Finger Lickin’ Good
I had started writing a post about fried chicken a while back, then forgot about it. Actually, coincidentally (I swear), I think it was the same day as Marty’s post at A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars (120 to go…) about his visit to Sylvia’s and the fried chicken and waffles he had there.
I haven’t been to Sylvia’s in years, but I am a huge fan of fried chicken. If it’s on a menu somewhere I’m pretty much compelled to try it. And we frequently bring fried chicken from our favorite neighborhood joint (which, for reasons I’m a little uncomfortable sharing, we refer to as “JFC”) to Yankees games.
So I was very excited to try the special fried chicken dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Now, I don’t know if you know anything about David Chang and his Momofuku empire, but he’s a hipster chef who has these relatively reasonable, no reservation joints that are loud, and make you sit on stools with no backs on them.
Places where I need to be uncomfortable and wait around with a bunch of youngsters for the honor of sitting at a table are not usually not my kind of thing, but Chang’s places also have these special group dinners at each restaurant where you can make reservations for a family-style meal. Ssam Bar has a pork butt dinner that fucking kicks ass, and Ma Peche has a “beef 7 ways” dinner that, frankly, sounds better than it tastes. But the fried chicken dinner had to be mind-blowing, right? Not right. In this case, the emperor has no clothes.
The place is incredibly crowded, annoying, cramped and loud. They give you two fried chickens, one southern style and one Korean-style (with a spicy sauce). Bottom line, the chicken just isn’t that good. The meat was a little soft and over-brined, the southern-style had crust that was too dark and tasted like it had been cooked in oil that was too hot. The Korean-style was good, but not great. Bottom line: pass on the fried chicken dinner at Momofuku and don’t believe the hype.
Now, that said, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you where to go for fried chicken that is actually good. First, there is always the aforementioned bargain JFC, if you happen to be up on Gerard Avenue. Second, a relatively unknown but excellent option is Ben Benson’s Steak House on 52d Street. For about 25 or 30 bucks they will fry you up a whole chicken to order that is spectacular. It’s fresh, delicious, and enough for two people plus plenty of leftovers (if you’re a complete pussy you can get a “lunch portion” but that’s ridiculous). When you order the fried chicken they warn you that it will take 20 or 25 minutes, because they’re frying that fucking chicken just for you. And it blows away Momofuku.
One other great thing about Ben Benson’s is that they have an old ad on the wall with the tagline “Eat At Ben Benson’s. It Won’t Kill You.” The picture underneath? Paul Castellano gunned down outside Sparks. That’s advertising.
Of course, it should go completely without saying where you can always find excellent fried chicken: