This past fall, I began writing for Chef Magazine, a trade publication for chefs and foodservice professionals. My most recent story ‘Let’s Play Chicken‘ was about some the ways that chefs across the country are putting their own spin on the ubiquitous bird (hint: a lot of them are partial to fried chicken).
I interviewed a lot of chefs and researched a lot of cooking techniques and two things were very apparent: even though chicken is one of the easiest things to cook at home, people love to order it in restaurants, and wow do people really love chicken when it’s fried.
Growing up, there was a fast food joint in my hometown called Chicken Holiday, where you could order chicken to feed a family of four for under $10. I’m pretty sure that Chicken Holiday would fry anything that could be fried — shrimp, clams, scallops — but my family was usually partial to the blue and white striped buckets with chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks.
There was also a robust side dish menu that in retrospect, was a fat kid’s dream: crinkle-cut French fries, corn fritters, cheesy broccoli, macaroni and cheese, dinner rolls.
If my current preferences are any indication, I was probably all about the French fries, but these days, I can appreciate what it takes to fried chicken that is as rich and sinful as it is juicy and crispy.
Because it would be too hard to list every amazing chicken dish that I found in the pursuit of my Chef Magazine assignment, here are a handful of restaurants in Chicago who are doing fried chicken really, really (really, really) well.
Prime and Provisions
If you ask Brad, “the one flaw in my cooking abilities is my reluctance to adhere to any kind of timer.” Prime & Provisions executive chef Joseph Rizza would probably agree. “I think chicken will always be popular in restaurants, because in my opinion, the majority of people that cook at home tend to over cook everything,” he said.
Consider me one of the majority.
Fried chicken is definitely the trend right now. “I feel like there is a new place opening with fried chicken on the menu quite often. Chicago is very competitive, so there are competitions and challenges between chefs and restaurants for [the best],” Rizza said.
Although you can brine or marinate chicken for up to 24 hours before cooking to keep it from drying out, you could also let Chicago’s Prime and Provisions do it for you. The fried chicken at Prime & Provisions is brined for a minimum of 24 hours, before it then goes through a three step batter process.
“It’s the spices and ingredients in both the flour and the batter that make it so crunchy and delicious,” said Rizza.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
Hailing from Tennessee, Gus’s Fried Chicken is good old fashioned stick to your ribs fried chicken. This is in no way, shape or form light eating, so if you visit Gus’s first Chicago location in the West Loop, go hungry and schedule a gym session the next day. The dark, crispy skin is both salty and spicy, while the bird underneath is juicy and hearty. Insert “this is why I’m fat” joke here.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken
Confession: I first tried Honey Butter Fried Chicken after a huge meal at the Sunday Dinner Club. The team opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant below the residential space where they’d created a family-style supper club, which my friend Mary Kay turned me onto in 2013.
My friend Rachel and I dined at Sunday Dinner Club for its famous cassoulet menu and after four courses, the chef offered everyone dibs on fried chicken to-go, which was quickly selling out downstairs.
We put in our order, carried the chicken to two different karaoke bars, and finally dug in for our midnight snack. Rachel preferred the spicy-savory chicken without the honey butter and I liked it as the God of stretch pants intended it: slathered with delicious honey butter.
Thank me later.
If you want to experience pure joy, go to Leghorn Chicken, at one of its two locations in Chicago. They also deliver. Yes, you can eat fried chicken and crinkle cut fries in all their glory without leaving the couch (literally — I usually make Brad meet the delivery guy at the door).
You won’t find an expansive menu here: your choices are pretty limited to a chicken sandwich, chicken tenders or a grilled chicken bowl that has to be there for guilt appeasement only. Pick the chicken sandwich and you’ll be confronted with even more choices: Nashville Hot or Pickle Brined (I always pick the latter because I’m a wimp, but Brad has tried the Nashville Hot and yes it is).
The chicken is peppery and flaky, crispy and juicy, served either a homemade biscuit or bun (I go for the bun). I like adding their house made spicy mayo and extra pickles — always extra pickles.
In the name of full transparency, I’ve never eaten the fried chicken from Crisp in Chicago’s Northside Lakeview neighborhood.
Brad has, and he said that I couldn’t possibly write a post about fried chicken without including his old stomping grounds.
You can get the crispy wings plain or sauced, and Crips is especially well known for its Seoul Sassy wings in addition to their traditional BBQ and Buffalo options. Seoul Sassy is a sweet sauce, made with ginger, soy, garlic and some other spices and it makes Crisp really unique.
The Roost Carolina Kitchen
Friends don’t let friends eat bad fried chicken, right? My friend Anita told me about The Roost Carolina Kitchen, which offers Nashville-style hot chicken two ways ($6 each): a boneless hunk on a biscuit sandwich, or two fried pieces on white bread (the more traditional style).
It’s said to be the most authentic Nashville chicken in Chicago, and is fried to order, another hallmark of authenticity. Somehow, when Brad and I were visiting Nashville last spring with my best friend and her husband, we didn’t get authentic fried chicken, but we did eat at a bunch of other incredible restaurants that I’ll tell you about some other time, when we aren’t obsessing over the perfect fried bird.
If I ever get back though, I’d seriously consider bringing a chicken sandwich from The Roost so I can compare and contrast. Fried chicken is TSA-friendly, right?
**Disclaimer: I am a giant a-hole and I mixed up my photo captions/credits. I did the best I could to credit my photos appropriately but like I said, a-hole. If I have labeled something incorrectly, please let me know in the comments and I will correct!