Fantastic Fried Chicken
I’ve harbored a mean hankering for fried chicken ever since I got the news that Al Copeland, founder and guardian of Popeyes fried chicken joints, made for that giant buffet line in the sky.
So on a sunny afternoon last week I head out for Winston-Salem’s north end where, nestled among train tracks, warehouses and industrial architecture, stands Mountain Fried Chicken, reputed to have the best bird in the city.
It’s pretty quiet in there after the lunch rush, and out the side window a line of chopped tree stalks 10 feet high buttress the fence guarding Highway 52. A remnant from the lunch crowd sits alone at a table finishing off what looks like a plate of ribs.
“Them girls are expensive,” he’s saying to the guy with the dreads wiping down the tables. “”Them little boys ain’t too bad, but them girls….”
“I know,” the guy says. “I got a twelve-year-old. She needs… she needs a lot of things.”
“I got a daughter,” the guy with the rib bones says, “now in her forties. And she still come to me, man.”
“That’s ’cause God made you the man,” the guy says. “Now you gotta represent.”
I’m ruminating on my own little girl in silent agreement with the two men when my plate, a two-piece dark with greens and mac & cheese, slides across my table.
I like the joint so far… clean and aromatic, all the goods on display at the front counter behind glass and under hot lights. I like the sweet tea, which actually tastes like tea and not sweet, brown water. I like the fact that they have Texas Pete’s wing sauce on the condiment table as opposed to full-on hot sauce. And I like the way these two guys have their moment on the subject of the neediness of daughters.
I like the chicken, too.
The two-piece dark is a leg and a thigh – I wasn’t offered the option of white meat, though I certainly saw some wings under the orange lights beneath the glass. No matter: One of the immutable rules of food writing is that if a place is named after a dish, then that is the dish you should order. So that’s what I do.
The chicken is wonderful, not too greasy or overly breaded – the batter is thin enough not to conceal the chicken beneath, but its presence is strong enough to result in nice chunks of fried-chicken debris that collects on my plate and which I consume with gusto.
I also am able to peel a nice flap of fried skin off the thigh: crispy like a chip, spiced like gravy and all chicken through and through.
A word, too, about the sides. I order some greens, turnips by the looks and taste of them; they are appropriately bitter and not nearly as soggy as post-lunch hour greens could be. I also have a section of mac & cheese, which is brilliant.
Elbow noodles, yes, and cheese sauce and melted shreds of cheddar on top. But in the mix are diced tomatoes, softened and simmered throughout, giving tang and color to the traditional comfort food. It tastes like it came from a can. In a good way.
I also dabble with the peach cobbler, not exceptional by any means, but sweet and gooey enough to get the job done.
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