If you’re as avid a “Seinfeld” fan as I am, the sight of the giant red neon rooster on the wall of Proposition Chicken will bring you instant glee. (Devotees of the legendary sitcom will no doubt remember the episode in which Kramer develops an addiction to the chicken restaurant next door, even as its nuclear red neon sign wreaks havoc with his mental health.)
While I doubt I’ll suffer the same fate as chicken-crazed Kramer, I have found myself craving some of Proposition Chicken’s choice items, often in the middle of the night. Now that I think about it, perhaps it’s only geography and normal business hours that are keeping me from becoming a full-fledged addict.
Though much of Proposition’s business seems to be takeout, the space is inviting enough to eat in, with large salvaged wood tables and a sizeable counter area. The vibe is a strange hybrid of country-casual and sleekly modern that’s somehow charming, and the service is all pep and enthusiasm (though I did think that maybe the servers’ hyper-friendliness had to do with the buzzing light from that glowing red rooster, and if it might one day drive them all insane — and yes, it’s clear to me now that I watch entirely too much television).
The streamlined menu is a simple mix-and-match deal in which you choose your chicken (fried, rotisserie or tofu) and then decide how it’s served (as a sandwich, salad or entrée).
Then there’s a selection of sides, all housemade from scratch, and various flavors of wings and strips. It’s all chicken, all the time (all Mary’s free-range, by the way), done just about every way you can imagine it.
Of the three varieties of chicken, the fried birds come out on top. And if we could pit fried pieces of poultry against one another, the juicy dark meat would take the somewhat dry white meat down in an embarrassingly one-sided pummeling. The coating (traditional — I didn’t try the gluten-free version) is done right: It sticks to the meat without crumbling off, yields the right amount of crunch and leaves only the faintest trace of grease on your fingers.
The seasoning is neutral but just a dab of house hot sauce brightened up the chicken’s flavor to neon levels.
The rotisserie chicken fared better hot than cold, taking on a slightly chalky texture when served with the otherwise satisfying salad tossed with lots of crispy kale and a zippy black pepper dressing.
As for the “fake” chicken option, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it as a sandwich, although the tofu’s crispiness became compromised quickly by the piles of slaw and drizzle of barbecue sauce. So it’s best when swiftly devoured.
Speaking of barbecue sauce, I’m not crazy about thick tomato-based styles, but I found Proposition’s version to be revelatory, particularly when paired with the extra crunchy, magnificently juicy chicken strips. Those sauces are usually too sticky and sweet but Proposition’s has a sharp vinegar tang that dances on your tongue with lots of peppery spice.
The strips eclipsed the wings, although the honey mustard variety had a luscious sweet-savory glaze; the other sides were nothing I haven’t had before. But I’m sticking with the battered, fried and barbecue-sauced. And probably seeing that neon rooster in my sleep.
Location: 1750 Market St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 864-2454, www.propositionchicken.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Price range: $2 to $12
Recommended dishes: Fried chicken entrée ($12), chicken strips with barbecue sauce ($7), fake chicken sandwich ($10), honey mustard wings ($7)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted