Claudie’s barreled its way into the Dillon Family dinner cycle over a year ago, and due to our eager demand it may stay forever. Just about twice a week, you can walk into my house to the sight of overflowing pearly white buckets. The voluminous cardboard boats are rubber-banded together to hold the additional mouth-watering sides we all crave. However, what may be my candidate in this hall of fame now was at first unwanted.
“Eh, it’s a little place. At a gas station”, my dad told me. I’m sorry, run that by me one more time? I could have sworn I heard you say it was at a gas station. No wonder the prices were so low. I was sure eating at a gas station meant an affordable way to get food poisoning. Really? I would hug a cactus before I ate prepared food at a gas station. We’ve all heard the horror stories. It turns out that it was just the small venue behind the gas station, which I should mention they are not associated with.
The eatery’s standout quality is treating customers as they would their own family. This is not a place for portion control or strict guidelines, so if you want a place that carries out operations in a dull, robotic fashion, then I’m sure KFC and Popeye’s would love to have you. The woman who owns the hidden treasure jumps through hoops on a daily basis with a smile on her face to make the joint the success that it is. The snowstorm that brought nearly two feet of snow years ago did not stop Claudie’s from dishing out exceptional eats in a state of emergency. The real emergency was that my two best friends and I were sitting in a cold, empty house without Claudie’s chicken in our stomachs. Oh, and they offer delivery too.
An enormous pet peeve of mine is not getting enough sauce or condiments. Every restaurant and fast food chain on earth gives you sauce like it’s from their personal stash. Unfortunately, everyone has had that whole box of fries served with a single ketchup packet, a large sub with mayo that doesn’t even stretch across one freaking half of the roll, or a lonely cup of ranch for an army of chicken nuggets. The woes of any causal diner. Claudie’s not only fills your bucket up with a generous portion, but gives you an amount of sauce on the side which might bring tears to your eyes.
My usual fix is a 9-count boneless barbecue strip chicken bucket with a side of fries and creamy bleu cheese. This is an amount of food which abolishes my hunger and leaves leftovers for a stellar follow-up meal. The fries are perfectly balanced as they are seasoned without over-doing it. They are dangerously addictive. Your hand will already be rummaging through the bucket for more before you even finish chewing. What I have also noticed about the fries is they may be the only ones that taste great reheated. Usually, if you try reheating fries (or anything fried, for that matter) from anywhere else, well, I hope you plan on moving sometime soon because they make fantastic packing peanuts.
On to the barbecue, it is a phenomenal quality and I am going to go ahead and assume it’s made in-house. It doesn’t have that overwhelming tangy sting of store-bought barbecue sauce. Perfect for getting all over your fingers as you tell mom to leave the silverware in the drawer and dive right in to that chicken like there’s no tomorrow. Then there’s the buffalo sauce which acts as more as an absorbed flavor to the chicken as opposed to a thicker sauce. Hot sauce is usually very acidic and oily and you can see it here. They capitalize that problem in an immaculate effort as they don’t glaze the chicken with it but instead use just enough to cover the chicken. It fuses into the breading and gets to that perfect neutral state in the middle of too much and not enough. Although very enticing, the slight acidity of the hot sauce gives barbecue triumph over buffalo in a head-to-head grudge match.
The fair prices earn you a one way ticket to devour an uncanny balance of both quality and quantity ingredients served with a warm smile. This has let them earn a rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Whenever I know Claudie’s is hitting the dinner table at night, I starve myself all day to take in as much as I can of this sauced-up perfection. I know exactly what this Friday’s paycheck is going to be used towards. Eat your heart out, Colonel Sanders.
Hunter Dillon is a guest blogger on Eating New Jersey. As a hockey player, he is always on the go, which has served as the inspiration for his “Casual Crusades” column. He has more than four years of restaurant kitchen experience and can cook up the best cheesesteaks outside of Philadelphia.