RVA Fried Chicken Crawl

Dixie Chicken

Dixie Chicken

If there is a type of food I take seriously, I would say it would have to be fried chicken. Therefore, when it comes to fried chicken, I’m very hard to please. Most folks scrunch their noses up when you say your favorite thing to eat is fried chicken because they think it’s greasy and disgusting. But the truth is fried chicken, done right, is anything but disgusting.

L and I met a couple, who I shall call A and R, at a Kimchi dinner last year and for some reason we started talking about fried chicken and not just fried chicken but really good fried chicken. It is quite lamentable that this is hard to find in Richmond which is ironic because Southern Fried chicken is one of the best. I say one of the best because I still believe that Asian-style fried chicken is the BEST (deep fried whole and chopped, garlicky soy taste). The idea of a Fried chicken crawl is born.

We all become friends on FB and for nine months nothing happens until A says that it looks like Dixie Donuts is never gonna do fried chicken so we might as well go ahead and plan the crawl.

Our initial line up was: Lee’s Famous Recipe, Dixie Chicken, Croaker’s Spot and Korean Garden

“Hungry Hubby” thought we were crazy. How could we eat so much fried chicken, right? Anyway, I lasso him to participate anyway. So our group of four become five.

Then a week or so before the crawl, A FB messages us and tells us that their friends, Keith and J, are coming into town and joining our crawl. And Keith is going to cook us fried chicken (apparently the man’s specialty) the night before to kick off the crawl. Fantastic, right?

I’ll say straight out, Keith’s fried chicken kicked ass and was the best, so I’ll leave that discussion for last and head to the fried chicken we had on the Sunday crawl.

Score Card

Score Card

We even had a score card handy, courtesy of A. We agree to both try white and dark meat.

Our first stop was Lee’s Famous Recipe

Lee's Famous Recipe

Lee’s Famous Recipe

When you ask Richmonders where to get the best fried chicken, everyone says Lee’s. So you all can understand how excited we were. Unfortunately, it did not live up to the hype. The crispness was there but it was slightly greasy and the flavor was all on the skin. The chicken itself was moist but it was tasteless, thus tasting ordinary.

2nd stop: Dixie Chicken

The Intrepid Fried Chicken Crawlers

The Intrepid Fried Chicken Crawlers

This stop was rather bittersweet, because the owner told us that they were closing for good that Friday. 😦 I don’t know if that news just hit us in a way that set off emotional eating because the fried chicken tasted freaking delicious. It was crisp and the spices used in the chicken were tasty and complementary, there was flavor clear through the moist meat. Some of the crew thought that the flavoring was a tad salty but hubby and I thought it was perfect.

Dixie Chicken had no tables  so we decided to tailgate it and it was fun!

Fried chicken tailgate

Fried chicken tailgate

Our next stop was supposed to be Croaker’s spot out on Hull Street. It turns out they do not always make fried chicken, but the man at the door gladly told us where our disappointed crew could find some.

3rd stop: Mama J’s

Mama J's Fried Chicken

Mama J’s Fried Chicken

I would say Mama J’s fried chicken was middle of the line. It was crisp, tasty and moist but could use more flavor. They had this barbecue sauce you could top on it that was the perfect mix of spicy, sweet and sour. Too bad they don’t bottle that stuff. What impressed us more than the fried chicken was the fried cat fish nuggets below.

Cat fish nuggets

Catfish nuggets

Cornmeal coated, crisp and moist. Perfect.

We never made it to Korean Garden. Our crew got sidetracked by the sight of cake.

mama j's cakes

mama j’s cakes

We all shared slices of lemon pound cake, pineapple coconut cake, german chocolate cake and rum cake which was my favorite. We also tried their peach cobbler.

And by the end of that meal, it would be irrational to go to Korean Garden. And the guys were satisfied because they finally got their beer. 😉

* I noted earlier that Dixie Chicken was proclaimed the winner, but it turns out some in the group preferred Mama J’s! 

When I used to work downtown, the secretary always got fried chicken from this place called Chicken Box and I remembered it being quite tasty too.

So let’s talk about the Keith’s homemade fried chicken. The man set bar quite high.

