My Crispy, Crunchy Atlanta Fried Chicken Diary: A Search for a Best Fried Chicken

I adore boiled chicken. You adore boiled chicken. Who among us, or during slightest among those of us who eat meat, doesn’t penchant a initial punch into a crunchy, piping prohibited square of boiled chicken, loyal from a fryer? The adore of boiled duck in this nation is about as judgment as it gets—only ubiquitous concepts such as “burgers” or “pizza” have some-more bend and informative cache.

So why, then, is it clearly so formidable to find “really great” boiled chicken? You know, that duck with ideally crunchy skin, usually a right mix of seasoning and spices, and beef so luscious and soppy that it drips down your chin and necessitates additional napkins? Why is a hunt for boiled duck so mostly mentioned in hushed, zealous tones? Why do some locations where it can be found have all a resplendence and business of a final resting place of some kind of Holy Chicken Grail?

Well, maybe it’s given no one can utterly determine on what “really great” boiled duck means in a initial place. The law of a matter is that notwithstanding a nigh-universal adore for boiled birds, few consumers determine on accurately what creates those birds great. The methods of duck credentials and cooking are as sundry as a chefs, restaurants and business where they can be found. Some birds are brined for days, or dripping in buttermilk heading adult to their vast moment. Some are simply dusted with flour, au naturale, before being shallow-fried in expel iron skillets prolonged honed for accurately this purpose. Others are given coats of breading thicker than a Chicago winter coat, and boiled frail in a low fryer. Who are we to contend that is truly “best”?

And that’s a reason I’m not perplexing to find a comprehensive “best” duck in my adoptive city of Atlanta—a place where duck is so frequently consumed that there exists an whole Instagram account dedicated to documenting photos of a rejected and puzzling duck skeleton that spawn a streets. No matter where we went, there would always be another intensity stop watchful around a corner. Rather, let us penchant a experience of seeking out good boiled chicken—the locales, a people, and of march a birds. This is my FRIED CHICKEN DIARY.


Day 1: Matthew’s Cafeteria

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Matthew’s Cafeteria is a classical meat-and-three of your Southern childhood dreams. Don’t know “meat and three?” It’s a tenure to appropriate that sole code of southern cafeteria famous for their butter-slathered side dishes usually as many as a proteins—the suggested “three” that accompany your cube of meat, that competence be meatloaf, or pot roast, or maybe a cube of nation ham a distance of a football. Health is not a regard during a correct beef and three. Vegetarian? Best to stay divided from a immature beans or a carrots, given that pig fat expected constitutes 30% of a portion enclosure by weight.

Across a sea of red-checkered tablecloth lay a same business who contingency condescend Matthew’s any and any week, and expected have for a final half century, presumption anyone could frequently devour these plates of food and tarry that long. Middle-aged group in polo shirts with sunglasses resting opposite a backs of their necks smoothly cut adult chunks of meatloaf for their 90-year-old mothers, and any waylay of overheard review starts with something same to “Did we hear about Alice’s boy?”

Fried chicken, unsurprisingly, is an investiture here, nonetheless usually accessible for lunch on Tuesdays and Fridays. we arrive on a Tuesday, and am soon rewarded with a uninformed bin of chicken—the best steer we can see while station in line during a beef and three, and a pledge that your bird is during a freshest.

The golden membrane is thick, crunchy and delicious—well-seasoned with salt yet not utterly sole in terms of spice. It’s a prominence of a bird, that unfortunately can’t live adult to a crispy exterior, stealing beef that isn’t scarcely as soppy or dainty as it could be. Rather, I’m struck by a ideal distance of these dual pieces, a drumstick in particular. Is this a largest duck leg I’ve ever eaten, in terms of ideal meatiness? It reminds me of a legendary KFC “Mega Leg” referenced by Patton Oswalt in a shutting encore shred of his 2011 manuscript Finest Hour—certainly bigger than any kind of lucid God could ever have dictated chickens to grow. Now, if usually it could review a animation of a membrane in terms of flavor, yet on some turn this is what we design from a correct beef and three—this is a place where QUANTITY becomes paramount. Glance around, and you’ll see a beltlines to infer it.

