On the Road: Best Fried Chicken Ever
Photo By: Lindsey Cavanaugh
©Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography / HBTPhoto.com
24 Diner (Austin)
24 Diner's open-all-day policy means that its crunchy boneless chicken is available anytime a craving strikes. Savory and sweet, the chicken is plated atop a waffle, then topped with brown sugar butter and a generous drizzle of maple syrup. The Chicken & Waffle is served on the breakfast menu, but you can still order this dish — and sides of biscuits and bacon-braised greens — anytime of day.
Federal Donuts (Philadelphia)
Doughnuts may be the name of the game at Federal Donuts, but customers love the fried chicken. Named one of the best on Top 5 Restaurants, the twice-fried bird emerges with what Chef Matthew Fein calls a "teeth-shatteringly crispy" exterior. Try it with a chile-garlic glaze or dusting of buttermilk ranch seasoning.
Blue Door Kitchen (Chicago)
Blue Door Kitchen may be in Chicago, but the fried chicken comes courtesy of a Southern culinary master. Known for his "real food" cuisine of low-country shrimp and grits, and melt-in-your-mouth macaroni and cheese, Chef Art Smith makes his prized fried chicken on Sunday night only, ensuring that it remains a special treat. The chicken is a two-day process, needing both a 12-hour saltwater brine and a 12-hour buttermilk soak before being fried in a cast-iron skillet of hot oil. The restaurant's elegant surroundings shouldn't deter you from diving right in with your hands.
Photo courtesy of Lindsey Cavanaugh
The Glass Onion (Charleston, S.C.)
Named after a song by The Beatles, The Glass Onion aims for rock-out flavors in all of its dishes. As Guy Fieri discovered, this includes making the signature Crispy Chicken Leg without a fryer. Instead of the typical frying method, The Glass Onion's chicken is baked in a pan of hot oil. The confit technique leaves the chicken leg thoroughly cooked before it's seared on both sides. No flour batter here — it's the chicken's skin alone that gives it crispiness. The restaurant finishes things off with collard greens, creamy mashed potatoes and a little bit of sweet pepper relish.
Stroud's Restaurant & Bar (Fairway, Kan.)
Stroud's pan-fried chicken is worth the trip to Fairway, Kan. Iron Chef judge Simon Majumdar admits he "would move heaven and Earth" for a bite of the homestyle fried chicken. The chicken is kept tender and moist by frying with good old-fashioned shortening. Locals love the crunch almost as much as they love the "mix-up" plate that includes a combo of fried liver and fried gizzards.
Watershed on Peachtree (Atlanta)
Even in a town known for its fried chicken, Watershed on Peachtree stands out, nabbing the #3 spot on Top 5 Restaurants: Fried Chicken. The recipe belonged to Edna Lewis, and it's a three-day process of brining, with a buttermilk soak, dredge in flour and cornstarch, then a shallow-fry in "pork fat scented with ham hocks and butter," as Executive Chef Zeb Stevenson describes it.
Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter (New York)
This East Village restaurant owned by Virginia native Keedick Coulter brings two Southern staples together: sweet tea and fried chicken. Coulter doesn't offer the sweet tea as a drink, though. Instead he uses the sugary tea to brine the chicken overnight. And although he follows tradition with a flour dredge, he opts to fry his bird in a pressure fryer, which makes the chicken sweet, succulent and perfectly crisp. It passes the crunch test, and when served with a buttermilk biscuit and a green salad for $11.50, it passes the bang-for-your-buck test too.
Max's Wine Dive (Houston)
On Crave, Troy Johnson learns the secret behind the low-and-slow technique for fried chicken. At Max's Wine Dive, the chicken requires a 36-hour buttermilk marinade that helps tenderize the bird; the marinade's full of flavor, as the buttermilk is infused with jalapenos, limes and a handful of hot spices. And whereas frying temperatures typically surpass 300 degrees F, the frying temperature at Max's tops out at 250 degrees F. But the proof is in the taste, and Max's is not only delicious, but as Troy says, it's "tender to the bone."
Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe (Burbank, Ill.)
If you're a fan of Cajun-Creole, Mexican and Southern barbecue, Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe has you covered. Originally a barbecue-only restaurant called Chuck's BBQ, the restaurant now serves comfort food from all across the South, including the excellent Chicken Fried Chicken. The boneless chicken is served with Chuck's garlic mashed potatoes, a healthy portion of homemade sage gravy and Cajun green beans.
Uncle Lou's (Memphis)
Situated in a strip mall by the airport, Uncle Lou's has become a Memphis icon for its honey-dipped homestyle chicken infused with Cajun-Creole butter. The secret dipping sauce was renamed Sweet Spicy Love after Guy paid a visit. But the earlier name, Corruption, still rings true. Made with a secret blend of vinegars, honey and spices, the sauce will leave you "corrupted" after the first taste. Luckily, you can order this bird whole to get your fix, or order a bottle — or a gallon — of the Sweet Spicy Love sauce to take home.
