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I've been meaning to try this Frelard place for some time, so last night was the night. I confess that I was more than a little hesitant--I think the name (and the tribal font, and the image of a dagger) rubbed me the wrong way somehow for a restaurant. It sounds like a chain? A hipster coven? But out of Covid boredom, I thought I'd give their vaunted fried chicken a try. So Wahine, Menehune (SIL) and I went with open minds and growling opus (stomachs).
Hooligans occupies the old Travelers pub space sandwiched between Dish and Big Mario's pizza joint on Leary. They've added a covered deck behind that backs onto Bad Jimmy's tentapalooza brewpub (the "rad" vibe of which didn't exactly balm my concerns about Hooligans). We were already frozen, so we risked the newly-reopened indoor seating.
The vibe and menu are both a little strange, but pleasingly so. It's as if the place presents as a bit of a culinary puzzle. It's not clear at all what cuisine is dominant, but it's definitely not fusion. There are choices that could be Philippine, Cajun, Mexican, dive bar American, even Southern. And Italian? The bar is very well-stocked with uncommon spirits and digestifs, and they do house cocktails with several flavors of house-fermented sparkling drinks. Their taplist is short but well-curated (e.g., Anchor Steam). The oddest thing is they keep shelves of *empty* liquor bottles out among the tables--weird, but like everything else here, it works.
It quickly became apparent that this is a real restaurant, not a pub with food. Of course we had to try the fried chicken, which comes in "regular" and "spicy". We also got the gumbo, an order of roasted brussel sprouts, and a pork adobo sandwich.
Everything was excellent. In fact, everything was flawless. How excellent? The sandwich was as good as any I've had from Un Bien. The gumbo was on balance clearly better than my previous favorite, 74th Street Grill's. The brussel sprouts are better than those at Magnolia's Village Pub. And the fried chicken lived up to its reputation: white and dark pieces were each done, and moist, just a whisp of batter, and the sides--mac salad and coleslaw--were not afterthoughts. Everything was seasoned to perfection and flawlessly prepared. Nothing was over the top. At the end we were comped a surprisingly good tiramisu and given tastes of the house-fermented drinks.
I'm not very easy to please into a total lack of niggle or suggestion for improvement. I was just stupefied by the satisfaction level, left with nothing left to say. I'm accustomed to having a nice meal and going away happy, but this meal was just soul-pleasing. And the prices--Hooligans prices are already low, but they have expansive Happy Hour windows, during which many offerings are $10 or under.
Do yourself a favor and go. All I ask is that if you figure out the cuisine, let me know.
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