’t even glance at the menu, overall First Chinese is more newbie-friendly than most of its Chinese Chinese brethren: a bistro-leaning décor in mango and lemon with arty black-and-white photos; waitresses who are unusually outgoing (not in English, but still); and lots of dishes with no bones or organs at all. The must-get eww-free dish is the barbecue pork ($7.50), with sweet Chinese-barbecue sauce; pair it with something familiar-sounding like shrimp with broccoli ($8.95) or sweet-and-sour pork ($7.95). They may not be familiar-tasting, but in Chow, Baby’s opinion, they’re deliciously authentic. Please don’t dare Chow, Baby to go to China to find out for sure. The Weekly expense account barely stretches to Haltom City.
So many reasons to love AJ’s Chicken & Waffles (6513 Brentwood Stair Rd. at Loop 820). The most important to Chow, Baby, and the least important to everyone else (particularly the beloved, because “grating” would be a kind way to describe Chow, Baby’s singing voice), is that the very thought of AJ’s evokes the “Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles” rap from the 1988 movie Tapeheads. You know, “Roscoe’s the name and they call me the king / Grandmaster of the chicken and the waffle thing.” Except Chow, Baby now sings (if you can call it singing), “AJ’s the name.”
Not really important, but nice: Hazel-eyed, melting-smile’d Antonio “AJ” Johnson is both a hottie and a sweetie. (He’s also a big shot in the local gospel-music biz, including a stint as Heaven 97’s program director – “the baddest DJ on the fast-food scene” – so Chow, Baby will cast aside sinful thoughts.) And boy, can he cook, which is pretty important: The thick, soft, sweet waffles (“Waffles’re just pancakes with little squares on ’em,” $2.95) are a perfect catch for the lightly spiced, super-crunchy golden wings (three for $2.85). Cheap enough separately, but you’ll want a combo, or at least add on several sides ($1.99 each): chunky potatoes with real pan drippings, greens simmered with pork, nutmeggy mashed yams. Chorus from the Flygirls: “Come to [AJ’s] for delicious food … / … And you get good value for your buck.”
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