Fried Chicken

The anti-Chick-fil-A succeeds….@leghornchicken

Leghorn Chicken – 959 N Western

Back a few months ago, I had written about Parsons – we had ended up on Parsons bc our initial choice – Leghorn – had not opened yet, to our dismay.  Thankfully, they are now open for business and serving up some pretty solid chicken sammies…the menu is simple, but offers a wide range of choices, and the sides are interesting.

Nashville hot thigh, biscuit

Nashville hot thigh, biscuit

For my first visit (and there will be more – if not only bc I went without Sara, to her disappointment), I went with the nashville hot, thigh, biscuit.  (You get a choice of meat, hot or brined, and choice of starch, along with a list of various toppings).   I kept it simple – wanted to really get a sense of the chicken itself.  The thigh was nicely fried, juicy, with a deep umami flavor and the right amount of slow kick.  Not quite as in your face hot as the spicy chicken from Leghorn’s ultra-conservative, not open on Sundays “competitor”, the Nashville hot had a good spice that left a nice residual burn on the tongue and just a bead or two of sweat by the time I was done with the sandwich.

Fruit and Togarashi

Fruit and Togarashi

My choice of side was the pineapple and mango, topped with a dense helping of togarashi – an interesting mix of flavors that creates a fairly bold salty-sweet contrast.  Don’t think it worked as great as I thought it would, but it’s a solid side choice, and the fruit balanced the spiciness of the sandwich well.

There’s not too much to Leghorn, but they do it solid.  It’s marketed itself well and I think as long as the fried chicken craze has legs (and thighs and breasts), I think Leghorn will be a solid staple for years to come, and the fact that they’re opening just a few blocks from home is a dangerous proposition.

Oh, and btw, love the shoutout to Avon Barksdale, even though I’m only a season in….

 

 

 

 

 

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An excursion to Austin…Da Meat Sweats (x12)…Part 1

When it came down to picking a spot for my bachelor party, I had quite a few options – I was able to narrow it down to a reasonably narrow list – Chicago, Vegas, NOLA, Charleston, and Austin.  I wanted to travel and go somewhere warm, as the near freezing April temps in Chicago were getting to me, so that ruled out Chicago.  Most people were traveling from Chicago or the West Coast so Charleston seemed unreasonable, and Jazz Fest was going on, which means NOLA would’ve been a bit of a shit-show.  So, it came down to Austin vs. Vegas, and as much fun as Vegas probably would’ve been, the thought of waiting in line to pay $500 for a bottle of Absolut at XS or whatever the hot new club is, just didn’t seem all that attractive.  Maybe I’m getting old.  Or maybe waiting in line for some Franklin brisket just sounded better.

Well, I arrived in Austin Thursday around noon – my buddy McC picked me up from the airport and I headed to our first food excursion for lunch – Gus’s.  For those of you who don’t know, Gus’s is a Memphis transplant, the original in a small town outside of Memphis.  It has, IMO, the *best* fried chicken I’ve ever had.  So when I found out that a location opened up in Austin, it seemed like a natural first stop.

Now sometimes, you remember something being awesome, and then you have it again, and you’ve built it up in your head so much that you can’t help but be disappointed…not so in this case.

Fried pickles

Fried pickles

The meal starts with some piping hot fried pickles.  Probably the only disappointing parts of the meal were a. The ranch was not fresh, but packaged ranch, and b. the lack of catfish on the menu here.  The pickles were well battered, mostly sweet with a nice bite to them.   Add a 16oz Lone Star to it and the bachelor party has begun (I couldn’t remember the last time I had a beer during lunch on a weekday – damn, it felt good)

Heaven

Heaven

The picture here and pictures everywhere won’t do the chicken at Gus’s justice.  It has everything you want in a fried chicken (as long as you want it spicy).  The skin is perfectly crisp, but doesn’t crumble when you bite into it.  The skin has a nice bit of cayenne to it, but the real spice hits when you bite into it.  The meat, always piping hot and perfectly cooked.  But it’s the spice of the actual meat that sets it apart from other fried chickens.  There’s a perfect underlying heat that lingers and is what makes Gus’s stand out.  It can’t be explained.  And it’s a well-kept secret.  People have tried to replicate, and thankfully, I have a fiancee who is on a never-ending quest to find the perfect fried chicken recipe.  We will try some of the internet copycats, and will see how close they come.

