Serious Eats: Chicago
Deep Fried Chicago: Fried Chicken from Mariano's Fresh Market
If this piece has anyone out there worried that I have somehow eaten my way through every fried dish Chicago restaurants have to offer, fear not. This is neither the sign of the end times nor an indication that I'll be focusing solely on grocery store fried chicken from here on out (which, incidentally, actually does signal the end of the world). No, in fact, I'm just running down a lead. But let me back up a bit.
Buried 6 pages deep on an LTHForum post entitled "The Best Fried Chicken in Chicagoland?" is the following assertion: "The fried chicken from Mariano's Fresh Market is excellent. The breading is tasty and the chicken is always moist." And as is clearly stated in my contract (no it's not), I'm required to investigate any and all such claims, which is what lead me to the recently opened Greektown branch of Mariano's Fresh Market for a little deep fried due diligence.
Up the escalator to the second floor and nestled amongst the wood fired pizza oven, sushi bar, and full bakery, is an unadorned steam table simply labeled "Hot Bar." And caddy corner from the sausage and peppers and next to the breaded chicken tenders is a tray of fried chicken parts. Stop! Do not fill your recycled cardboard shell from here—ask the nice man who restocks the trays when the next batch of chicken is up, and tell him you'll wait. In less than ten minutes, you'll be rewarded with chicken hand picked from the fryer.
Turns out this exercise in neurotic patience pays off: even after the time it took to pay and find a seat, the Fried Chicken ($5.99/lb, a half chicken ran me just over $10.00) was steaming hot, with that unmistakeable straight-from-the-fryer glisten. From the breast to the wing, each piece was juicier than the next, with the equal parts crackly skin and tender dark meat leg being the easy favorite. The breading, though plenty crisp, lacked seasoning. Judiciously applied Louisiana hot sauce helped things considerably, and since that's how things are done at Harold's, I'm happy to let it slide.
Since they were sitting right there, I rounded out my plate with some Wisconsin Artisanal Macaroni & Cheese and Potato Wedges. The former was neither fried nor artisanal, but the latter is a hot bar must. Also known as Hoosier Fries (at least back home in Indiana), these crunchy, salty, and ultimately starchy taters do their namesake state proud. Stick to the smaller specimens, though: the big wedges are as dry as a baked potato but without the saving grace of melted butter.
I've only begun to scratch the fried chicken surface of Chicago (stay tuned, dear readers!), so I probably won't specifically seek this fried chicken out again. However, if I ever find myself perusing the pantry staples and surprisingly reasonable craft beer selection at Mariano's with ten minutes to spare, you can guess where I'll be heading.
Mariano's Fresh Market