Day 2: Watershed on Peachtree

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Fine-dining boiled duck is an peculiar beast. It’s a foodstuff historically and classically tangible by a accessibility to a common man—chunks of quick butchered bird, thrown into a expel iron skillet with a bit of flour and placed in a brownish-red paper pouch for cruise consumption, zero of that implies an costly meal. This is a platonic ideal of “fried chicken” that still would seem in a minds of many Americans when those disproportion are uttered. But there is indeed room in a duck universe for “fine dining boiled chicken” as well.

Watershed is one of a Atlanta restaurants many famous for positioning boiled duck as an art form, fixation it on a menu alongside $32 salmon or tuna entrees, nonetheless it should be remarkable that a once-a-week duck (only on Wednesdays) is a tiny $16, nonetheless this is sans sides. Still, with a side or dual (in offer to a span of superlative biscuits that I’m still forgetful about now), we’re articulate about a cost that is an sequence of bulk incomparable than even a many gilded beef and three. And for boiled chicken, that’s still flattering unique.

A singular suspicion flashes by my mind as we travel into a dusky, candlelit interior of Watershed: “This is, by no tiny margin, a darkest place I’ve ever systematic boiled chicken.” The differences between this locality and that of Matthew’s Cafeteria could frequency be some-more dramatic—the Wednesday dusk cooking throng here are clean-cut, veteran immature urbanites, a class roughly unconditionally detached from a lunchtime seniors of a beef and 3 … aside from a common boiled duck appreciation, of course. It’s usually that here, your boiled duck is almost being cleared down by a well-aged California cabernet rather than a tooth-meltingly cloying potion of honeyed tea.

The boiled duck of Watershed is all about simplicity, joined with calm in preparation. On a initial day, it soaks in brine, that works to deteriorate and dig a beef as deeply as possible. On a second day, it’s another 24 hours of buttermilk soaking. It’s usually on a third day that a bird is dredged and shallow-fried in lard, that is offer perked adult with chunks of nation ham for flavor. It’s here that a duck unequivocally creates a singular statement—the kitchen staff are utterly regressive in their use of flour, that means a comparatively thin, center crust, that we competence contend crisps rather than crunches. A center disproportion on paper, perhaps, yet pivotal in practice, as it creates no tip what is meant to be a star of this dish—the beef itself. The boon is juicy, proposal strength opposite all 4 pieces (quite a pile, really), nonetheless even during this level, one boiled duck law stays constant: The leg and thigh still simply win in terms of ideal succulence. The day we come opposite a duck breast that can kick out those dual pieces of beef is a day we swear my devotion to a new white beef overlord.

Day 3: American Deli

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Let me make one thing clear: Chicken wings unequivocally merit an whole diary of their own, and especially in Atlanta. Wings are a vast understanding here in my adoptive city, and you’re never some-more than a stone’s chuck divided from one of a hundreds of eccentric or sequence wing shops that proliferate on travel corners and semi-sketchy frame malls. If you’ve watched Atlanta on FX, maybe you’ve gotten a clarity for this, and also schooled about a deteriorate that manners a roost via Atlanta: lemon pepper. Like Italian sausage pizzas in Chicago, a lemon peppers wing is Atlanta royalty, and for good reason—lemon peppers wings are delicious. In fact, a initial deteriorate of Atlanta memorably featured an surprising diversion from a standard lemon peppers formula—the fanciful “lemon peppers wet,” nonetheless for a functions of a story a wings were poorly attributed as entrance from internal Atlanta wing investiture J.R. Crickets. In reality, a strange “lemon peppers wet” wings originated elsewhere, during American Deli.

