Fried chicken: A love story
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April 6, 2017
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Fried chicken and I have a love-hate type of relationship. The love usually overshadows the hate, which is what makes our “relationship” so successful. Yet seemingly perfect relationships always have their faults, and I hope that the situation I encountered was a one-time occasion.
I found myself attempting the most difficult battle of my life; eating fried chicken four times in a one week period to determine which piece of chicken is boyfriend material. At first glance that might seem like a fairly doable and delightful task, but when it comes down to it, it’s jarring. People tell you senior year is hard, but not this hard on your stomach.
For this expedition, I decided that a set of criteria was a necessity. First off, selecting the restaurants was quite a feat. I glazed over top fried chicken lists from the Chicago Eater, the Chicagoist and so on, while noticing 16 as being the go-to number of places. As I’m only one teenage girl, checking out each notable place would be just too large of a challenge and one that my sanity would surely be tested by.
I pared this down to four options, ones that I’ve both read and heard positive remarks about: The Budlong, Harold’s Chicken Shack, Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Parson’s Chicken and Fish.
To figure out how I would judge each piece of chicken, I decided to ask fellow lovers of fried chicken about their personal experiences. Katie Gross, Div. 751, described her perfect chicken experience as having a “crunchy outside and hot, juicy chicken inside.” Gross’s string of words is the epitome of any great piece of chicken.
From there, I concluded that skin, juiciness, overall flavor and establishment ambience were the four major criteria.
The Budlong Hot Chicken
1008 W Armitage Ave
I had a truly great fried chicken experience at the Budlong. This was a solo chicken occasion for me: just me, myself and my chicken. I distinctly remember it being a gloomy Sunday afternoon
and a strangely empty Armitage Ave.
Though the establishment’s atmosphere was not the most heavily weighted part of the chicken’s overall score, it really came into play at Budlong. The tall booths were set up in a way perfect for one-person dining. The staff was both attentive and helpful throughout my visit; employees made the rounds to the tables near me, giving advice to a young family on what to order and asking if anyone needed anything.
On to the chicken; I ordered the hot 1/4 white chicken plate, equipped with a buttered piece of fluffy, thick white toast and two tangy pickle slices. The crispy and spicy skin left stains of red seasoning and oil on my fingertips that reiterated to my eyes just how flavorful the piece of chicken was.
The skin was an elusive burnt-red color, speckled with dried herbs and other flavorings. I really was just so indulged in my chicken while “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson Five played in the background, truly emphasizing a feel-good chicken experience.
Even though sides are not part of my judging criteria, if the Budlong has their garlic mashed potatoes, absolutely get them. The sumptuous texture and rich butter and garlic flavor made them a true winner.
Harold’s Chicken Shack #36
1361 N Milwaukee Ave
Continuing my fried love affair, I ventured to a place that rapper Freddie Gibbs wrote a song about and is found in what seems to be every Chicago neighborhood: Harold’s Chicken Shack. Picking a location stumped me at first since Harold’s has too many locations to count, most with varying owners. I settled with the one in Wicker Park; also the one I’ve heard about with a number of both complaints and praises.
Let’s just say that when you get inside, you know this isn’t meant for a leisurely chicken eating meal. During my time waiting for the guaranteed freshly fried chicken, I noticed mostly every customer was there for a takeout order. That’s just part of the experience.
When you order, spicy is not an option but you can of course choose to add hot sauce (a must). Note: always ask for the sauce on the side, otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy mess of a meal.
The skin was crispy and had the right texture, but left something to be desired; maybe a lack of spices was the reason. You can often tell how flavorful the chicken will be from the color of the skin. At Harold’s it was a muted tan color that was aesthetically unappealing.
Yet, the juiciness of the chicken was unreal. When picking apart at the chicken, you can just tell how fresh the chicken is from the steady amount of dripping juice. What the skin wasn’t, the meat certainly was.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken
3361 N Elston Ave
I think this may have been one of the most solid pieces of fried chicken I’ve eaten.
During an in person interview with co-owner Joshua Kulp, he said that “we really pride ourselves in being great,” and great the chicken was.
At first bite, you can taste the quality of the chicken. They make customers aware that they only use antibiotic-free, cage-free and humanely raised chicken.
I think for me, the skin was just a bit too salty. However, that’s all a matter of personal preference.
The ambience entailed a quirky, funky vibe within the corner spot, with the loud rock music playing in the background. The patio was unusable in the snowstorm of that day, but looked delightful with strung lights.
Parson’s Fried Chicken and Fish
2952 W Armitage Ave
Though I didn’t have the pleasure of dining in at Parson’s, that was no matter for my tastebuds. When I went to check out the spot, it was packed to the brim capacity; later, I saw the reason why.
At first, I didn’t have the right words to explain to my family how enjoyable the piece of chicken was. After I shared a bite with my mother, I saw in her face the same dilemma. Even after carrying out, the chicken was crispy on every part of the surface area while retaining a crazy amount of juiciness.
Parson’s also had great sides. I was a bit weary to get the hush puppies because I wasn’t dining in and there was the risk they wouldn’t travel well. Yet as soon as I was handed my take-out bag, I took in the scent of the perfectly cooked cornmeal and quickly let go of my reservations. When I got into my car, I immediately opened up the box and was not disappointed (there may have been a loud “yum” that came from my mouth).
This was the only place I gave a score of 10 (and one 11) to each section.