The Nugget Spot: Hitting the Spot
Single-item restaurants seem to be getting a lot of media attention lately, though they’re not entirely novices conceptually. Think of what S’Mac has done for macaroni, Pommes Frites for fries, and The Meatball Shop for, well, meatballs. Increasingly, though, single-item eateries are taking over Manhattan. The Nugget Spot has jumped onto the bandwagon in its attempt to paint the iconic nugget in a more favorable light. Only four months old, The Nugget Spot has already given its menu a make-over, morphing from the overthinking into simply the thinking man’s nugget with clever choices galore.
Although categorically a single-item restaurant, the singleton in question here, i.e. the nugget, was considered a promiscuous ole thang paired up with just about anything when the spot first opened. Back in October, the menu read like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book: customers were tasked at having to choose from a series of proteins which could then be coated with five different breadings, which could then be paired with ten different sauces. Jason Hairston, chef and owner, quickly learned that New Yorkers don’t do well with too many options, which was perhaps evident in the long lines of frenetic nugget enthusiasts investing way too much time in considering the many possible fates of their beloved nugget. To improve efficiency, the menu has since been revamped to eliminate the first world problem of one stressing over what combination to choose, thus giving way to a tighter, more cohesive menu.
Sure, the nugget still has a bit of a personality disorder but in a more fun, manageable way now. Nugget lovers still get to choose if their chicken gets coated with seasoned flour, Cap N Crunch cereal, Cheez-It crackers, or pretzels. Or nuggets can be void of chicken altogether and instead be made of pork tenderloin dressed up in coconut crust, catfish coated with puffed rice, polenta crusted with ground parmesan, or mozzarella breaded in Italian breadcrumbs, all fried to perfection. Hairston’s new menu still offers nuggets that are zany enough to pique interest and yummy enough that you don’t regret your decision. And most importantly, doing away with the micro-customizing allows for shorter lines and decreased wait time, a perpetual challenge that many East Village eateries are plagued with. Take note, restaurateurs, there’s nuggets of wisdom with the menu change there.
Now let’s talk integrity of the nuggets. A sign of the times, it is important, and perhaps a wee bit sad that I have to even say this but, no pink slime here, folks. Lo! Nuggets are really made from the animals they’re said to come from and hormone free to boot. Chicken really tastes like chicken here (because it’s actually chicken), even when breaded in pulverized cereal or crackers. Worthy of special mention, though, is the Southern Belle. Simply chicken breaded in seasoned flour, it outshines the more unorthodox nuggets on menu and puts to shame its faster food counterparts. What the Belle lacks in ingenuity it more than makes up in taste. Tender white meat encased in a perfectly seasoned batter with a crunch that’s neither too oily nor heavy, this nugget single handedly breathes new life into an iconic dish.
The Nugget Spot really hits its high note with its sauces and sides, though. You get a sauce per nugget order with each additional sauce for 75 cents. I’m almost tempted to tell you to pay $7.50 from the get go and get the ten other sauces that don’t come with your nugget because this is where Hairston gives a flavor-packed punch and you’re going to want to taste them all. Sauces come in three categories: sweet, savory, or spicy with multiple sauces per category. Any place that offers spiced butterscotch (Crunk Sauce), a marriage between Thousand Island and Tartar (Shhh Sauce), and an unabashed dose of wasabi slamming into mayo (Wasabi Mayo) gets and keeps our attention.
Attention is further secured with the offering of side items, which include cole slaw, Brussels sprouts, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and fries with each item secretly competing to move out of the side ranks. I was tempted to request that Hairston spawn a spin-off called The Brussels Sprout Spot to give his cleverly monikered “Hustle Sprouts” the limelight they deserve. Roasted in garlic and seasoned nicely, this is a show stealer. The nacho cheese, corkscrew noodles with four different cheeses and a Cheez-It crumb crust gives this mac and cheese some serious challenges in being considered a side-kick only. A better name for this dish would be crack and cheese.
The other sides hold their own, too. Did I mention the fries are hand cut daily and the coleslaw is refreshingly underdressed? Even the homemade biscuits will have you rethinking your trek to KFC. With so much temptation, it’s not just a nugget spot, it’s the spot to satisfy your cravings for various types of comfort foods, each with a deliciously executed kick.