Fuku Fried Chicken Sandwich

I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly eating the spicy fried chicken sandwich from Fuku, David Chang’s new fried chicken restaurant, with an open mind. My original plan was to try the vegetarian burger at Superiority Burger, but upon arrival I discovered that it wasn’t open for lunch, and Fuku reluctantly became the fallback due to its close proximity in the East Village. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of this spicy gut bomb resting in my stomach on a hot summer day, giving me a bad case of the meat sweats, but I figured if Chang could work his magic on some steamed pork buns, maybe he could do the same with the classic chicken sandwich.

Processed with VSCOcam with m6 preset
standing room only at fuku

You can clearly tell that Chang is banking on Fuku to be his mass franchise behemoth. Everything about the restaurant is designed with quick turnover and huge volume in mind. There aren’t any seats, only standing counters so that people don’t hold up precious dollars with lingering or loitering. The chicken sandwiches aren’t made to order, instead, they are cooked all throughout lunch service and kept warm in aluminum bags beforehand. The sandwiches are usually pretty fresh, though, since customers are continuously coming in and out of the door, and replenishment is constant. The menu is extremely limited, with a chicken sandwich, French fries, a salad, and a prepackaged Momofuku Milk Bar cookie as the only food options, as to be easily replicated and to optimize buying on scale. It’s classic McDonald’s franchising 101.

Processed with VSCOcam with m6 preset
the spicy chicken sandwich, more chicken than sandwich
Processed with VSCOcam with m6 preset
adding some extra hot sauce

I don’t mind that this restaurant is so obviously profit-driven, as long as the sandwich lives up to expectations. Unfortunately, the few minutes that the sandwich hung out in the bag made a huge difference to quality. The bag ended up creating moisture, which caused the potato bun to shrivel up and become soggy. It didn’t help that the ratio of bun to chicken fillet was extremely off to a comical degree, and the shrinkage from the moisture exacerbated the proportions. Seeing as how the bun was ruined, I was banking on the fried chicken fillet to blow me away, but it really didn’t. It was very crispy and spicy, which was a plus, but the underlying chicken meat was way too greasy and fatty. Several points throughout my meal, I broke off pieces of breading only to find squishy, sebaceous bits rather than proper chicken meat lying beneath. If I’m going to spend valuable calories on a fried chicken sandwich, it better be spent on meat, not breading and fat, and needless to say I declined to finish the entire thing.

The French fries were an even bigger disappointment. These weren’t crispy shoestring fries, they were the clunky, soft potato wedges of my youth, served to me by the bored lunch ladies behind a glass counter. The wedges were also extremely salted and caked on with a paprika rub that had me reaching for 5 cups of water. Usually I can never say no to a French fry, even wilted ones, so the fact that I could draw the line at 5 was a testament to how unappealing they were.

There were plenty of people lining up for a midday sandwich and raving about it, so I’m sure Fuku will be on track to its aspirations of building out another outlet or two, and Chang recently opened a branch in Midtown for the corporate crowd. But a fried chicken empire on par with a Chick-fil-A? Yes, that massive fried chicken steak is a novelty that will keep the Instagram hash tags coming, and David Chang’s name alone will bring in the traffic, but I’m not so sure if Chang’s fried chicken sandwich kingdom will come.

163 1st Ave (between 10th and 11th St)
New York, NY 10003

Fried Chicken at Root & Bone

Root & Bone first entered my consciousness by way of scandal–I had read that Top Chef alum Jeff McInnis had an affair with fellow alum Janine Booth, and the two of them had run off to New York to open a Southern restaurant together. While that was my initial impression of Root & Bone, my second impression, which was formed after a recent brunch visit, was more focused on the restaurant’s excellent fried chicken.

root and bone - crispy free-range bucket of bird
crispy free-range bird brined in sweet tea, lemon dusted, and served with tabasco honey

There’s nothing groundbreaking about making fried chicken, but it’s still hard to get it right. Common errors include an overly thick and bland batter, or extremely dry meat, especially where breast meat is concerned. The batter on the fried chicken at Root & Bone is extremely light and flavorful, I’m happy to report. It’s a hybrid between something you’d expect from a more traditional buttermilk Southern fried chicken and the sweet glaze on the crispy skin of a Korean fried chicken. Adding a few generous drops of the house tabasco sauce will give it a tangy and spicy kick should you want your chicken with some edge. And most importantly, the chicken isn’t dry at all, and the breast meat impressively passes the moisture stress test. I was planning on having a light brunch and tried to resist a second piece, but after a very favorable encounter with a juicy drumstick, I quickly helped myself to more.

