A welcome throwback to Chinese of the past By DEAN JOHNSON
Sun Restaurant Critic
A trip to the Hong & Kong is a journey back in time, back to the day s before Szechwan, Hunan, or Cantonese cuisines. There was just Chinese food, and you either ate it or else you ate American or maybe Italian. There weren’t many other dining out options then.
The Hong & Kong has been around for many years, and one of the reasons it has managed to survive is that in several ways it is a classic Chinese restaurant by more American standards. Its direct ancestors are eateries like the old Cathay Garden along the Boulevard in Lowell, or the Dragon Seed in Kittery, Maine, both long gone but among the original Chinese restaurants in the area.
The atmosphere at the Hong & Kong ranks among the gaudiest you’ll find in any local ethnic restaurant, period. The three dining areas are partitioned off from each other by heavily scrolled walls full of serpentine, snapping dragons and observant, studious wise men. Ceiling lights are Chinese lanterns, and nearly 200 people can be accommodated in the dining areas (there is also a lounge at the rear of the restaurant).
Most seating is done in red leather, buttoned booths equipped with wood-grained formica tables. Yes, there are even coat racks sprouting between many of the tables, and the soy sauce is waiting for each party in those now-standard fake crystal vinegar containers.
The serving people are all waiters with heavy accents, often quick to please, and just as often non-nonsense types.
Truth to tell, there just aren’t many spots left these days that so perfectly capture the old ambience that once was found in every single Chinese restaurant in these parts.
There’s no guesswork involved in studying the Hong & Kong menu, either. It’s basically an amalgam of all the standard Chinese-American specialties. The portions are always hearty, the food is never dainty. Sometimes, in fact, it can be downright heavy or even a little over-steamed.
If you ordered exactly the same items in Chinese restaurants in Europe, you’ll get entirely different looking and tasting food (I’ve tried). Bring some Chinese folks with you, and they’ll tell you our version of their cuisines is much, much sweeter than what they’re accustomed to on the mainland (I’ve tried that, too).
The Hong & Kong is a paradox unique to these shores: a perfect example of an old-fashioned American Chinese restaurant.
The Hong & Kong does offer some Peking specialties along with a few American dishes. But generally its strength is a variety of standard foods with no surprises.
It does what it does will enough, offering sturdy dishes at an appropriate sum. It’s also, in a way, like walking into an eating museum.