Usually, when I talk about late-night dining, I’m referring to a place open at an hour conducive to the average diner perhaps eating after a movie, serving night owls (Nick’s Diner, Slice of Life). Or I imagine a 24-hour establishment (Waffle House, Jimbo’s). But Booty’s is only for the wee-hour eaters crowd. It opens three days a week, starting at 10 p.m. I suggest taking a nap if necessary, because Booty’s is right up there with New Year’s Eve and Jon Stewart on the list of reasons to stay up past bedtime.
Located on the 900 block of Castle Street, Booty’s has been a neighborhood institution for years. A reusable sign advertises the whole, fried fish of the day. It was spot, a fish with which I admit I’m unfamiliar, but I wasn’t expecting poached salmon.
Booty himself cooks every bite, but he never tells how he got the name Booty. The menu can take a little guesswork, as not everything listed will be available all the time. I got thwarted when I asked for onion rings and a barbecue sandwich. But Booty knows what he’s doing, and he surely knows his way around soul food. Just pick something and enjoy.
I’ll make it easy: This is the best fried chicken in Wilmington—white or dark meat. Hands down. Bar none. Don’t even try to say you’ve had the best fried chicken in town until you try Booty’s. It’s simultaneously crispy and oily, with just the right amount of battering. A hefty dose of black pepper prevents it from being too salty.
I sampled both white and dark meat, and I’d be hard pressed to say which I’d order upon return. Watch your fingers, as the breast holds heat like I’ve never seen. No matter how long it cools, the chicken still feels like it’s fresh from the fryer.
The drumstick somehow seems larger than most; like a chicken/turkey hybrid. It is a good thing, because the rich, dark meat of the chicken leg is the highlight of an already delectable meal. There is no wrong way to order chicken at Booty’s.
On the side, a monstrous helping of mac ‘n’ cheese sates. The noodles are soft (I don’t think al dente ever caught on in soul food circles), but the cheese bursts with flavor and remains thick. Spicy sausage peppered copiously throughout improves the already delicious fare.
As well, the crab cake surprises. Fried a few shades of brown past golden, it’s crispy, delicious, and molded into a shape reminiscent of a fast-food hash brown. It comes quite sizeable and just a little spicy. (I suspected cayenne, but I didn’t figure Booty was going to hand out any trade secrets—so I didn’t ask.)
Most importantly, there was actual crab. I’ve long been critical of what I call “crab-scented bread,” which passes itself off as a crab cake. Heavily breaded crab cakes are a profound disappointment to any self-respecting diner. Those who order crab cakes expect to find no shortage of meat. If Booty can amply heap on the crab meat at his little soul-food joint, there’s no excuse for other restaurants not to follow suit.
The corn nuggets came frozen from a bag, and feel free to ask if I care. (I don’t.) Like everything at Booty’s, they go straight into sizzling grease and come out a fried-to-perfection shade of brown. They need a little time to cool, and they’re so sweet I started to wonder if it was a corn-based dessert. They perfectly contrast the mild spice of the crab cake.
I need to take another look at Booty’s menu, but at a glance not a single dish is cardiologist recommended. It’s not for dieters and certainly not for vegetarians. Soul food is hardly the secret to longevity; however in moderation, it can be a big part of happier living.
After a night at Booty’s, a couple more laps in the pool are required. But it’s worth it. Luckily, Booty’s is only open 12 hours a week—frequent trips aren’t healthy—but when the chance arises, enjoy it to the fullest.
The signs at Booty’s boast all ABC permits, but I didn’t see anything but glasses of sweet tea and cans of Pepsi cross the counter. They only open at 10 p.m. on weekends, so a good percentage of Booty’s clientele probably have had a drink or three. If you’re looking for a late-night alternative to Jimbo’s, Ezzells or even Slice of Life, I heartily endorse Booty’s.
Booty’s Soul Food Restaurant
918 Castle Street
Thurs. – Sat., 10 p.m. – 2 a.m.