root and bone - grandma daisy's angel biscuits
grandma daisy’s angel biscuits

It’s really all about the chicken here. I did try the biscuits and a zucchini salad, but I probably could have done without them. The biscuits, first of all, were extremely tiny. For $7, we literally received two tiny croutons. The foundations of a great biscuit were all there–buttery and wonderfully flaky–but it was served with a side of liquid honey and sesame seeds, which left me scratching my head. Honestly, if the biscuit were normal sized, it would have the structure to be able to withstand the liquid honey without wilting, but these tiny little sponges started to sag with a dip into the honey pot. And it was like an awkward game of Operation trying to sprinkle a few seeds onto these tiny biscuits. Afterwards I just gave up and popped the whole thing in my mouth, which is what I should have done to begin with.

rainbow ribbon salad with squash, zucchini, vidalia onion dressing, butter lettuce and cornbread crouton
rainbow ribbon salad with squash, zucchini, vidalia onion dressing, butter lettuce and cornbread crouton

The rainbow ribbon salad also suffered from some structural issues. I thought the vidalia onion dressing was a little too sweet, and the butter lettuce started getting soggy after a few minutes. Normally you might eat this immediately as an appetizer, but at Root & Bone, everything comes out at once, so unfortunately some dishes have to wait, and suffer as a result. The water content of the summer squash and zucchini also contributed to the moisture issue of the salad, which slowly evolved into a mushy coleslaw throughout the course of brunch. I did like the croutons though, which tasted like crispy, tasty corn bread sticks.

If you do decide to try out the chicken at Root & Bone, you’ll be eating in a high end hillbilly cafe surrounded by waitstaff wearing plaid shirts and beanies. And for some reason, that attracts a ton of girls who look like they may have attended Duke and Vanderbilt and are having a Junior League brunch. This might make the atmosphere slightly annoying or wonderful, depending on your point of view, but it has no bearing on the fried chicken, which is undeniably delicious.

Root & Bone
200 E. 3rd St (between Ave A and Ave B)
New York, NY 10009
(646) 682-7076

Amazing Retro Kitsch Dining at The Butterfly

the butterfly - interior

The minute I stepped into The Butterfly in Tribeca this weekend, I knew I was going to like this place. I felt like I was on holiday in Palm Springs, the CA city in a perpetual state of 1950s kitsch. I could definitely see Mad Men filming some flashback scenes of Don Draper, Betty and the kids eating in the stylishly retro surroundings during happier times.

I want to stick to the theme of holiday and nostalgia, because each bite of the delicious, mouth-watering comfort food at The Butterfly brought back fond food memories of my childhood. The patty melt, for instance, took me back to my high school days at Denny’s, many of which were spent eagerly awaiting the hamburger sandwich with a side of fries in the signature Denny’s green basket. Of course, the patty melt at Denny’s pales in comparison to the incredible one at The Butterfly. Michael White’s meat patty has so much more flavor than anything you’d find at a mainstream diner or even a reputable restaurant. It’s surprisingly lean as far as meat patties go, with just a hint of richness that doesn’t leave you keeling over in a food coma. The caramelized onions provided some nice tangy notes and the mild and creamy cheese was appropriately just a touch rich. This is as good as it gets with patty melts, nothing could possibly be improved upon White’s version.

the butterfly - patty melt
this patty makes my heart melt

It’s usually difficult for a restaurant to have two show-stopping dishes, but I think my taste buds were even more blown away by the fried chicken. This was bar-none the best American style fried chicken I have ever had. Forget all the hoopla over Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken or Popeye’s, the fried chicken at The Butterfly blows everyone out of the water. (On a side-note, the fried chicken at The Redhead in the East Village is not bad either). The skin on the buttermilk fried chicken was perfectly crispy, and the meat inside was impressively moist and tender. It’s such a simple dish, and I wish I could explain how White’s simple but perfect rendition is so much better than anything else I’ve tried, but I can’t. All I know is that the chicken made me very very happy, and very few foods can have that sort of effect.

