Perry Moy and Plum Garden
Gas was 31 cents a gallon; the mini skirt was the fashion rage; and The Beatles released the “Help!” album.
“Mary Poppins” ruled the movie theaters; “Flipper” and “Gilligan’s Island” were the stars of the black and white TV airwaves; and President Lyndon Johnson was in a Cold War with Russia’s Leonid Brezhnev.
The year was 1965, and there was one other big event that year.
Plum Garden Restaurant opened its doors in McHenry, making it 47 years old today and the oldest restaurant in McHenry County.
In a day and age when new restaurants bill themselves as famous, as an institution or even as legendary, very few are.
Plum Garden, however, truly is a legend, and this legendary Chinese restaurant’s leader is Perry Moy.
If you have been in McHenry County for any length of time, you know Perry Moy. When you enter his restaurant and see him behind the bar shaking a martini with his infectious smile, you know you are in for a treat.
His professional resume is very impressive. He is a former president of the Illinois Restaurant Association and a board member of the National Restaurant Association, to name just a couple of his titles.
His personal story is even more impressive and is one that would make a good movie.
As a young boy, Perry would go to Morowski’s Farm off Route 31 in McHenry (now a commercial park) and pick up fresh produce for the restaurant. Cabbage was only $1 a bushel.
Living above the restaurant, by age 15 he was downstairs in the restaurant every morning to butcher the day’s meat and chop the needed vegetables. Then he would walk to school.
After he graduated from high school, he wanted to go to college, but his mother refused to let him go and turned the restaurant’s operations over to him, even though she worked in the restaurant until her passing at age 84.
Thus, at 17, Perry was running the family business.
When cable TV was in its infancy, and before the Food Network was even a glimmer in a producer’s eye, Perry was filming televised cooking demonstrations and teaching classes. He tweaked his mother’s recipes, removing lard and butter from the menu, and he discovered the clean, fresh taste and quality the menu now possesses.
He was the first Chinese restaurant to use beef tenderloin instead of much cheaper cuts in his recipes, and he created, developed and perfected what he is famous for — Hong Kong Chicken.
Yes, Perry Moy is the real deal, the genuine article — few and far between are restaurant owners as dedicated and talented as Perry. I wish there were more like him.
As usual, upon entering Plum Garden on a recent Tuesday night, Perry Moy came out from behind the bar, greeted us like we were family and sat us in a comfy booth.
The menu at Plum Garden is big, and every time I’m there, we order a new item. Whether it’s a traditional Chinese staple like Kung Pao or Szechuan Chicken, or one of Perry’s original creations, it is always fantastic — which explains why he wins “Best Chinese Restaurant” in the Northwest Herald’s Best of the Fox awards every year — including the recently-hosted 2012 contest.
If you are one of the few people who have never been to Plum Garden, there are two items you must have: Perry Moy’s Hong Kong Chicken and the “Plum Garden Original” egg roll.
We’ve all had egg rolls before. Many Chinese restaurants buy them frozen and drop them into a fryer for service — big whoop.
Here, however, they are oversized and hand-rolled every day with fresh veggies, pork and chicken. You can dunk them (my style) or slice them, then pour the restaurant’s homemade hot mustard over them. I don’t care how you eat them just make sure you get them.
On my last visit, I told Perry I could make a meal of the egg rolls alone with that delicious homemade hot mustard. My son Daniel says he could live on them. Get some pot stickers or won-tons, but just don’t forget the egg rolls — they are that good.
With our smiles ablaze from the appetizers and our mouths alive from the homemade hot mustard, our table was cleared for the arrival of our entrees — Hong Kong Chicken. I don’t know why I was so excited, but I was. This golden-brown, jumbo chicken breast dipped in his original batter, sliced and sitting on a bed of fresh veggies with his “special sauce” is as delicious as it is beautiful.
I could talk a lot more about it, but believe me — you need to get here and have it yourself.
Plum Garden is located at 3917 W. Main St. in McHenry. It is open Tuesday through Sunday. You can call Perry at 815-385-1530.