Damn, if this town hasn’t sold its soul for a plate of fried chicken. Between the upcoming Byrd & Barrel, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken coming to Maplewood, Josh Galliano’s famous fried chicken from the Libertine making Food & Wine magazine, and the big news that Quincy Street Bistro’s Rick Lewis has teamed up with Mike Emerson to open a new “hot chicken” spot adjacent to Pappy’s Smokehouse, fried chicken is dancing all over the smoky bones of last year’s trendsetter, barbecue.
In that spirit, asking who’s got the best fried chicken in town is like asking which religion is the true path to salvation. It just invites an ugly fight.
So this time, we won’t – not exactly. What we will do, to build on this unofficial survey of the five best fried chicken joints in town, is to spotlight eight of the metro area’s religiously popular fried-chicken institutions.
By “institutions” we mean restaurants that have stood the test of time, and that attract droves of devotees of nature’s perfect food, fried chicken.
How do they compare? That depends on what you prefer. Some opt for a thin, demure crust as classy as a diaphanous gown on Lena Horne, while others prefer shellacked layers of fried overkill, like the carapace of a knight’s armor.
Personally, I’m a thigh man. Where the fat and skin gather into the thigh’s edge, and the oil infiltrates that danger zone just so, that the end result is fried ecstasy… ah, you can feel the endorphins shunting forth and the eyelids oiling over in reptilian languor. (Breasts, on the other hand, are more likely to turn out dry, IMHO).
What do you think of these favored fried chicken palaces – and any others we missed? Let us know in the comments section.
The spicy breading option at Porter's satisfies
Porter’s Fried Chicken
Porter’s Fried Chicken is perpetually bustling with customers. Most of them know the drill: call ahead because it takes 20 minutes or so between ordering and being ready, like all good fried chicken. There is an aroma of oil outside the restaurant, and some may find the chicken on the greasy side, but when the need for fried chicken strikes, Porter’s satisfies. The breast I tried, however, did have the dryness that all too often plagues this particular body part. The spicy breading option has a nice bite and a lingering heat; I preferred it to the traditional. 3628 S. Big Bend, 314-781-2097
Cornmeal-crusted chicken at Hodak's
Hodak's Restaurant and Bar
As far as popularity goes, Hodak’s rules the roost. The mighty institution has been around (in several locations) since 1962. The lines to get sat at a table often snake through the restaurant. Much of this popularity is probably due to value; $8.25 for a half fried chicken with two sides just can’t be beat. For the dedicated fried-chicken enthusiast, the thick cornmeal crust may be a dealbreaker – either you like it or you much prefer a less grainy breading. Speaking of breading, Hodak’s breading is certainly not over-spiced. Some might argue it flirts with plainness. It just doesn’t wow the tongue. On a recent visit, the breast was absolutely succulent, even juicier than the dark meat. 2100 Gravois, 314-776-7292
A half-chicken at Sweetie Pie's
Sweetie Pie's at the Grove
Beware the long line to get up to the cafeteria counter at Sweetie Pie’s, especially after church on Sunday afternoons, when wait time can easily extend past an hour. The restaurant is, of course, also ground zero for a hit TV show now in its fifth season on the OWN channel, and everyone wants in on that action. The Grove anchor’s famous fried chicken features a pleasantly heavy, crunchy, salty crust of breading. The meat beneath, however, suffers from the same bugaboo that plagues dishes at many cafeterias: dryness from sitting under heat lamps and on steam tables. The mac and cheese at Sweetie Pie’s is a masterful casserole of luscious goodness. Maybe when the chicken comes hot out of the fryer, it’s awesome, too. We wish we could find out. 4270 Manchester, 314-371-0304
Chicken with a bumpy texture at Goody Goody
Goody Goody Diner
You have to have fun at Goody Goody, a stopped-in-time retro diner that’s been slinging burgers since 1948. The fried chicken there sets hearts aflutter, too, so I had to try it. Folks of a certain age may be reminded of Shake ‘n Bake chicken; Goody Goody’s fried chicken is coated by a similar texture of small bumps in the spiced breading. The bird was juicy, and the fried pockets of fat on the thigh made my soul smile. 5900 Natural Bridge, 314-383-3333
Young's Ice Cream offers a two-thigh dinner for dark-meat lovers.
Young's Ice Creamery
The ice cream at Young’s is high-butterfat, soft serve happiness, but most come to this Valley Park institution for the fried chicken. Since 1954 they’ve been dipping birds in hot oil, and if you can find your way to the place on a tricky access road, you’ll be in business. The crust was light, for those who prefer their breading as a bed sheet rather than a comforter, so to speak, and on the oily side. The meat was juicy but unspectacular (it could stand a longer brine bath before being breaded). Dark-meat dinners are available in an unusual two-thigh option, which gets two big thumbs-up. Service is stellar; the employees truly want you to be happy here. 206 Meramec Station, 636-225-6677
Fresh from the Broaster and irresistible: delicious poultry at Frank & Helen's
Frank & Helen's Pizzeria
The pressure-fried, or “Broasted,” chicken here is the bomb. That process keeps the meat moist but allows the skin to crisp up – and avoid oiliness. It’s addictive. Frank & Helen’s is a neighborhood joint, beloved to U. City peeps since 1956. The pizza and house-made creamy garlic salad dressing are special here, too, and the vintage fixtures, tables and decor are as authentic as it gets. 8111 Olive, 314-997-0666
Awfully close to perfect: a lighter batter with a dynamite taste at King Edward's Chicken & Fish
King Edward's Chicken and Fish
If you need us, we’ll be in Crestwood, getting into some fried chicken at King Edward’s. Since 1966 (in various locations), this crew has been putting out a golden crust that’s light, but does not skimp on flavor. Is the secret the air pockets that form between the skin and the juicy meat? Is that what makes the skin so crispy? The breast we tried here is as close to perfection as fried chicken gets. Absolutely mouth-watering. Lagniappes at this New Orleans-themed eatery include chicken memorabilia lining the walls, and an endless stream of jokes from jovial co-owner Randy Shore at the counter. 8958 Watson, 314-843-3474
Serious breading at Pat Connolly Tavern (formerly Pat's Bar & Grill)
The Pat Connolly Tavern
Formerly Pat’s Bar and Grill, this pride-of-Dogtown corner bar has fried chicken worth seeking out. For 73 years they’ve been serving the good stuff, and though the name and ownership have recently changed, the chicken, we’re assured, has not. This bird fries up a rich, dark brown, with heavy furrows of crust (though it can be a bit oily). The meat, whether dark or white, is bursting with juices. The super-thick fried skin of the thigh had me in ecstasy. A breast was served with a backbone attached, which created extra pockets of fried goodness. Pat Connolly’s also offers a spicy fried chicken that has a following, too. 6400 Oakland, 314-647-7287