the butterfly - fried chicken brunch basket
the best fried chicken, cluck yeah

Even the blueberry pancakes were superb. The batter was so light and fluffy, and the generous dollop of ricotta cream provided some amazing velvety decadence to the cakes. Patty melt, fried chicken, pancakes. All were delicious and checked the box on having the perfect fat kid food day–the calories and the elastic waistband pants are totally worth it.

the butterfly - blueberry pancakes
blueberry pancakes to round out the best fat day ever

The Butterfly
225 W. Broadway (between White and Franklin St.)
(646) 692-4943

Sneak Peek: Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken

Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken was slated to open this past Monday, but whenever I walked past the restaurant, the signs of “almost open…(not quite yet) cluck yeah!” remained taped on the windows. I wasn’t totally surprised and respected the management’s decision to work out all the kinks before opening to the public. However, with each day my fried chicken craving grew stronger, so finally I decided to chance it and stop by for lunch. I figured 4 days would give them enough time to resolve any issues, or so I thought…

At 11:30 am, the manager told me that the restaurant still wasn’t open, and that they hoped to be officially open later that evening. Despite this, he said that they would be serving lunch from 12-2 pm, so I should come back for a taste. At 12, a line of about 8 hungry people, all men, had formed in front of the door. It wasn’t until 12:30 when they started letting people in. The staff was super nice and informed us that as guinea pigs we would get to eat for free. Omg, fried chicken that’s free? Cluck yeah!!

You can order fried chicken by the piece (breast, thigh, drumstick, wing, “mighty wing”); fried chicken dinner platters; griddled chicken burgers; sides (fries, potato wedges, cole slaw, pickled peppers, onion rings, pickled cucumbers, fried dilly beans, three bean); salads; and several options for drinks, including Mexican Coke. The whole slick operations reminded me of Shake Shack, but for fried chicken. There’s also ice cream, although I figured my Fat Girl Thursday lunch had to have some limits. I decided to be traditional and order a breast, a drumstick, a Mexican Coke (how could you not??), cole slaw and french fries.

Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken - square meal
a square meal – cluck yeah!

The fried chicken here is pretty distinctive in that you can really taste the “Classic Spice” dry rub seasoning that’s on the skin. I liked how the skin was crispy without being overly dry or the other extreme of too oily. I was surprised that I actually preferred the breast to the drumstick, as the former usually tends to be a mound of unattractive, desiccated meat that lacks flavor or moisture.

You can choose to dip the fried chicken in the sauces on the table–your options include Mustard Honey, Chipotle Honey, Wild Flower Honey, BRBBQ and hot sauce. Doing so results in a marinated chicken that resembles the sweet fried chicken of the Korean Bon Chon variety. I actually thought this made the chicken taste better, especially with the Mustard Honey sauce.

Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken - breast and drumstick
close-up of the breast and drumstick

I thought the skinny fries here were absolutely amazing. I know some people have strict allegiances to thick steak fries, and there’s been some backlash against the skinnier fries that Steak Shack has rolled out in its UES location, but I’m an equal opportunity fry lover. If they’re golden and perfectly crispy, then I’m a fan. Which these Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken fries were. You don’t even need ketchup, they’re great on their own.

The coleslaw was also well seasoned. It was a great, refreshing counterbalance to the heavier fried things that I was eating for lunch. The dressing was slightly sweet yet pickled and not overly thick. And of course, being able to order Mexican Coke is fantastic. What’s the deal with Mexican Coke again? Is it that natural cane sugar is used versus corn syrup? I haven’t had regular American Coke in awhile, so I can’t really do an accurate comparison. However, the Mexican variety seems to be less carbonated and more caramel-y, for lack of a better term.

Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken - Mexican Coke
yay Mexican Coke!

Overall, I appreciated the fried chicken here. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly, but I don’t think I liked how prominently I could taste the Classic Spice dry rub. I’m more of a purist and like to keep things simple with just salt and pepper. I did like customizing the chicken with the sauces, but I think the Korean chicken places are superior when it comes to the sweet marinades. I would definitely come back just for the fries. And it’s a bit expensive–my total tab came out to about $18. What’s up with all these fast foods suddenly being marked up to high end prices? I don’t like that one bit. Fried chicken has humble roots, let’s keep it that way. Next week on the Fat Girl Thursday diet – fried chicken lunch at Popeyes!

Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken
28 E. 1st St (and 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-0404