There aren’t too many fried chicken styles that can be said to be region-specific. As opposed to say, pizza, with its styles indigenous to New York, Chicago, Detroit, etc., in most of the country, fried chicken is… fried chicken. Different restaurants and home cooks use a wide range of recipes, but fried chicken in Texas isn’t by and large very different from fried chicken in Los Angeles. There are, however, a couple regional fried chicken styles out there. There’s Nashville-style, of course, with its dunk in spicy oil; but there’s one more you probably didn’t know about: Barberton-style fried chicken.
Barberton is a city in northeast Ohio, about 40 miles south of Cleveland, and its native fried chicken is popular in many restaurants in the town and the surrounding area. Barberton chicken can trace its roots to one couple and one restaurant: Serbian immigrants Smiljka and Manojlo “Mike” Topalsky, who opened a restaurant called Belgrade Gardens in Barberton in 1933. There’s a large Serbian community in the region, and today Barberton chicken can be found at many Serbian-owned restaurants there, most famously Belgrade Gardens (which is still going strong with its original location in Barberton and a second spot in Green, Ohio), Hopocan Gardens, White House, and Village Inn.
So what is Barberton-style fried chicken, exactly? It starts with a whole, fresh (never frozen) chicken, which is cut into many parts (including the backs), a nod to its Depression-era roots. Curiously, neither the chicken nor the breading is seasoned, and after being breaded in the traditional flour, egg, and breadcrumbs technique (in that order) the chicken is deep-fried in pure lard. It’s traditionally served alongside French fries, vinegar-based coleslaw, and a fiery mixture of rice, tomato, and hot peppers typically just referred to as “hot sauce.”
With the proliferation of once-regional specialties across the country (it wasn’t so long ago when Nashville hot chicken was little-known outside of its native city!), it’s easy to think that no foods are truly regional anymore. But Barberton chicken, which is just about impossible to find outside of Ohio, proves that there are still a lot of regional specialties out there to discover.