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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Annals of Fried Chicken

Hello, old friend.  Please, pour yourself a drink and have a seat. This is The Annals of Fried Chicken.

Saturday, January 21, 2012.
The first significant snow of the year.  It's all over by 1pm, and I trek across the city, consuming a concrete from Shack Shack, a slice of pizza from a new $1 slice joint down on Bleeker Street, and, in between these two delights, I consume a meal of fried chicken from Hill Country.  It was a fried chicken sandwich if you will, only the "bread" was one slice of Shake Shack custard and one slice of pizza.

I had been to Hill Country before and remembered thinking it was pretty good.  On this return visit, I order their "Hill Country Classic" fried chicken, getting a breast and wing, along with a biscuit and cheesy mashed potatoes. 

First, the sides: the cheesy fried mashed potatoes were cheesy, savory, scrumptious, good, with a distinct flavor of "fried," if fried has a flavor in-and-of-itself.  The biscuit may have been tasty if it had been served a week earlier, which is when I assume it first came out of the oven.

Now, the chicken: good.  The meat was moist.  The skin was not particularly crunchy, the moistness of the meat and the oils saturating the batter and pushing it in the direction of wet.  Lord knows their was nothing horribly wrong with this bird - it was pretty good - but there was nothing horribly right, either.  The Hill Country slogan is "Not all fried chicken is created equal."  I completely concur with this sentiment.  Sadly, I can't see how Hill Country rises about the masses of "pretty good" fried chickens.

Friday, January 27, 2012.
I take a long walk to clear myself of the dark, bilious humors pervading my soul, and come face-to-face with death: I learn that Shake Shack has discontinued whipped cream.  Given that I am resilient and extremely handsome, I press on, deciding to try a chicken establishment called Dirty Bird To Go, located on 14th Street.

The place: small, homey, several small tables and counters against the window, a place where locals seems to grab a bite.  They're playing Exile on Main Street Rolling Stones, and the place has a warm, "Southern" kind of charm.  Or perhaps not Southern charm, but some sort of charm.

I order the fried chicken and a side of garlic sauteed kale.  All of this is brought to my table, along with a nice-looking (and tasting) piece of cornbread.  The very friendly gentleman recommends a pepper-infused vinegar for the chicken, and who am I to refuse such a thing?

And how was this chicken: good.  How I tire of saying this!  Good.  Why, oh lord, do you place in my soul the desire - the need - for the most mind-blowing fried chicken, and yet no such thing on earth or heaven or hell exists?  What kind of cruel trick is this?  What kind of a god would do such a thing?

Much like Hill Country, the meat was moist.  The skin was nominally crunchy. I tasted the bird without the vinegar, and then generously doused the golden game.  It added some flavor, for sure, but it simply couldn't compensate for the meat, which was juicy but not well-seasoned enough.

This whole situation does bring up an important question when it comes to the affairs of fried chicken:  what role do sauces play?  Should they complement what should already be an intensely satisfying experience?  Do sauces ever make the experience, for instance in the case of a smothered fried chicken or a honey-dipped fried chicken?  Or, should sauces or condiments be banned from fried chicken?

Another factor raised by the Dirty Bird Scenario was that of atmosphere, ambiance, place.  Dirty Bird was charming and welcoming and very much seemed like a fried chicken place.  In the end, it couldn't make up for a fried chicken that was good but nothing more.  But still, the decor, the music, the people, very much elevated Dirty Bird into an experience that I would recommend.  Certainly, no need to go out of your way to eat there, but if you're in the neighborhood, it's a completely relaxing and fun place to dine in, and the whole experience becomes more than the sum of its fried chicken.

And now, dear friend, I hope you have enjoyed your drink and these tales, but it is time for you to go.  Please leave. I must sit alone and meditate on these matters.  I must meditate on a cruel god who taunts me with an idea and provides no solace in reality.  Farewell!