Longman & Eagle (Chicago)
Whoever complained that hotel bars didn't have good food never ate the fried chicken at Longman & Eagle in Chicago. Brined in rice wine vinegar and honey with aromatics, the chicken is next coated in seasoned flour and deep-fried in beef fat, earning it the #2 spot on Top 5 Restaurants' list of best fried chicken spots. It's served atop a hash made with sweet potatoes and Berkshire pork belly, and waffles that include maple syrup in the batter.
Big Mama's Kitchen & Catering (Omaha)
Big Mama's Kitchen & Catering repurposed a school cafeteria into a bustling restaurant. Today's menu skips chicken nuggets and instead features Southern classics like sweet potato pudding and collard greens with bacon drippings. But it's Patricia "Big Mama" Barron's chicken that keeps her customers coming back. Instead of using the typical deep-fry method, Patricia cooks her chicken in a pan of oil in a convection oven. This way it "bakes while it fries," resulting in super-moist chicken covered with a layer of crunch all around.
Hattie's Restaurant (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.)
When in Saratoga, Bobby Flay knows there's only one place to visit for fried chicken. Dating back to 1938, Hattie's Restaurant opened with Hattie Moseley Austin's menu of Southern-style cuisine that today remains largely unchanged. Chef Jasper Alexander took over the restaurant in 2001 but keeps Hattie's recipe intact, using only simple ingredients like flour, salt, pepper and vegetable oil for frying. The same can be said of Jasper's macaroni and cheese, which is baked with extra-sharp white cheddar as well as breadcrumbs (from leftover Hattie's biscuits), then garnished with rosemary and scallions.
The Redhead (New York)
Meg Grace's East Village gastropub isn't named after a head of hair: The eatery gets its name from a famous Prohibition speakeasy named The Redhead Bar. Today The Redhead serves upscale bar food, like beer cheese and housemade waffle chips, and Southern entrees like low-country shrimp and stuffed trout. Grace's insatiable, flaky Buttermilk Fried Chicken is a standout. The plate comes with a side of sweet cornbread and a market green salad — simple sides for chicken that's heavy on Southern flavor and charm.
Loveless Cafe (Nashville)
There's no shortage of old-country charm at Loveless Cafe. Here you'll find the quintessential checkered picnic tablecloths and rocking chairs out front. Regulars come from miles away for the signature all-natural fried chicken served in either a half or quarter of dark or light meat. Each chicken also comes with two homemade side dishes, like stone-ground grits or homemade creamed corn. The fried chicken recipe hasn't changed since 1951 and still comes with the fluffy biscuits that have become a must-order item for every Loveless customer.
Martha Lou's Kitchen (Charleston, S.C.)
There may not be frills at Martha Lou's Kitchen, but there's incredible Southern comfort food. The fried chicken draws customers in droves. Martha Lou seasons the chicken with secret spices before dredging it in self-rising flour, then dipping it in milk and back in the flour for a second time. A fry in peanut oil readies it for hungry masses and secures its spot as the #1 spot on Top 5 Restaurants: Fried Chicken.
Son of a Gun (Los Angeles)
Built on a buttered bun that's been slathered with a creamy aioli, the fried chicken sandwich at Son of a Gun was enticing enough to secure a spot on Guilty Pleasures. The tower features a crispy battered chicken breast and a tangy slaw with pickles and jalapeno. "This is not just any ordinary fried chicken sandwich," Jaleel White explains. "This is an experience."
Eischen's Bar (Okarche, Okla.)
As Oklahoma's oldest bar, Eischen's also holds the title for possibly serving the most fried chicken. Each week, Eischen's sells more than 24,000 pieces of its delectable battered bird. On Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy learned that the restaurant requires an entire wall of fryers to keep up with demand. It starts with a recipe dating back nearly 50 years. The flour mixture includes cornmeal, wheat flour, paprika, sugar and secret spices. The chicken takes 15 minutes in the fryer to turn that perfect shade of golden brown.
Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket (Willowbrook, Ill.)
What started as a small operation back in 1938 is now home to Dell Rhea's "world-famous fried chicken." On Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy waited patiently for the chicken that's become a go-to meal for those traveling on the iconic Route 66. Owner Patrick Rhea leaves the chicken in a special breading mixture for up to six hours. He then fries it at the low temperature of 260 degrees F for 20 minutes. It's not a "hard-fried" chicken, Guy says, but it's certainly a falls-right-off-the-bone chicken, with plenty of juice to spare. Cheese lovers should note: Dell Rhea's macaroni and cheese, baked with a "Colorado River of cheese sauce," is a creamy and addictive side.
Little Tea Shop (Memphis)
Little Tea Shop not only has the honor of being one of Memphis' oldest restaurants (it opened in 1918), but it also has the honor of being one of the most beloved. Originally opened as a tea room for the ladies, Little Tea Shop has both men and women hungry for its Southern-style menu of sweet tea, scalloped tomatoes, fried okra, squash and more. But when Guy dropped by, it was all about the Southern Fried Chicken that has been given a touch of Middle Eastern spice. Owner Suhair "Sue" Lauck grew up in Jerusalem and adds a little bit of hot sauce, Cajun seasoning and allspice to her buttermilk brine, then dusts the chicken with flour before it hits the fryer. Suhair's take on cornbread sticks also gets a twist, as her sticks are a little bit lighter and sweeter than typical Southern cornbread.