The platter

The platter

I’ll fast forward a few days to Saturday afternoon when we headed back to Gus’s – this time with a much larger group – similar story, and now after 4 trips to Gus’s (twice in Memphis), I have no doubt that the fried chicken here will be tough to beat.

Chess pie x2, pecan, key lime

Chess pie x2, pecan, key lime

I can’t say much about the pies here, although they were ordered.  The chocolate chess pie (front right) was pretty decadent and solid.

Thursday evening, we headed to Lambert’s in downtown Austin – a bit of a dressed up BBQ joint, it seemed like a good lowkey Thursday dinner spot, and a good way to start the trip, as the bulk of our crew had arrived by then.

Wild boar ribs, sambal, honey, blue cheese

Wild boar ribs, sambal, honey, blue cheese

We started with a pair of apps, the first, an amazing boudin fritter dish with a perfectly tender, soft texture with a nice kick and a firm, fried shell.  The second were a somewhat underwhelming wild boar rib dish.  The meat was a bit tough, and not quite as gamey as I would have expected.  The mix of the blue cheese and the sambal paste balanced nicely.

Brisket

Brisket

For an entree, I went with the brisket – it was pretty disappointing as a start (although I say this in retrospect after the rest of my trip).  The coffee rub had a good flavor, but the crust didn’t have enough bark to it, and the meat itself was very dried out.  Pretty average, and not quite what I expected out of Texas BBQ.

The meal at Lamberts was a great time, but the food was a bit underwhelming.   Thankfully, the trip was just beginning….more to come soon….

 

 

 

We finally made it to @BavettesChicago

Bavettes Bar & Bouef – 218 W Kinzie Street, Chicago, IL

Bavette’s, like all of Brendan Sodikoff’s joints, is dimly lit with old school decor to make you feel like you stepped back in time.  It sets an appropriate tone for the menu, which has a solid old school feel, almost more so than the Next Chicago steak menu.  It’s a place Sara and I had been meaning to check out for awhile, and I’m glad we finally got around to checking it out.

Now the caveat to this review is that we stayed reasonably modest this trip, avoiding the pricier prime cuts of meat and the shellfish tower (as tempting as it was)

Oysters

Oysters

We did, however, start with a half dozen oysters – 3 Mattaki’s, and 3 Raspberry Point (West and East coast, respectively).   The smaller West coast Mattaki’s were a bit sweet, the larger Raspberry Points had just the right amount of saltiness.

Salmon Tartare

Salmon Tartare

Salmon Tartare

Salmon Tartare

So the picture is obviously dark, an homage to Sodikoff’s lighting scheme, but shows the wonderful plating of the salmon tartare dish, serving a healthy dollop of finely chopped salmon, nicely seasoned with a bit of pepper to give it just a bit of spice that was balanced perfectly by a scoop of creme fraiche.  The thinly crisped lavash provides an excellent vessel to scoop up bites off of the plate.

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

spice mix

spice mix

Sara went with the steak frites – a reasonably sized portion of a flat-iron steak, simply prepared and served with a side of sea salt, peppercorns, and a few other spices that you can sprinkle on.  The Bearnaise sauce was a bit thick and oily, but had a decent flavor, the steak itself was pretty solid and suprisingly tender for a flat-iron.  The fries were a bit limp and sauce, but well seasoned.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

I went with the fried chicken, as Bavettes’ was recently highlighted the dish in an article in Chicago magazine.  Served with a housemade hot sauce and a buttermilk ranch with perfect consistency, the chicken itself was well battered.  The batter itself had a bit of flavor, but it wasn’t anything noteworthy.  The meat itself lacked any real flavor, and it was a bit on the dry side.

Elotes-style corn

Elote-style corn

The next real highlight of the meal was the side of elote-style corn, which I highly recommend getting as a side no matter what you order at Bavette’s.  It’s bathed in a cream sauce with an  interesting mix of chili powder and lime, giving it a nice spicy-sour taste with hints of parmesan.

