The Best Fried Chicken and Fixins: Getting Fried in South Florida
In the introduction to Fried & True: 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides, South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager shares that his “earliest childhood food memories revolve around fried chicken, my adult food obsession ... To this day, it’s nearly impossible for me to resist ordering a plate of fried chicken, whether it be from a strip mall, a white-tablecloth restaurant, a Korean restaurant or a take-out joint I pass while driving on the highway.”
That eclectic lineup of eateries is no exaggeration. From fast food to fine dining, fried chicken has become the culinary equivalent of the little black dress that hangs in every woman’s closet: the smallest tweak can take it from casual to classy. And while its origins in America began in the South, today a great plate of fried chicken can be found in just about every corner of the world.
In fact, the ubiquity of the dish was one of the first challenges that Schrager faced in creating Fried & True. “My big concern about writing the book was, ‘How do we make it so that the recipes are not all similar,’” Schrager says of the criteria set forth in determining which recipes made the final cut. “Of course we learned that there are no two similar recipes for fried chicken.”
In Fried & True, Schrager gets the chance to put a lifetime of eating to great use, as he traversed every region of the country in order to assemble what he has deemed America’s 50 best fried chicken recipes. Schrager is joined in this enviable endeavor by an impressive collection of renowned chefs, each of whom has graciously shared his or her own recipe for the perfect plate of deep-fried poultry.
For French chef Jacques Pepin, that means a simple preparation with buttermilk and Tabasco sauce, fried in peanut oil. A Coca-Cola brine is the secret ingredient for John Currence, who oversees City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Mississippi. Linton Hopkins, of Atlanta’s Holeman and Finch Public House, seasons his oil with freshly cooked bits of bacon, ham and butter. In New Orleans, musician-restaurateur Kermit Ruffins likes his chicken really crisp and extra salty. At Thomas Keller’s California restaurant Ad Hoc, lemons, bay leaves and fresh thyme contribute to the dish’s uniquely delectable flavor.
When it comes to fried chicken with a bit of local flavor, South Florida is well represented in Schrager’s book. Michy’s chef-owner Michelle Bernstein offers up a fennel-spiced dish with a fantastic watermelon and feta salad on the side. The Dutch owner Andrew Carmellini kicks his flavors up with a bit of cayenne pepper. Jeff McInnis – formerly of Yardbird, now owner of Root & Bone in New York City – complements his simple and fresh flavors with a perfectly balanced cauliflower mash. Also included is a Vietnamese interpretation from the folks at Hy Vong and fried chicken “chicharrones” from the iconic Cuban eatery Versailles.
Though all of the above noted chefs work within relatively close proximity to one another, “I don’t think there was anything ‘typical’ of Florida,” Schrager says of the inimitability of the South Florida chefs included in the book. “There was no local ingredient.”
DELICIOUS IS IN THE DETAILS
One fact Schrager quickly discovered is “that almost anything goes with fried chicken. I think when you think ‘classic,’ you think of biscuits, potato salad, coleslaw or a bean salad. But I’ll eat anything with it. I love biscuits, I love potato salad, I love corn salad. Michelle Bernstein has a wonderful watermelon salad with her recipe.”
What can make a difference to the overall success of a dish is in the details. “It could be as simple as a dry batter versus a wet batter or the oil that you use,” says Schrager. “The things that really affect it are the quality of the chicken, the flour that you use and, most importantly, the oil that you use.”
GROCERY STORE GOURMET
So what makes the perfect plate of chicken for Schrager? “I used to say I liked it best hot, but now I like it at room temperature. And sometimes it’s better the next day. I love crispy – I love an almost hard crust. That’s my preference, but not everyone’s preference. But that’s what I love. It’s like a black and blue steak: Burnt outside and rare inside is how I love it.”
While Schrager was pleased to be able to include recipes from some of his favorite local fried chicken destinations in Fried & True, there was one venue that eluded him. “Believe it or not, Publix has some of the best fried chicken out there. That fried chicken sandwich at lunchtime for $3.99 is the best deal in town,” Schrager laughs. “Just so you know, they wouldn’t give me the recipe.”
COME & GET IT - GREAT FRIED CHICKEN IN SOUTH FLORIDA
Fried & True highlights some of South Florida's best fried chicken destinations, but they're not the only places to order great fried chicken. Try these standouts:
BETTY'S SOUL FOOD
601 NW 22 Rd., Fort Lauderdale | 954-583-9121
Betty's opens early, closes late and serves up a classic plate of fried chicken, just like mom used to make it.
14616 SW 8 St., Miami | 305-551-2227
Comfort food blogger Sef Gonzalez, aka Burger Beast, says the fried chicken at this new arrival from Cuba by way of Washington Heights is up there with some of the best. For dessert try Cuban ice cream sandwiches and cookies.
DION'S QUIK MART
Homestead, Florida City, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Summerland Key, Big Cop pit Key, Stock Island, Key West | 305-296-2000
Anyone who is turned off by the idea of gas station fried chicken has never been to Dian's for their fresh, juicy, crunchy Quik Chik.
804 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Miami | 305-448-6524
"We approach the chicken with a flavor profile closer to Argentinean Milanesa rather than traditional fried chicken," says chef-owner Giorgio Rapicavoli of his Chicken & Foieffles. "We also leave it marinating for almost two days in buttermilk."
THE FEDERAL FOOD DRINK & PROVISIONS
5132 Biscayne Blvd., Miami | 305-758-9559
The Federal co-owner Aniece Meinhold promises that their fried chicken is "unlike any you've ever had. First it's brined, then cured, then smoked. We serve it on homemade garlic ranch, drizzled with honey, lemon zest, mint and some hot sauce on the side."
JACKSON SOUL FOOD
950 NW 3 Ave., Miami | 305-374-7661
This Overtown staple has been serving up classic dishes at wallet-friendly prices for nearly 70 years.
JOE'S STONE CRAB
11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach | 305-673-0365
Stone crabs may be the signature dish, but joe's fried chicken is popular at the restaurant and takeaway. At six bucks for half a chicken, it's a steal.
4350 North Ocean Dr., Lauderdale-by-the-Sea | 954-776-4616
For more than a decade, Keese's has focused on making fast food healthy food. The chicken in its logo is a testament to one of its specialties.
LUCILLE'S AMERICAN CAFÉ
2250 Weston Rd., Weston | 954-384-9007
"We try to take you back to simple times and allow you to enjoy favorites that mom and grandma used to make," says owner Beth Nunez. "Our fried chicken is marinated for four hours then soaked in buttermilk and dredged in our secret blend of 11 herbs and spices."
M.E.A.T. EATERY & TAP ROOM
88005 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada | 305-852-3833
The "Islamorada Yard Bird" at M.E.A.T. is only available after 5 p.rn. and then only around until it sells out (which can be quickly).
7382 SW 56 Ave., South Miami | 786-268-8350
Even lighter eaters can enjoy the buttermilk fried chicken at Whisk, which is served by the plate or atop an organic spinach salad.
YARDBIRD SOUTHERN TABLE & BAR
1600 Lenox Ave., Miami Beach | 305-538-5220
"We use a recipe that's generations old, passed down from 50 Eggs, Inc.'s CEO and founder john Kunkel's grandmother, Llewellyn herself," says Ciayton Miller, 50 Eggs' culinary director. "Our selection of Springer Mountain chickens and brining process are what make our fried chicken stand out from the rest."