When husband and wife Everett and Linda Reid were deciding what to call their new restaurant, they wanted something that would speak to the cuisine.
“I thought, ‘OK, chicken and hot, because we want to really get that spicy element into a lot of dishes,” Everett says, noting that he knew fried chicken would also be a featured item. “It evolved into Hot French Chix, and we thought HFC, that kind of resonates with everybody as opposed to KFC.”
But they worried the over-the-top name might ruffle a few feathers.
“We thought there might be a little resistance, but we thought it was fun and people might enjoy it, and that’s really been the case,” Everett says.
Enjoyable is also a good way to describe the restaurant, which opened in late December and currently offers outdoor and indoor dining — with tables spaced in accordance with social-distancing guidelines — and takeout. The restaurant features global French cuisine with influences hailing from Vietnam to Canada to Louisiana and beyond. An elegant yet relaxed setting is enhanced by a bill that ends up being lower than expected for the quality and ambiance.
About 10 years ago, the Reids purchased the building in downtown Chester that is now home to Hot French Chix and their former restaurant, L&E French, which specialized in high-end French cuisine. Everett studied at the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and the couple had previously owned American Seasons and then Restaurant Mona on Nantucket. A few years after debuting L&E French, they opened Good Elephant upstairs at the same spot. But then Everett took a sabbatical from running his own restaurant, closing his two eateries to work at a New London nonprofit teaching former prisoners how to cook. When it came time to reopen their own restaurant, Everett and Linda wanted to focus on more casual cuisine that could incorporate French influences as well as some of the spice-forward Vietnamese dishes featured at Good Elephant. They also wanted it to be more casual, so visitors could enjoy high-quality cuisine but at a more manageable price.
“You can still have well-prepared food, have good service, and still keep the price point where we’re at,” says Everett, adding that consumers “want something fun” and they’re really “getting away from the high-end dining.”
During a visit on March 6, on the eve of the pandemic grinding life in Connecticut and the globe to a standstill, I enjoyed a memorable evening out with friends. My party sampled a pho appetizer with a delightfully spicy broth; a French North African salad, which is a platter of smoked chickpea hummus, pita chips, falafel and mint-infused tahini dressing; and fried chicken called the HFC spicy fried French Creole chix, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes that, like the pho, has an intense but enjoyable kick of spice. Everett and his sous chef, Mark Spruill, clearly know what they’re doing.
We sat at the restaurant’s bar and enjoyed a tempranillo wine that the bartender recommended. Rather than let wine dealers set the list, as many restaurants do, Linda takes pride in establishing a list of wines that pairs with the food. The restaurant has a warm design that draws from Everett and Linda’s background as antique store owners and their frequent trips to France.
For dessert we devoured a pot de crème and apple crisp that both nicely capped the meal. A few days after my visit, the arrival of COVID-19 necessitated a statewide shutdown. Like other restaurants in Connecticut, Hot French Chix closed for all but takeout. Everett later tells me that instead of dwelling on the economic hardships it entailed, he looked at it as an opportunity to improve his restaurant. “It has helped us to refine things,” he says. He adds that the restaurant’s warm feel has been maintained even with the bar closed and distances necessary between tables. He understands that, despite safety precautions being taken at Hot French Chix and other restaurants, customers want different things from a restaurant these days.
“We’re taking every measure possible that the state’s requiring and beyond that to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable, and if not, they’ll be dining outside, and if not, they’ll be able to do takeout. And the food that we’re doing really lends itself to doing takeout; it travels well.”
Hot French Chix
59 Main St., Chester
Not wheelchair accessible
Ambiance: Owners Everett and Linda Reid have also owned antique stores, and that eye for decor and interesting pieces infuses this warm and inviting restaurant. Upscale but casual, it is a good place for a date or a meetup with a small group of friends.
Food: A global mix of food from various regions influenced by French cuisine. The specialties are spicy, and Vietnamese and Cajun sauces as well as fried chicken will remind you why chicken sandwiches have become all the rage of late.
Service: During our visit on a Friday night there was a minor hiccup when an appetizer order was put in late and didn’t come in a timely manner. This small inconvenience became a positive when the bartender provided a free round of drinks by way of apology. Nothing goes 100 percent smoothly at any restaurant, but how the staff navigates bumps, however minor, is telling.