I have been converted.

I had just done my taxes-yes, I realize it's June, and yes, I got an extension-and I was feeling a little stunned. My phone rang. It was a friend relaying a message from another friend about something amazing to be eaten, something that had to be eaten right now, at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, or it would slip away and be gone until who knows when.

This something was the lunch special at Bill's Off Broadway. I've heard much gushing about Bill's, but I always resisted getting on this particular bandwagon. Bill's pizza is fine for a certain style of pie, with its heavy, weirdly buttery crust and thick lid of cheese, but not what you'd call inspiring. Furthermore, a meatball sandwich once left me feeling bereft there, which is the exact opposite of what a meatball sandwich should do.

But an emergency, drop-everything red alert of eating is not to be ignored, especially since I'd only had a bowl of cereal and was verging on belated tax-related depression. I went directly to the bar at Bill's (population: me and two skinhead types calmly drinking pints of black beer) and ordered the roasted half game hen ($6.95, with salad or soup). The latter, a bourbon and sweet potato purée, was the color of cream of jack-o'-lantern, with reassuring bits of sweet potato, a tiny bit smoky and almost too sweet. It responded well to a dose of pepper. I felt cautiously optimistic.

The thick, chipped white oval platter that my inordinately big half-hen was loaded upon also made me hopeful, as did the practically equally thick zucchini slices that came with it. This was real food: whipped potatoes instead of the accursed mashers. The bird's skin was blackened here and there perfectly, with bits of herb adhered to it all over and soft, browned shallots lying on top. It sat, happily, in a pool of rich, salty gravy made with red wine, and it smelled fantastic. The skin crackled as I cut through it, and the flesh proved to be on that elusive cusp between moist and dry-where it sticks to your teeth just a little-amazingly lemony near the surface, more purely chickeny down below. Pushing it through the sauce meant the occasional happy sting of a whole peppercorn. Wings often don't seem worth it, but I twisted this one off and made proper use of the stack of napkins I'd been given.

Meanwhile, nearby, a man with sad eyes was doctoring the video game machine with instruments from a black bag. Kegs were rolled in behind me, and the staff joked around, and the light was diffuse, and fans whirred up above, and the many potted plants sat there. And it was good.

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Bill's Off Broadway, 725 E Pine St, 323-7200. Give them your e-mail address and they'll send you an alert about the lunch specials every morning.