Tender, with outrageously crisp, well- battered skin, Monday’s bone-in chicken alone is worth a trip to the amenable digs of Tony’s Southern Comfort, where a card table up front displays mouthwatering pies, your reward for the easy task of cleaning your plate.
Dallas’s well-nigh-mythical Highland Park Cafeteria lives on in spirit and recipes at the Casa Linda Cafeteria, near Lakewood, where every serving of fried chicken recalls the best Sunday dinner ever; the pieces are gigantic, the batter golden, thick, and crunchy. Under the Mecca’s ceiling fans and college pennants from Notre Dame and Navy to Texas A&M and UT, little folks and grown-ups alike tear into big, juicy hunks of chicken; each order, whether half a bird or a boneless breast, is cloaked in an exceptionally flaky crust.
Thank heaven for Elmer’s. Simply put, the fried chicken at this forties-style place is the best in the city. The meat has a slightly smoky taste, and the “secret ingredient” in the batter is decidedly sweet. One member of the after-church crowd confessed, “The thought of Elmer’s chicken is the only thing that gets me through the sermon.”
Guests at Massey’s amuse themselves by studying old baseball photos and vintage movie posters while waiting the requisite twenty minutes or so for a fresh batch of the kitchen’s exquisite, fried-to-order bird to land on their table. Each giant piece is covered in a thin, crispy, darkish-brown crust. Simple and bright Paris Coffee Shop, painted a creamy vanilla and hung with dozens of historic local photos, is the Friday lunchtime destination for excellent fried chicken. Soaked in buttermilk before being pan-fried, the sizable pieces are plenty moist, with a golden, crackling crust. The beloved namesake of the sunny little shack called Mama Lou’s passed away recently, but not before she gave her recipe for fine pan-fried chicken to her niece and nephew, who now run the place. The honey-colored crust is thin and flaky, the meat toothsome and tender.
You’ll have to tote Houston’s best fried chicken to a picnic table outside or to your house (or car, if you can’t wait), but who cares? Frenchy’s Chicken boasts an absolutely grease-free bird, with astonishingly juicy meat. Great biscuits too. With brownish-red vinyl booths and dark carpeting, the Barbecue Inn is a throwback. So is its Southern fried chicken, which tastes unseasoned but is perfectly deep-fried, proving that a little grease isn’t such a bad thing after all. The counter-service Breakfast Klub carries on the African American tradition of chicken and waffles with six crisp, savory wings surrounding a strawberry-topped Belgian waffle.
The ubiquitous frozen chicken filet means the next generation of adults in Texas may not know how real, on-the-by-gawd-bone fried chicken tastes. Thankfully, venerable Richards’ Chicken still serves the genuine article. Moments after you order, you hear your pieces being dropped into the sizzling fryer. If you’re of a certain age, this will remind you of the fried chicken your mama served when the preacher came to your house on Sunday. A long time ago.
It’s not often you can say “nearly perfect,” but the succulent, deftly seasoned fried chicken at friendly, cafeteria-style Mr. and Mrs. G’s is just that. At Earl Abel’s (a mid-century classic that’s more upscale than most places serving this kind of food), the fried chicken is the real deal (that is, cooked on the bone); you hardly mind that this toasty-brown classic is a little greasy. No small nuggets are passed off at the 410 Diner; the pieces of boneless chicken breast here are big and clad in a crunchy batter. Enjoy them amid the restaurant’s funky artwork and beer signs.
Small-Town Gems — Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
Set in a century-old brick building in tiny downtown ROANOKE, between Fort Worth and Denton, the dining room at Babe’s (whose proprietors also own Bubba’s Cooks Country, in Dallas) is filled with old wooden chairs and tables, and its walls are hung with faded signs. When the servers aren’t breaking into the hokey pokey, they pamper customers with family-style platters of chicken and all the vegetables they can handle in one sitting. Brined in saltwater before being deep-fried, this exceptional bird features layers of flaky, deep-gold crust on the outside and juicy, flavorful meat on the inside. It’s perfect with smooth whipped potatoes and creamed corn that’s neither too soupy nor too sweet. Babe’s big, hot biscuits are best when drizzled with sorghum molasses and eaten as dessert. JN