As distant as bondage go, American Deli locations are about as prosy in coming as they come. They demeanour cobbled together from a bits of countless wing shops, burger bars and prohibited dog stands, and you’d never unequivocally theory to demeanour during one that a sequence is deliberate one of a improved places to reliably get high-quality duck wings in Atlanta. It’s something we was ignorant of myself for several years after relocating to ATL—an American Deli storefront is usually an easy thing to overlook. But if we unequivocally wish a strange “lemon peppers wet,” this is where we have to go. And if you’re going to write about bone-in boiled duck via Atlanta, we need to during slightest acknowledge a ascendency of a duck wing during some point. I’m here to kill dual chickens with one stone.

The hustling lunch throng during American Deli are veterans to this routine, on both sides of a counter. They understanding with this insane rush on a daily basis, and carrying a whole grill packaged with people messily ravenous suacy wings while a line to sequence snakes by a tables is a baseline rather than an exception. Atlanta’s African American competition is well-represented of course—many wing shops sojourn distinguished cornerstones of internal black communities—but a allure of lemon peppers wings knows no race, and there’s a incomparable array of farrago here that is absent from many of a other restaurants I’ll revisit in a march of my boiled duck diary. Just station in line, we can hear churned congregation carrying lemon pepper-related conversations with a grill staff—each one sounds something like “but that comes with a salsa though, right? Good.”

The salsa of “lemon peppers wet” is radically simplified butter, lemon peppers and maybe lemon juice, given who cares about cholesterol, right? The outcome is that any wing is explosively flavorful—very salty, really tangy, really lemony, really everything. The skin of any prosaic or drumette is crispy and greatly flavored, to a indicate that a sincerely center 10 wing combo feels like a vast overindulgence. “Subtlety” is nowhere to be found here, usually wish accomplishment for those who suffer a piquancy and sour peculiarity of lemon pepper. The usually transparent critique to be done is a distance of a flats themselves—almost constantly a improved partial of a wing (never trust someone who says they cite drumettes), they’re a bit petty here in a beef department, that puts an already suacy and tainted wing in risk of apropos totally out of balance. But that’s how a business likes them, and that’s how lemon peppers soppy will remain.

P.S. – The wrinkle fries are almost some-more addictive than we would ever design possible.

Day 4: Busy Bee Cafe

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Every city has that one ancient cafeteria or caf� that is infused with prestige on a really deep, former level. The kind of places visited for photos ops by a absolute and a successful (actors, athletes, politicians) over a decades, yet essentially tended to by a operative class—the people who really compensate a bills and keep a doors open. Every city of note has one of these establishments. And in Atlanta, that’s a Busy Bee.

It competence be easier to note a celebrities and chronological total who haven’t visited a Busy Bee than to relate all of those who have. Barack Obama dined there. So did Martin Luther King Jr. So did clearly any pro contestant or musician who’s ever upheld by Atlanta. And we can be damn certain that many of them were drawn there by a awaiting of a best boiled duck in Atlanta. And on that front, Busy Bee delivers emphatically.

Make no mistake; Busy Bee is an iconic investiture for Atlanta’s black village in particular. On a day we stopped in to dine, a small, dear cafeteria had usually non-stop a doors mins earlier, yet a Sunday morning church throng had already filled it to a brim. Men, women and children on their approach home from internal black churches on a west side of Atlanta streamed by a doors, eyeing profitable space during a countertop and picking adult carry-out orders with hilariously prolonged lists of side dishes and sauces. The pounding of review recalls a one-upsmanship from Key Peele’s classical “soul food” sketch, as everybody seems to be attempting to surpass any other by immoderate gradually incomparable piles of gravy-laden starch and meat. One can usually assume that destructive cases of The Itis are a common result, if The Boondocks is to be believed.

The chicken, in a word, is phenomenal. It’s what boiled duck obsessives dream about, yet don’t brave to expect, when they see a disproportion “fried” and “chicken” on a menu. A thin, yet intensely crunchy membrane produces a joyous break with any and any bite. It’s really good seasoned as well, not usually with salt yet with a muddle of piquancy records that are so many some-more formidable than they would ever need to be in sequence to prove many patrons—I’m sitting during a opposite eating a duck leg, debating in my conduct possibly I’m picking adult on records of nutmeg or smoked paprika. In reality, it could be neither, yet that doesn’t make a duck any reduction fabulous. The flesh, likewise, is luscious and seasoned all a approach through. It’s over reproach. There’s zero else to say.

