Hearty Kitchen, West Hartford, CT

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.wpid-IMAG1210-1.jpg

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.wpid-IMAG1213-1.jpgAs 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.wpid-IMAG1215-1.jpgThe 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.wpid-IMAG1216-1.jpgAfter 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.Web

7 comments

  1. Kevin

    Better to light a candle than curse the darkness — JFK

    In this case, under your seat.

    After two bites you should have politely informed the server and the proprietor that the entire experience is unacceptable and walk out forthwith without paying unless they offer to remedy the situation immediately.

    Otherwise, and I apologize in advance for having to put it this way because I both respect and like your insights, you are just gathering fodder for a blog.

    • Jess Watsky

      I respect that- your insight has helped tighten my writing and perspective in the past. Do you think this is worth keeping up, or is better rewritten in a letter to the management?

      • Kevin

        Both.

        Mgmt should respect, and indeed even fear, that you are a recognized voice in social media. Propose to them that the review stays (as a legitimate accounting of what transpired during that episode) but you are willing to re-visit the matter and make updates to the review if and when they have taken steps to improve the overall experience. Should they be receptive, then, at your timing, make an unannounced visit to verify. (I do not know if you operate incognito or not; that is your prerogative.)

        I hope this helps and I do so only to try to be constructive.

        • Jess Watsky

          That’s a rational compromise. I am not sure if I’ll reach out to them yet or see if they have responded on Yelp. They have the tendency to do that, though, so I may respond like that or send them an email in the interest of keeping communication private from hereon out until a rewrite is completed.

          As always, Kevin, your insight is highly appreciated and valuable. A blog is only as formidable as its own critics. :-)

  2. Tim G

    I was actually there this particular evening, as I remember another customer grilling the server about the Gluten in the Root Beer. I eat here religiously, and I must say, if I had experienced what you experienced, I would have asked for a manager immediately. There was a new face that evening, a young lady, and I know she was being trained as I saw one of the owners explaining simple things to her. So that is probably why you experienced a server who didn’t have much knowledge. As for why the food took so long, and why it came out cold, I for one, would have returned it and asked for a reason why the food took so long in the first place. I can only assume it was because you had the gluten free option, as I know that can take some time. Anywhere from 30-45 min is what we normally wait when I bring our GF friends along. But from my personal experience, I’ve never had an issue here. I love their food, I’ve spoken to the owner on numerous occasions, as well as the chef. All are delightful to deal with and seem down to earth. I agree, what you went through was something that would have had me all upset, but I would have address ALL of these concerns then and there, instead of running to my computer to complain to the world. Call me old fashioned, but when I’m not happy with a business in any way, I usually just file a complaint and see how they handle it from there. If they still drop the ball, that’s when I will make the choice as to whether or nor not to make my issues public. But, as stated previously, you need content. It would have been interesting to see how management would have handled this entire situation, and THEN write about that experience. Your story would have had more bite, instead of it just sounding like someone looking for content for their blog. Just my two cents.

    I for one will continue to support a business like this as I LOVE their food, their Ikea decor, and if they drop the ball, I will address it directly with management.

    • Jess Watsky

      Hi Tim,

      I appreciate your comments and personal experience. I wouldn’t say that I need content on my blog, but as a dedicated local restaurant reviewer, I did go into this with a critical lens and the intent of reviewing it, good or bad. It is my personal policy and preference to review local restaurants in the area that I live. It was unfortunate that it turned out to be less pleasant than I expected. Oftentimes, it is difficult to approach business owners when the food is not up to par, and personally, I value objectivity. If this is what is to be expected on a typical night, as I mentioned in the review, there is an issue with their business plan. Many of these critiques and ideas would have been difficult to articulate in the heat of the moment.

      From the Facebook and Yelp postings, the owners are very passionate about their craft. As a previous comment mentioned, I’d be happy to address these issues with them and provide a revisit based on the suggestions and changes that I’ve made. Nothing in this review is meant to complain or irk this business, but strives to provide constructive criticism. I think that both the owners and future customers are entitled to this.

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