Dining Review: Seafood is star, chicken even better

Boneheads' shrimp appetizer brings lightly fried shrimp in a light creamy sauce with a kick. It's served over the cilantro slaw. The portion is large enough to be an entree for one person.

Photo by Mike Brown // Buy this photo

Boneheads' shrimp appetizer brings lightly fried shrimp in a light creamy sauce with a kick. It's served over the cilantro slaw. The portion is large enough to be an entree for one person.

More piri piri has come to town with the opening of Boneheads in East Memphis. The menu looks very much like Humdingers, so let's get all that sorted out before we proceed.

No one is a copycat.

The first Humdingers that opened in Memphis in 2009 was going to be a Boneheads, but just a few weeks before the doors were to open, Boneheads was sold, and no franchises could open.

So the menu was changed somewhat, and the name became Humdingers. Fast-forward two years and a few months, and now we have two Humdingers and one Boneheads in town.

They're similar, sure. But the menus are different.

Boneheads offers fast-casual service in which diners present their order, take a number and wait at their tables.

Photo by Mike Brown

Boneheads offers fast-casual service in which diners present their order, take a number and wait at their tables.

The three taco combo includes tilapia, shrimp and piri piri chicken tacos along with a choice of side item for $8.49.

Photo by Mike Brown

The three taco combo includes tilapia, shrimp and piri piri chicken tacos along with a choice of side item for $8.49.

It seems impossible to go there and not long for a beach. Television screens show beach and underwater scenes in a loop that will have any water-lover ready to catch the next flight south. The overall theme, from the name to the decor, seems to elevate the fish above the chicken.

Yet overall, the chicken is a bit better -- but we'll get back to that.

Boneheads is one of many restaurants to offer fast-casual service, which is popular for a reason. You place your order at the counter, take a number and have a seat. It's quick and efficient, and Boneheads is situated in the middle of a busy shopping district. Oak Court Mall is just to the west, Laurelwood to the north, and there's plenty of shopping to the east, too. We don't always spend our dining dollars on leisurely meals, but we also don't have to settle for fast food when time is short.

At Boneheads, you can have your appetizer just a few minutes after the order is placed. We sampled the calamari, Boneheads shrimp and the hummus trio. The calamari itself wasn't tough, but the coating was not as crisp as it should've been.

The shrimp was excellent, lightly fried and tossed in a creamy sauce with a light kick (more of an "aw, shucks" foot shuffle, but still nice). Both were served on top of a cilantro coleslaw, a lightly dressed salad that you can order as a side but that comes with many items, anyway.

Even if the slaw comes with your order, be sure to try the Greek salad. It's delightful.

The full-size serving might have a higher ratio of greens to cabbage, but the side is mostly a mix of red and green cabbage (with some greens), dressed in a tangy vinaigrette with kalamata olives, red onion, cucumber, tomato and a generous serving of feta cheese mixed in.

A surprise was the piri piri mushroom burger, a hefty beef patty topped with mushrooms sauteed in piri piri sauce, touched with a bit of house spice and topped with Swiss cheese. The sauce lends a distinctive flavor to the sandwich, though it doesn't overwhelm the beef.

The piri piri sauce used in the kitchen is mild (called medium), though you can ask for spicier sauces or even the lemon and herb sauce, which is not at all hot. Piri piri is a pepper, and the sauce made from it is popular in many African countries, even if it's probably best recognized as an ingredient in dishes of Portuguese origin. It can be fiery.

But even the hottest sauce is not terribly hot at Boneheads, and besides, you can adjust the heat yourself by applying your own condiments.

I ordered a half-chicken with the hottest sauce and found the heat level very manageable. I enjoy and tolerate heat (though not to the degree I once did), so keep that in mind if you're uncertain. Order the medium, and add the hot at the table.

The chicken was tender, moist and, like most of the food, a bargain. It was good, but not as good as the chicken tacos.

We ordered the three-taco combo and sampled one of each: Tilapia, shrimp and piri piri chicken.

Each came wrapped in a flour tortilla, dressed with cilantro slaw and finished with piri piri sauce and spicy sour cream.

The chicken was cut in tender bite-size pieces, the slaw gave a little crunch, and the sauces were very good. We liked all the tacos, but the piri piri that infused the chicken made it more flavorful than the others.

Wine and beer will eventually be served, but for now, you can take your own with no corkage fee. Take advantage of it, because providing your own makes a bargain meal almost a steal.

-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223

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Boneheads

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 555 Perkins Ext.

Telephone: (901) 746-8867.

Hours: Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

Reviewer's choices: Boneheads shrimp ($6.99 appetizer, which is enough for a meal for one); piri piri mushroom burger ($8.29 with one side); chicken tacos ($2.79 for a single or $8.49 for a combo that includes three tacos and a side item); good side choices include cilantro slaw, Greek salad and grilled zucchini ($1.99 if ordered a la carte).

Alcohol: Wine and beer license pending, but at present you can take your own with no corkage fee.

Star Ratings

Poor: Zero stars

Good: One star

Very Good: Two stars

Excellent: Three stars

Extraordinary: Four stars

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