Batter Up: Best Fried Chicken in the South Posted by: Rod Ford | 0 Comments
When it comes to fried chicken, what makes your mouth say mmmm? Is it the crispy skin, the flavorful spices or the locale? No matter what you’re preference, here are some of my favorite places to get fried chicken in the South. Whether you are looking for a dive or a hipster haven, there is something for everyone.
Mary Mac’s Tea Room
224 Ponce De Leon Ave NE
Something has to be said for a place that that not only has been serving up fried chicken and yeast rolls since 1945, but was opened in a time where women didn’t just open up their own restaurants (hence the name “Tea Room”). In fact, Mary Mac had such a successful chicken “tea room” on her hands, that it’s the only one still open around in-town Atlanta. This variety is double-coated in batter then dropped in a deep fryer. If you want chicken, but something even more on the comfort food level, try the chicken and dumplings. Did I mention the long list of Southern cocktails? Pick your poison – hurricanes, mint juleps, bloody marys, mimosas and white Russians, just to name a few.
Old Country Store
18801 Highway 61 South
Old Country Store started out as just an old country store when it opened its doors in the late 19th century, and when you walk on the creaky wood floor of the front porch it is like being on the set of something straight out of Fried Green Tomatoes. Someone didn’t put a made-to-look-rusty Pepsi sign on the side of the building for nostalgia; it is actually an old rusty Pepsi sign. This place is just that authentic. While the store is no more, Arthur Davis (Mr. D) is serving up Southern fare from a humble buffet — fried chicken, potlikker cooked greens with hunks of smoked meat, candied yams, and cornbread. There is soul in every bit of your meal, and I swear there is love cooked right into the chicken.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
310 S Front St
I have been to Gus’s downtown Memphis location more times than any other chicken shack. Not that I am biased, it just so happens that Gus’s is a good stopping point on my drives from Nashville to Little Rock. The skin is crispy and spicy, but definitely not to be confused with “hot chicken.” There is no fuss here – just good eats served on paper plates. I’d recommend starting out with the fried pickle spears with ranch and wash everything down with half sweet-half unsweet tea (or a forty if you are feeling a bit more adventurous). If you want a bit more authentic feel, then visit the original Gus’s in Macon, TN. On a side note, you can now experience the chicken at newly opened locations in Little Rock and Brentwood – proof that the chicken gives a reason to write home to momma.
Monte Ne Inn Chicken
13843 State Highway 94
When you think of Arkansas, you don’t typically think of fried chicken – fried catfish, maybe, but definitely not fried chicken. I should know, because I grew up there. Oddly enough, if it weren’t for one weekend boating on Beaver Lake while in college, I wouldn’t even know about what I think is the best chicken shack in the state. Just east of Rogers, there is a small town known for ruins (historic ruins, actually). There you will find the only restaurant around and there is no menu. The food is all you can eat, served family style – green beans, small bread loaves with apple butter, mashed potatoes and gravy, and fried chicken. Tender chicken with a tight skin – nothing too filling and the flavors are just right. Don’t believe me? The parking lot was full back then – and that is still the case now.
8400 Hwy 100
When I mention the fried chicken at Loveless, I sometimes get a raised eyebrow. You see, most people think biscuits, country ham and red-eye gravy when they think of this Southern institution. Don’t get me wrong; you should definitely go for the biscuits, and then seconds on the biscuits. However, their fried chicken is probably some of the most traditional Southern style variety I have experienced. Of course, fried chicken is how this place got its start – serving the dish right out of the front door of the house before it even became a full-fledged café. While you are eating biscuits and chicken, be sure to save room for their cheesy, melts-in-your-mouth hashbrown casserole.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
2401 St Ann St
You know you are dealing with a culinary landmark when after Hurricane Katrina the locals themselves were responsible for helping to rebuild the 50-year-old chicken shack. This place has been talked about more frequently than voodoo, so it would be easy for them to end up delivering a so-so experience when up against all the hype. However, they do deliver the experience. An extremely crackly batter shatters like a vintage Christmas ornament falling from a tree, yet this won’t make you cringe. No biscuits or rolls – here you get cornbread cakes, which are a personal favorite. Order a coke to compliment the chicken – their recipe calls for it, after all.
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey
237 S Wilmington St
This is a new restaurant with a quintessential retro feel. With vaulted warehouse ceilings, mason jars, and black chalkboard walls with the menu scripted in a fancy font that I wouldn’t mind having as a new font for my blog, it would seem that the restaurant was built as an urbanite and hipster hangout. Yet, the chicken is definitely not an afterthought. The chicken is served quarter style with a crispy crust that is sweet from local honey and the meat is savory, creating a unique experience. Sides are served family style, and you won’t want to pass on the pickled green tomatoes. You also have the option to wash it down with some local craft beer – you won’t find Bud Light on the drink menu here.
If you need a good recipe to recreate Southern fried chicken at home, you can check out the websites or published cookbooks for some of the above restaurants. However, my go-to is from Bon Appetite – I’m sure you will find it beats anything you could bring home from the colonel.
2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 3–4-lb. chicken (not kosher), cut into 10 pieces, backbone and wing tips removed
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Peanut oil (for frying)
A deep-fry thermometer
Whisk 1 Tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl. Season chicken with spices. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill overnight. Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper in a 9x13x2″ baking dish.
Pour oil into a 10″–12″ cast-iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided skillet (not nonstick) to a depth of 3/4″. Prop deep-fry thermometer in oil so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350 degrees. Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet. Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in flour mixture; tap against bowl to shake off excess. Place five pieces of chicken in skillet. Fry chicken, turning with tongs every 1–2 minutes and adjusting heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300°–325 degrees, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165 degrees, about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for thighs, legs, and breasts.
Using tongs, remove chicken from skillet, allowing excess oil to drip back into skillet; transfer chicken to prepared rack
Repeat with remaining chicken pieces; let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Lauren Weintraub is a Little Rock native residing in Nashville. When she is not making roadside stops for fried chicken, she moonlights as the owner of The Solution Girl – providing professional organizing, party planning and problem solving services to clients throughout the South.