As cosmopolitan as Atlanta may be, travelers descending upon the world-class destination come often in anticipation of a Southern experience, which for most, means some good old fried chicken along the way.
Worldwide, nearly every culture has a rendition of fried chicken. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, fried chicken is not just a Southern thing. But here in the South, forget about music and mention fried chicken — if your goal is to soothe the savage beast. For this reason, a stupendously ingenious and delectably delicious event in celebration of fried chicken and the great chefs who’ve mastered it has become a surefire hit for Atlantans.
This year brings the second annual go around of the Mother Clucker Fried Chicken Festival, the brainchild of Ron Eyester, chef/owner of Rosebud, The Family Dog, and Timone’s restaurants in Atlanta.
Known to some as "The Angry Chef," Eyester — a man known to give it to you straight from the hip — is an all star when it comes to frying some chicken. In fact, he disqualifies himself from becoming the winner in the competitive event, a title which for the past two years has been awarded to Todd Richards, executive chef of The Shed at Glenwood and former executive chef at The Café, the signature restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, in Atlanta.
"The most important items that really set our fried chicken apart are the quality of chicken we use, the time we take to properly marinate the chicken, and a few secret ingredients that allow the natural flavor of chicken to be highlighted. Also, our chicken is great right out of the fryer or cold the next morning. The birds we use are raised ethically, providing a more tender chicken and we fry our chicken to order. It never goes under a heat lamp or a holding cabinet," explains Richards.
When Richards is not chowing down on his own Southern specialty, he chooses another Atlanta hot spot, Cardamom Hill. "Asha’s fried chicken is legendary. The spices! Wow! You can taste her Indian, Portuguese, and her Southern heritage in every bite," says Richards, who also writes a food blog.
As with most food festivals and editorial roundups, there’s always a handful of favorites known to locals that really bring something special to the table. We thought you should know at least a couple of them…
The Farmhouse at Serenbe
Although it is pretty much a country hideaway, clearly this place is no secret. The place is surrounded by lush greenery from an abundance of grass and trees, and there are tamed wild flowers everywhere. With blue skies, baby goats, horses, and happy people adding to the hype, the grounds at the Inn at Serenbe are a world away from city life in Atlanta. But fret not, as you can get back in 40-minutes or less with the pedal to the metal. But don’t even think of passing go without some of Marie’s fried chicken at the Inn’s restaurant — The Farmhouse at Serenbe.
Start the party with an Elderberry Fiz ($12) of Fords gin, elderflower liqueur, tonic, and a splash of peach Schnapps — a crisp, refreshing drink with a sweet twist. For a good old fashioned country option, go with the Farmhouse Lemonade ($8), made with Cruzan rum, muddled strawberries, and fresh-made lemonade.
On the ever-changing farm-fresh menu of organic fruits and vegetables and naturally raised meats, you might find an appetizer of fried green tomatoes with a red pepper sauce for $5. In both the fried green tomatoes and chive biscuits with butter for the table, "less is more" is the running theme. In other words fresh, crisp green tomatoes, a simple cornmeal and flour dusting, with salt and pepper and — BAM! — less is so much more!
At $15.95, the Farmhouse fried chicken dinner could arrive at the table accompanied by pinto beans, Vidalia onion rice, and creamed corn. Chef Marie Nygren’s chicken —crunchy on the outside, succulent on the inside — simply melts in your mouth. Best of all, it feels like chicken from yesteryear. Back then, chicken had a taste, unlike much of today’s mass-market chicken. The sweetness of the Vidalia onions in combination with its natural savory flavors and added cheese was the paired perfect with pinto beans doused with red peppers. Oh, and yes, the creamed corn. It's there to balance out the depths of a country experience and it did just that.
Seasonal dessert options might include a choice of strawberry cobbler à la mode or a dark chocolate brownie à la mode. But with all of this homemade country goodness, how could you ever choose wrong?