Gold Brick Sundae with Malted Bourbon Ice Cream

Gold Brick Sundae with Malted Bourbon Ice Cream

With freezing chocolate sauce

With freezing chocolate sauce

For dessert, we got the gold-brick sundae – another highly recommended item, if you have room.  Two scoops of ice cream served with a magic shell chocolate sauce.  The ice cream was an awesome malted bourbon ice cream and the sauce solidifies in to a crisp chocolate shell almost immediately as it hits the ice cream.

So I can’t tell whether we’re on more of a Sodikoff kick or a DMK kick – I guess DMK edges out the Sodikoff group – with trips to DMK, County, and MK in the last month or two, but a trip to Au Cheval or the new spot opening up in the Dillman’s’ space would even up the score.  I   I would like to go back to Bavette’s and try some of the higher-end prime cuts, and definitely go back for the elote.

 

 

There is a way to do pan-Asian well….@sunda

Sunda – 110 W Illinois St. Chicago, IL

There tends to be a general disdain towards pan-Asian or Asian fusion restaurants.  It probably has a lot to do with Asian food purists who feel like it’s hard to do so much well at the same time, or a lot of them tend to be more low-key carryout-type places – nothing wrong with that, just hard to shine when you’re trying to do so much at once.  Sunda busted on the scene a few years ago to much hype – much of that has to do with the chic decor and the celebrity sightings, but I place like that won’t last long unless it’s got the food and drink to back up that hype.  Five years later, the decor and menu at Sunda remain minimally changed, and the crowds continue to pack the place night after night, so the formula’s working.

I always was curious what my parents would think of Sunda, so when they came into town a few Sundays ago, I figured it would be a good choice. Thankfully, they like to eat early so we were able to snag a 5:00 reservation before the rush hit (and yes, there’s even a rush on a Sunday at Sunda – ha!

Braised Oxtail Dumplings

Braised Oxtail Dumplings

We started with the oxtail dumplings, a variant on traditional fried Asian dumpling (choose country of your choice – Korean mandoo, Japanese gyoza, etc) served atop a soupy onion sauce and topped with a wasabi cream.  The oxtail makes for a great dumpling filling but was just a bit skimpy for the size of the dumpling, the combo of the onion jus and wasabi cream were pretty subtle, but a nice sauce mixture for the dumpling.

Kimchi Soup with pork belly, tofu

Kimchi Soup with pork belly, tofu

Of course we had to try the kimchi soup – decent but different when we were expecting a straight up kimchi jigae.   This here is the perfect reason why (I think) people usually don’t care for Asian fusion – I think it’s that you order something like this, expecting the traditional dish you’re used to, so you can help but be disappointed when it’s something different.   But when you take it at face value – the soup’s alright – it’s got a bit of a sour flavor with lemongrass undertones reminiscent of a Thai tom yum soup – the kimchi mixes in but doesn’t have that pickled bite, and the pork belly seems like an afterthought.  Mediocre based on expectations, but not a bad dish otherwise….

Ginger tofu

Ginger tofu

Following this was a simple fried tofu dish, topped with a sweet ginger sauce and dotted with some fresh veggies and some red chilies to give it just a hint of spice.  A simple but well executed dish.

Shishito Peppers

Shishito Peppers

Love shishito peppers – love ’em.  Especially since they’re mostly mild, but one in 5 are uber-spicy.   These are dressed with a gentle soy sauce that balances the flavor of the peppers nicely.  The only place I’ve found better are the lively ones at Roka Akor that are smothered with fresh bonito flakes….

7-Spice Fried Chicken

7-Spice Fried Chicken

What’s a Mark and Sara meal without fried chicken?   A half chicken portion a bit pricey at $24.  The glaze is sweet and thick and does a nice job coating the skin of the chicken and the seasoning is a traditional Chinese spice mix.   The sliced peppers are more for show and a bit more heat would be nice, but the chicken is solidly cooked, nice and tender.

Crispy duck fried rice

Crispy duck fried rice

For the final dish of the evening (before dessert), we got the duck fried rice, mixed with a mix of greens and mushrooms.  Mixed in with the rice were some bits of crispy duck cracklins adding some nice texture to the softer cooked rice.  Like the majority of our meal, there were hints of sweetness to the rice here.   In fact, most of our meal trended towards the sweet side, something I hadn’t really noticed on my previous visits, but it may have just been what we ordered.

