The Best Fried Chicken in New York
I wasn't raised in a religious household, but I went to high school in Atlanta, where eating at Chick-fil-A was a serious ritual. That's where I went before class on Friday—and sometimes after class on Friday—to eat chicken and biscuits (and chicken in biscuits).
The Atlanta-based chain, founded in the 1940s, has nearly 2,000 locations across the country, including a new Midtown Manhattan location that will open this summer. Let's be honest, it isn't by any means the best fried chicken. It holds some power over me all the same, like a first love. I will always think back fondly on those days when I catch the perfume of artificial butter.
When David Chang spoke at SXSW over the weekend, he noted Chick-fil-A as one of several fast-food reference points for his next project. Chang plans to transform the former Ko restaurant space in Manhattan's East Village into the first outpost of Fuku, a fried chicken test run for what he plans to expand into a chain.
This is exciting news. Momofuku's fried chicken record is already pretty good. (The one at midtown's Má Pêche is a favorite of mine; it includes almost the entire bird—neck and all for nibbling—and a lot of heat from habanero peppers, if you order correctly).
Still, there's plenty of competition in town.
The hot chicken at Peaches Hothouse in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy is excellent, dusted with enough chili powder to make your lips swell (and to make your nostrils burn if you accidentally inhale it, which happens). But it's sweet enough to keep you coming back for more.
In the East Village, Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter's fried chicken is brined in sweet tea before it's pressure fried. The result is balanced, not sugary, and it's just right in a sandwich with sliced pickles.
A cook once pointed me toward Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken in Harlem, and I remain grateful. He told me that owner Charles Gabriel might be asleep in a chair when I arrived and said that if I got lucky, the chicken would be fried to order in a wide cast-iron pan. Both things turned out to be true.
The Thai-style chicken at Somtum Der is a great way to kick off dinner: thighs marinated in red curry paste, covered in garlic, and fried perfectly golden. Though if you're in the mood for American-style fried chicken with glasses of cold Champagne (a perfect pairing), the gorgeous skillet-fried chicken at Birds & Bubbles is just the thing.
I'm drawn over and over again to Wilma Jean's fried chicken in Carroll Gardens, which is mysteriously, almost aggressively crunchy on the outside, then extremely tender and juicy in the center—with a side of fried pickles.
And the Winner Is...
But the best, the best of the best, the very best fried chicken in New York? The one against which all others must be measured?
It's the one served at The Commodore, a grimy dive in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at which the tables are sticky, the music loud, and the fried chicken unbelievable, even if you're sober. Although why not pair it with a Perfect Manhattan? (And yes, it really is perfect.)
Stephen Tanner, formerly of Pies 'n' Thighs, is in the kitchen. He sends the meat out extraordinarily hot, perfectly seasoned, with so many delicate layers of crisp that it makes a mess. It's consistently awesome (and so are the tender little biscuits with honey butter that come alongside it). If you haven't had this chicken yet, it's the one to seek out.
How will Fuku stand up against all these birds? The opening date hasn't been announced just yet, but I can't wait to find out.