Bottomfeeder: Little Red Hen’s Open-Menu Policy

Chef Erwin likes a good challenge.

Feel free to order anything you want off The Little Red Hen's menu. Or better yet, don't—Erwin "Cookie" Bootsyball doesn't care. A native of the Philippines who moved to Seattle with his mother, an American citizen, 30 years ago, Erwin (real name: Erwin Diaz; "Bootsyball" is a creation of his Hen colleagues) relishes the challenge of a customer requesting a dish out of left field, and seeing if he has the ingredients to whip it up. "Whatever you want, I'll make it for a special," says the 59-year-old, whose impromptu concoctions have included shepherd's pie, country ribs, chicken adobo, braised greens, and chicken and dumplings. His happy-hour menu is equally adventurous: pork skewers with jasmine rice, sauteed mushrooms with garlic lemon wine sauce, and tuna cake with Caesar salad, to name but a few of the unexpected $3.99 delicacies. While the Hen opens every morning for graveyard-shift tipplers to knock back a few, it only serves breakfast on weekends (dinner is served every day beginning at 5, although Erwin assures us you can also order off the breakfast menu then). On that breakfast menu is a dish called Loco Moco, a Hawaiian recipe comprising hamburger, rice, eggs, and brown gravy that Erwin picked up from a friend. Coupled with a Bloody Mary, it ranks among the best hangover cures known to man. That the Hen's chef is of some other genetic makeup than "goateed, straw-chewin', Caucasian hillbilly" has long struck observers of the Green Lake honky-tonk as something of a curiosity. But Erwin assures us he's swimming in a comfortable stream. "I'm the only honky-tonk Filipino here!" he says. "I love the music." And the music loves him: It's not unusual for acts like the Buckaroo Blues Band to call him to the stage to sing lead vocals on "Unchained Melody." Erwin has cooked at the Hen for six years. Before that, he worked at the Shanty on Lower Queen Anne, and also put in time at the Rickshaw, Oliver's, Denny's, and the West Seattle Golf Course banquet room. At the Hen, he's the only cook, which can be challenging as hell at a one-of-a-kind hangout where even Monday nights find the bar packed with hungry revelers. "Young kids come in and order a bunch of food" on karaoke nights (Monday and Wednesday) in particular, says Erwin. "One thing I like about this place is the kitchen is like my own kitchen. They trust me on everything I do here. There are so many things I can cook in this place."

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