Ask Barack Obama; he’ll determine with me.

Day 5: Richards’ Southern Fried

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It’s been fascinating to watch a zenith of Nashville “hot chicken” on a inhabitant stage, has it not? Only a integrate years ago, prohibited duck was usually another informal dish, ‘ala Mississippi’s “slugburgers” or Rochester, NY’s “white prohibited dogs.” But after roving a call of recognition and exposure, even inhabitant quick food bondage like KFC are now hawking prohibited chicken, to a indicate that a open has come to know utterly good what this boiled duck subgenre represents. As such, it was usually healthy to inject a tiny prohibited duck into my boiled duck diary.

Richards’ is an eccentric boiled duck mount that was advantageous adequate to concurrently fasten itself onto dual apart crazes in American food culture: prohibited duck and “community markets/food halls.” In a time given we changed to Atlanta in 2014, this judgment has come on in a vast approach and valid massively successful on a internal scale: They simply find a large, new building (like a former bureau or bureau building) and fill it to a margin with food kiosks, vendors, drink and yuppie-friendly shopping. What’s not to love, aside from a crowds?

The vibe around Richards’, then, is one of eclecticism. Directly opposite from their mount in Atlanta’s Krog Street Market, we can find “Zhong-style dumplings and burning Sichuan food.” A tiny offer down there’s neapolitan pizza. Or sushi. Or a heady smell of a workman chocolatier. The cultured is a rather epicurean one—yeah, there’s technically a extract mount creation kale smoothies, yet good fitness ever spotting a line in front of pronounced stall. The burger box opposite from it, however …

The second Richards’ duck comes out of a kitchen, it’s immediately apparent we’re traffic with a opposite form of boiled bird here. The tone is a dim mahogany, churned with section red, presumably a outcome of both a spicing and a longer event in a fryer to build a darker crust. It’s also noticeably oily—you can see tiny pools of oil collecting in a crannies of a crust, along with a trace of what seem to be chile flakes. If we didn’t know better, we competence indeed consider it came from a Sichuan Chinese box instead as a result.

As for a “hot” partial of a equation, it’s positively not a misnomer. I’m eating a center feverishness turn on this occasion, that isn’t accurately burning a impulse it hits a tongue, yet afterwards usually builds via until additional napkins are indispensable to clean a persperate divided from a brow. The membrane is crunchy, thick and intensely flavorful, ripping divided in vast chunks. The initial thing one notices, infrequently enough, isn’t accurately a feverishness yet a sweet—there’s clearly a lot of brownish-red sugarine concerned in possibly a brine or breading, that almost contributes to both a caramelized coming and a sweet-and-spicy break of a skin. Regardless, it’s a flattering nifty change of gait that doesn’t take divided from a juicy, proposal dim beef underneath. Fun fact about that square of duck on a left, by a way: That’s a thigh, not a breast. Undoubtedly one of a biggest, meatiest duck thighs I’ve ever encountered.

Day 6: Hop’s Chicken

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I’ve already explained a materialisation of a “food hall” above, yet it occurs to me now that boiled duck competence really good be a ideal food gymnasium dish—it’s informed to any consumer walking by, and we can ready it low adequate to make it a pretty labelled option, even with a decent mark-up. You can even welcome a laissez faire opinion of some pizzerias by creation all totally ‘ala carte—just name that pieces of duck we want, and someone walking by can obstacle a drumstick for a snack. As we pronounced above, it’s a format that simply fulfills one’s some-more epicurean impulses.

