A Hamburger Today

Standing Room Only: Uncle Remus Chicken & Barbecue

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Uncle Remus Chicken & Barbecue

4144 West Madison Street, Chicago IL 60624 (map); 773-265-8441
The Short Order: Extra-crunchy fried chicken cooked to order.
Want Fries with That? Come with every order, but they are BAD.
Want Ketchup? Just some of their fierce hot sauce for the chicken.

Over the past month I've eaten more fried chicken than I have in the past year. I even subjected my family to an eventful fried chicken meal for Christmas dinner instead of the usual ham. I have Uncle Remus to thank for this binge.

This tender, succulent, hot-sauce-laced fried chicken has set off some pleasure receptor in my brain, and I can't turn it off.

I found the stand a few weeks ago during a particularly cold spell in Chicago. Now, stands are usually cheaper than sit-down restaurants because they don't have to pay for the extras. You know: the waiters, fresh tablecloths, that hip soul soundtrack, glassware, or any ambiance.

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And to be certain, Uncle Remus's Fried Chicken has squandered very little money on anything. If you take away the two world maps slung oddly on the walls, there are no decorations. Forget about a place to sit.

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This thriftiness also translates to heat. It's been miserably cold in Chicago for a while, and the waiting room inside, as far as I can tell, has no heating at all. It's a sad joke, and the workers behind the glass don't think is funny.

This wouldn't be such a big deal if it was a quick, in-and-out, kind of place that hands you your food moments after you give the order. Instead, Uncle Remus takes its time. I waited for 45 minutes to get my order as customers who had called ahead marched up front to get theirs. By my second visit, I learned my lesson.

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The wait, turns out to be for the right reasons. They make fried chicken from scratch, which means no pressure cooker like the Colonel does it, or hanging out under a heat lamp.

They have all kinds of sides listed, including mac and cheese and greens, but they were all unavailable both times I went. That leaves every fried chicken part you can imagine and some pretty good-smelling barbecue rib tips I thought about picking up, until I saw them stewing on a burner in a thick sauce. Yeah, let's stick with the chicken. Both times I got a half-chicken to sample both the dark and white meat.

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You'll want some hot sauce with the order. The first time I got my chicken doused in it before getting it all packed up. Though evenly coated, it kind of softened the skin. (So I suggest getting it on the side.)

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The dark meat is heavily coated and crunchy, and surprisingly light on the grease, but the tender and moist white meat is the real star here. The fries, which hang out under every order, are unfortunately atrocious.

It's, how we shall say, a hassle to go. The line moves slowly, the employees behind the glass are surly and unforgiving, and you'll shiver to death waiting. But it's all worth it for the chicken, which is dangerously addictive.

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