Donut Holes

Donut Holes

Topped with a decent amount of cinammon sugar and served with a chocolate cream.

RI-DIC-OO-RUS!

RI-DIC-OO-RUS!

The only common theme to all of my visits to Sunda – an awesome dessert, if not for the name itself, the ridicoorous is a healthy scoop of rich vanilla ice cream wrapped in a thin, chewy layer of ginger gooey cake, and topped with walnuts and a caramel sauce.  This is a perfect mixture of different sweet flavors and textures and is a perfect dish to share for 3 or 4.

This trip to Sunda was alright, but I’ve have much better.  I passed on a few dishes that have shined before in the past – the Crispy pata, the brussels sprouts salad, and the miso black cod, to name a few.  We also skipped their sushi dishes – which while expensive are fresh and pretty rich in flavor.  For an Asian fusion joint, the peeps at Sunda do a great job and it’s worth checking out and great for a big group of people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Fried Chicken in Chicago? You decide…@ParsonsCHI

Parson’s Chicken & Fish – 2952 W. Armitage Ave – Chicago, IL

I do realize that fried chicken is not the best food for you, and your arteries and heart usually cry out for help after you eat it.   I can justify it any way I want, there’s probably no really good excuse for splurging other than saying it’s a guilty pleasure.   And if you’re going to have a food that’s a guilty pleasure, than you may as well look for the best around.  And Parson’s is definitely in the conversation, if not at the top of the list.

While fried chicken is clearly a long term staple of southern cuisine, and has been a popular food choice for years and years, it’s definitely in a bit of a “food fad” phase right now.  With the openings of Parson’s and Honey Butter Fried Chicken last year, and the recent opening of Leghorn last week, you get the feeling there’s a “cool” factor surrounding the breaded crispy poultry treat, something that may or may not be there in a few years.  That being said, while the fad may die down, places like Parson’s and HBFC will likely be staples in the Chicago area for years to come.

Sara and I were looking for a spot to have lunch a few weekends ago, and decided to swing by Leghorn for a bite – the website and facebook pages suggested it was open, which was odd, because at the time, I figured it would be getting more buzz (like the buzz it’s getting now).  So we were obviously surprised to find a locked door and blacked out windows when we arrived at Leghorn.  By that time, we were on a mission for fried chicken, so we headed up to Parson’s for a bite.

The counter at Parson's

The counter at Parson’s

Parson’s is clearly a restaurant built for the warm weather.   The inside, which is a fraction of the size of its huge outdoor patio, has maybe four or five booths and a handful of seats at the counter/bar.  The decor feels like it’s straight out of the 60’s, as does the menu a bit.

Hush Puppies

Hush Puppies

Hush puppies - after a bite

Hush puppies – after a bite

We started out with an ordered of the Parson Hush Puppies, which were perfectly fried – nice and mealy on the inside, with a crisp shell.  Scattered in with the cornmeal are scattered pieces of ham hock with the right amount of saltiness, and a bit of cream cheese that soften up the texture nicely.  The hushpuppies are served with a Harissa aioli, which was just ok.   It added a touch of flavor, but lacked significant spiciness.

Fried Amish Chicken

Fried Amish Chicken

Certainly the hush puppies were good, but the real star here is the fried chicken.  It’s perfectly seasoned, crispy, firm battered skin with a deep, darker brown that’s  not overly greasy, The batter itself seals the skin nicely, resulting in a piping hot, moist, tender inside.  Some may find it a bit salty, I think the brine is great, with a flavor that’s got a very deep richness that lingers in your mouth for awhile.  This may not be favorable for some, but I love it.

Sadly, the fish fritters were not on the menu – either permanently (hope not) or just on account of the season.  Looking forward to the patio reopening – it’s a great spot for drinks and grub when it’s warm out.  If you’re a fried chicken geek, the dish at Parson’s is different – whether it’s better or worse is up to you.   I personally dig it more than HBFC, but with the caveat that I was sick when I ate at Honey Butter, so I’ve got another visit due in the near future.