A Chinese restaurant that not only serves Kool-Aid but has a "small" the size of a large most other places for less than $1 has got to be in the South. One that's across the street from more than one wig store must be in Houston. And a place that proffers molten hot wings straight from the fryer with some feathers battered and still attached? There's no question that's the Original Timmy Chan.
Following a week out of the country, I was in the market for something definitively Houstonian. The answer: A Chinese-American eatery that serves boudin balls, catfish nuggets and shrimp Alfredo alongside its signature wings-and-fried-rice combo. I headed to the Scott Street location of the Original Timmy Chan to try a bite of what my city has to offer.
A note on the world of "Timmy Chan's," as most Houstonians refer to it. There are two separate businesses that use that name, owned by two families, who each bought a few of the restaurants from the original owner in the 1970s. How do you know the difference? The ones with "Original" in the name are now unrelated to the restaurants without it.
Since I was alone, I knew I didn't have the capacity for cinnamon biscuits or corn nuggets with my main course, but there was much else I didn't know and the lady at the counter had little time for my ignorance. In heavily accented English, she led me through the ordering process like an impatient Mao Tse Tung. "Cash only!" she bellowed, indicating the sign on the counter.
But her brusqueness had solid results: In the time it took a contestant to play the lightning round on a Steve Harvey-hosted episode of "Family Feud" playing on the TV, she was calling my number. The brown paper bag she handed over was grocery sized, clearly too large for one person's food. But I was wrong. The six whole jumbo wings and a large styrofoam container filled to the brim with beef fried rice were all mine.
And as far as Americanized Chinese food goes, the rice wasn't half bad. It could have used a bit more soy sauce (which was provided in the bag by default), but the grains themselves were just stiff enough and woven with scallions, bean sprouts, clumps of scrambled egg and thin slices of beef. But the wings are the thing. Yes, there were bits of fried feather clinging to them, but they didn't get in the way of enjoying the meaty, well-marinated limbs and their ultra-crisp, vigorously seasoned skin. Chinese? Sort of. Hard to put down? Certainly.
That said, they're so large, I was uncomfortably full after three wings and about a sixth of the rice. Which makes the $9.10 price tag laughably low. And like it or not, I'm going to be eating fried rice for a while.