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The line at MacArthur's. [Photographs: Mike Gebert]

As I was saying in regards to DAK, the Korean chicken wings place in Edgwater, last week, we've been going through a phase this year where every new fried chicken place that comes along has to compete for the title of Best Fried Chicken Ever! It's like the poultry version of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—two hens enter, one hen leaves.

Considering I once wrote a lengthy post about how to improve your fried chicken at home, it's not that I don't believe in the ultimate excellence of fried chicken. Like barbecue or cheeseburgers or lots of other foods, it's certainly one you can aim for tactical superiority at. At the same time, no chicken is an island; for me fried chicken ought to be the centerpiece of a meal which is about sides and dessert and (not least by any means) family getting together. We should all have an ideal in our heads of Sunday chicken dinner, prepared by the matron of the family and bringing the generations together, whether or not we ever really experienced that.

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Which is why one of my favorite places to get fried chicken is MacArthur's, the famous soul food restaurant on the West side. Is it a contender for best fried chicken in town? Objectively, no. The chicken's good, not great. (Now, the smothered pork chop—that might be great.) The cuts are small and kind of irregular, the coating is a little dry, and you don't generally get it fresh from the fryer. Anyway, the best chicken isn't deep-fried but pan--

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Don't forget about the smothered pork chop.

Shut your mouth! There you go flapping your lips about fried chicken like you know a thing about it in your fool head. The point is, it's about fried chicken but also about the sides, sweet yams and porky greens and cheesy mac and cheese. It's about dessert—gooey banana pudding and sticky caramel cake.

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It's about working your way up the line, making sure you know what you want (they can be a little tough on dawdlers) but shooting the breeze with the ladies as they dish up that soul food. It's about a place that's the de facto community center of its neighborhood, the place where the whole family goes after church, for a birthday, after a funeral. (The pictures of the politicians on the wall—including a certain state senator c. 2004—tell you they know where to find their people.) In the end, it's about why they named it soul food—not let's argue it to death food.

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