Helen’s is a Richmond dining establishment with two very different reputations. Talk to a group of twenty-somethings and it’s a dive bar where hipsters hang out downing cheap beers and house tequila shots late into the night. Ask thirty-something VCU graduates about it and they’ll say Helen’s is a fine-dining restaurant with a caring kitchen staff where they make reservations when they have a babysitter and want a night out. While many restaurants successfully straddle these two seemingly disparate atmospheres, most people usually know about and acknowledge both. For some reason, Helen’s seems to exist as one or the other in many people’s heads.
And I admit, I was among the group who thought of it as a late-night drinks spot where my penchant for craft cocktails and designer clothes wasn’t really welcome. I finally stopped by for a friend’s post-destination-wedding brunch last weekend and saw the other side of things. Before my meal, some friends had told me the chefs were what made the restaurant stand out: “When your food comes out, you can see them watching your face,” they had said. “They genuinely want to see your reaction to every dish.”
I had to agree that in general, the service was great. From the bartender who overheard me commenting about being a little hot and immediately showed me the coolest place in the restaurant to the attentive owner or manager who watched every piece of food moving into service with an eagle eye, the level of attention that went into properly feeding a large group—which is often challenging—was impressive. As I went through the buffet, one of the kitchen staffers made sure to tell me how to top my chicken biscuit just like they do for regular brunch, leading to my inspiration for this post.
The Helen’s chicken biscuit, of course, starts with an oversized, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, delicious biscuit. I mean, this thing made Pillsbury Grands! look like Barbie food. And the texture was perfectly light and flaky—no grease, which can ruin a biscuit sandwich. The biscuit was topped with a slightly spicy, crispy-fried piece of chicken, white cheddar cheese, bacon, and—my favorite part—black pepper honey. The specific selection of each ingredient added to the dish. A little spice from the chicken batter, sharp bite from the cheddar, smoke from the bacon and a sweet-sharp zip from the honey, all wrapped up in that dreamy biscuit. In all, I’d call this dish a hidden gem worth trying. And bonus, Helen’s offers brunch on Saturday and Sunday!