Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Best Fried Chicken You've Not Eaten

When you think about fried chicken locally, what restaurants come to mind?

Most would say Hattie's. And that's for good reason. Hattie's fried chicken is renowned in the area, and it's not only locally famous, it's also nationally famous. And just as a side note, if you've never been, do put a visit to Hattie's on your bucket list.

Any other local restaurants that are known for their fried chicken that you can name?
The only others I can think of off the top of my head are The Flying Chicken in Troy, and Cupz on Arch St., in Albany's south end neighborhood, neither of which unfortunately, I've yet to get to. (But if there are others, please feel free to enlighten me in the comments).

A few days ago was the Albany Food & Wine Festival. As part of the event, they recognize six 'rising star' chefs. Six local chefs that are under the radar, but that are making great food. I was aware of five of the six restaurants the chefs are affiliated with. But I had no idea the sixth existed. And she makes southern comfort food, which I'm a big fan of.

In a previous job, I traveled to Atlanta 3 to 4 times a year. I always looked forward to it for obvious reasons. Atlanta has a fantastic food scene, and much of that is focused on southern comfort food. I've eaten some good stuff during my stays there. I've had awesome BBQ, delicious fried chicken and waffles, and wonderful shrimp and grits, among others.

It's always fun to discover a new place, especially one that is recognized for great food, and especially when it's a category of food near the top of my favorites list. The sixth rising star chef is Stephanie Gaddy of Soul Kitchen (Facebook page is here. Her website is here). Soul Kitchen is so under the radar, that it didn't even have a Yelp page. And Yelpers are pretty good at sniffing out great food (no pun intended). Considering I was there right at lunch time and despite the recent notoriety, I was the only customer. That leads me to believe that the word still hasn't gotten out.

When I stopped into Soul Kitchen for lunch I had three things in mind that I wanted to try. The fried chicken, her collard greens, and grits.

Soul Kitchen is inside the Coliseum Mall, on South Pearl. The 'mall' is a collection of very small shops, on two floors, in an older, but charming building. I arrived at about 11:45, and the door to the restaurant was locked. I was disappointed, but also confused. I could see a sign of their hours and they weren't supposed to be closed. I stood in front of the locked door like a lost puppy for about 3 minutes before a gentleman that was working in a shop across the hall yelled over to me and he said that Stephanie had run out of flour and was at the grocery store getting more. He said she'd be right back.

So I waited. And waited. And waited. I could see the door from my vantage point, but I saw no one enter or leave for a good half hour. I gave up, but before leaving I gave the door handle one more tug, just to make sure I hadn't missed her. The door was still locked, but then I heard the same voice from across the hall yell "Stephanie! You have a customer!" Apparently she had stopped at another shop on her way back in.

Small and locally owned restaurants are a big deal these days and Soul Kitchen is the epitome of that idea. Truly, Soul Kitchen is as small and local as you're going to get. Peeking into the kitchen, I could see her stove, which is a typical home kitchen stove, and sitting on that stove was a crockpot, one you'd likely pick up at Target or Walmart, full of grits. To say Soul Kitchen is a homespun operation is an understatement. The shop is tiny. There's one table off to the side, that literally looks like it came from my grandmothers house, and the front of the shop has room for maybe 2 or 3 people to stand while waiting for their food.

Stephanie let me in, and I placed my order. She put everything in a styrofoam to go box, and I headed out the door to my car as quickly as I could. I didn't want to waste any time digging in.


Three drumsticks, and a healthy serving each of collards and grits. 

The collards were chopped into bite sized pieces, with an occasional hunk of what I'm sure was shredded pork (from a ham hock perhaps). Often, southern style greens have either too much vinegar, or they're too sweet. But these were mild, and barely sweet. The grits too were mild, but well salted, and buttery.

I thought her fried chicken was excellent. Crunchy and crusty. The breading adhered with an iron grip to the skin. It was well seasoned, but simply, I only tasted salt and maybe a little pepper. The meat on the drumsticks was tender and flavorful. This is very good fried chicken. This is as close to home cooking as you're going to get at a restaurant. The evidence is in the simple, but experienced preparation. It's not fancy. It doesn't wow. But it's delicious, and it's dirt cheap. My filling lunch set me back the princely sum of $7 and change. She does breakfast as well. Plus she has many other items on the menu that sound good.

I agree with the Albany Food & Wine festival that Stephanie and her southern home cooking are worth taking notice of.


2 comments:

  1. Been to Allie B's on Clinton Ave, yet? Solid fried chicken as well. I haven't been to Comfort yet,but it is on my list. It moved up a few slots on that list now!

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    1. I've not been to Allie B's. But I do plan to get over there at some point though.

      When you say Comfort, are you referring to Comfort Kitchen in Saratoga?

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