Carolina Fried Chicken

Carolina Fried Chicken

The secret to Southern fried chicken is: cast-iron pan and crisco. What impressed me with Keith’s—it was not greasy at all. Now, I have not learned all his fried chicken secrets, I think cooking the perfect fried chicken warrants another post, but getting the oil to the right temperature is very important. Keith held his hand above the screen covering the pan, so I guess it’s experience also. When I asked him how he knew the chicken was done, he said he “heard” it … whatever that meant.;) So I guess I really need to try it out myself although Keith has promised the crew that he will return and give us fried chicken lessons.

Keith's Carolina Fried Chicken

Keith’s Carolina Fried Chicken

Man, I can’t tell you how good this was. If you look closely at the chicken you will notice that the breading was very light , actually almost non-existent. What the seasoned flour did for the chicken was give it flavor and crispness. I hate having to peel off thick breading from fried chicken. Even if the chicken was not marinated or salted ahead of time, the taste of the chicken you get is the “chickeny” flavor of the chicken.

When I bit into the chicken, I thought: This tastes like the chicken I get from Whole Foods. I found out the next day that the chicken was from Whole Foods! Whole foods sell this air-chilled chicken which is far superior to most other chicken because air-chiling preserves the integrity of the flavor rather than the more common ice-water chilling which accounts for why most commercial fried chicken is only tasty on the skin.

Anyway, I’m off to buy my 12-inch cast-iron pan!

LFM: about pho in RVA …

With the closing of the Fan restaurant, “Friend or Pho” after just 5 months of operation, it got me wondering what contributed to its quick demise. Is it true that the food bloggers and twitterers brought it down, or was it simply a bad concept in the first place? I never had interest in trying out the place, my reason being that, with a name , uh, like that, how serious could the food be? I heard that the beer selection was great, but then I don’t drink beer so that was hardly a draw. Whoever thought of that irreverent name should have just considered opening in the West End, it might have had better longevity. Opening in the Fan which is like the center of “foodiedom” is like daring to be eaten alive.

I’m no expert in Vietnamese cuisine, neither is pho my favorite noodle bowl in town. That honor would be the Hong Kong style roast duck noodle soup at Full Kee. However, when I was a newbie in Richmond, I was lucky enough to have a Cambodian co-worker. She was married to a “whitey” (her words, not mine) whom she couldn’t drag out for noodle soup for breakfast. So on some Sundays, she would pick me up at my house at 9:00 am and we would drive to RVA’s little Chinatown on Horsepen and eat at Pho So 1. Her dad and aunt live in the area and know all the little gossip going around there, including where the best place is for Asian ethnic food (usually at someone’s house). That early in the morning, Pho So 1 is packed…with Asians (think first-generation)…which speaks well for its authenticity.

I’ve gone and tried other phos around town like Mekong and Dalat but none of them had the same vibe as the ones from Pho So 1. I’m sure all these restaurants have their devoted following but it’s like this with me: I live in the West End, Dalat is nearer by proximity and if I’m lazy to make the drive and want Vietnamese cuisine, then I’d settle for their food but if I have to drive all the way to Horsepen, it’ll always be Pho So 1.

phobowl copy
A cloudy broth detracts from a great tasting bowl of pho

So I find myself driving there this morning, I had a sudden craving for tendon and tripe which, by the way, Mekong and Dalat do not serve. I got there right before 11:00 am and yes there were already a few diners slurping soup. I observed who their customers were at that time – mostly older Asian folks that reminded me of my grandma’s friends.

There had been complaints about their food on online review sites like Yelp. Their fresh spring rolls – I agree- I miss the herbs in them as they do not taste like anything without the peanut sauce. The pho and the lack of meat – I disagree – plenty enough meat in my opinion. The broth had a great aroma and a robust beef flavor, but what disconcerted me for a moment was its unusual cloudiness. Not sure if I was just being more observant today or it has always been that way. I know for a good quality pho broth you need to keep it clear and free of impurities, but you know, maybe someone just forgot the broth and let it boil. And at a place like this, that does not aspire for any foodie approval, all you can do is suck it up. 😉

Barbecue beef broken rice

Anyway, my favorite Vietnamese dish is not Pho but barbecue broken rice. And I must say Pho so 1’s broken rice plates are my favorite. They’re not excessively sweet or salty like most “Americanized” versions, and you “taste” the fire from the grill which is exactly what I’d expect from these dishes. I made sure to order some for dinner tonight and we enjoyed it immensely.

barbecue pork chop and broken rice

So, do you have a favorite Vietnamese restaurant where you live?