For the Best Fried Chicken Thigh in Chicago, Go to Kith and Kin
I'm not really sure about that Thomas Keller fellow. He's always blathering on about how a roast chicken is so perfect, how cooking one is the way to becoming a better cook, how it would be his last meal, and how he'd like to have a ménage à trois with a roast chicken and Megan Fox. Okay, I made that last one up, but still, the dude is always talking about it as his wonder food. Charlie Trotter talks about cooking like Miles Davis in every interview he's ever given, and Keller talks about roast chicken.
But, still, you gotta respect the guy: He is, after all, the greatest American chef. As such, I once went on a quest and cooked a roast chicken (Amish, free frange, organic, factory farmed, etc.) about every Sunday for six months in different variations, seasonings, and roasting times, to see if I was missing something. My wife, who also considers the roast chicken her desert island meal, thought this was the greatest thing that ever happened (remind me to keep her away from Keller), but I was ultimately bored by the whole thing.
In fact, my disdain for the roast chicken has pretty much spilled in to all things chicken. I generally avoid the stuff like the swine flu. And yet, while checking out Kith and Kin in Lincoln Park, a new spot from David Carrier, formerly Trio and French Laundry, and Andrew Brochu, formerly of Alinea, with the inimitable Helen Rosner of Grub Street Chicago, for some reason I didn't blink when she suggested we get the buttermilk fried chicken thighs ($15). (I did go through this whole argument about getting the pappardelle over the carbonara, which was likely housemade since it didn't have to be extruded, and it turned out to be a little undercooked.)
So obviously I'm the one who shouldn't be trusted. But, thanks to Ms. Rosner, we got maybe the best chicken thigh that's ever graced my lips. In fact, the memory of the first bite was so powerful, I had to go back just for the chicken. I returned a week later with my wife, for as the resident chicken worshipper, I wanted her confirmation I wasn't crazy. Somehow, the second visit was even better. This chicken, with its crackling pepper-flecked crust and super juicy interior meat, was better than any fried chicken I've had in the city.
The thighs sit on a bed of good potato dumplings and caramelized brussels sprouts, which are also pretty good, but you could put this stuff in a red and white-striped bucket and I'd be just as happy. (Note: The sides have changed since I went and are now mashed red bliss potatoes and brussels sprouts.) Although it wasn't better than Gus' World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, which is currently my new death row meal, it was a pretty close second. The secret is that this bad boy is confited before it's pan-seared. Apparently, Carrier didn't get the memo on the glory of roast chicken from his old boss, Thomas Keller, a fact for which I'm very thankful.
Kith and Kin
1119 W. Webster Avenue, Chicago IL 60614 (map)