All of those things are loyal of Hop’s, a boiled duck box anchoring a core of Atlanta’s second vital village market/food hall, Ponce City Market. Situated during a mid indicate between dual shops offered impossibly overpriced home products and $300 dutch ovens, they’re portion adult ‘ala carte, by-the-piece, Southern-style boiled duck to passerby, that is positively a good tiny underline for a dim beef advocate such as myself. Why yes, we would like a leg and a thigh, appreciate we really much.

Hop’s duck immediately strikes me as a happy center between several of a styles I’ve already had in a march of this boiled duck diary. The breading is really thick and crunchy, violation off into large, multi-layered shards with any bite. It’s well-seasoned yet a tiny bit on a chewy side, with a vast volume of black peppers giving it hints of genuine heat—probably a many pepper-forward pieces of duck in this diary. The strength is in a center in terms of juiciness/tenderness, nonetheless we contingency give props for a thigh, that was intensely succulent. All in all, a few well-balanced pieces of chicken, yet a ideal density of a membrane means this one would essentially seductiveness to a duck skin lovers.

With that pronounced … who among us isn’t a duck skin lover? As someone who once assembled a sandwich done wholly from duck skin (why am we revelation this?), it would be implicitly broke for me to minimize a appeal.

Day 7: Revival

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We tighten out my soak into Atlanta boiled duck enlightenment with one some-more drop of a common toe into a waters of excellent dining boiled chicken. Decatur’s Revival is something of an oddity—an upscale grill that focuses wholly on a same kinds of Southern classics typically found during a beef and three—your boiled chicken, your meatloaf, your catfish, etc, solely during a reward of panache (and expense). Unlike, say, Watershed progressing on this list, Revival isn’t a “modern American” grill that happens to offer some Southern specials; it’s a Southern grill that purports to make towering versions of “grandma’s recipes.” Fried duck isn’t a once-a-week special here; it’s a initial snack on a menu and a initial thing your eyes are ostensible to see.

As for a pricing ($15 for a entree, all sides sole separately), it’s not immediately transparent what a motive is behind it. Is a patron ostensible to make a arrogance that this is a special bird? Or that a credentials is some-more strenuous than normal? Or is it protected to assume you’re profitable for a status that comes with eating during a grill of a luminary chef, in this case, Top Chef finalist and Atlanta investiture Kevin Gillespie? we still wasn’t wholly certain afterward, yet we can during slightest news that they know how to make some plain chicken.

Seated during one of a many tiny tables that are widespread rather haphazardly around a antique home that houses Revival, we was presented with a stark, unique-looking image of chicken. One initial records a darker, chestnut-tinged grill that these birds have received, that yields skin that is splendidly crunchy. The membrane is really engaging in general—very light in terms of thickness/depth of breading, yet concurrently very crunchy and uniform, holding together nicely. Seasoning is sincerely minimal and old-school, with a grainy note that reminds me rather of a arrange of cornmeal breading we competence use for a square of boiled catfish. The strength is tender, prohibited and juicy—as good as we could wish for.

Of sole seductiveness is a square on a left in a print above—that’s indeed a breast, that creates it positively a smallest duck breast I’ve seen in a march of this diary. That warn was counterpointed by a second one: The breast was a best square of beef on a plate! Color me repelled as a dim beef devotee, yet for whatever reason, a Revival breast showed a deeper grade of seasoning and change than a others, well-spiced with hints of black peppers and cayenne. If any square here was on standard with a breast, it could be a contender for a best boiled duck we sampled.


Final Winner

Taking positively any cause into consideration, from seasoning and succulence to value and ambiance, there can be usually one loyal winner. The boiled duck that I’ll be forgetful about and regulating as a baseline to review other boiled birds opposite for a forseeable destiny is … Busy Bee Cafe.

This is a platonic ideal of boiled chicken, and we didn’t have a singular square in Atlanta that was a some-more ideal countenance of frail skin, well-seasoned strength and all else we wish in your anticipation boiled chicken. On my hunt for boiled duck heaven, a Busy Bee bird represents nirvana. Go try it for yourself and see.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff author who enjoys quixotic, chicken-related quests. You can follow him on Twitter.

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