Cross the Road for Some Tasty Fried Chicken
Story by Dave Eckert
In 1989, when we first moved to Kansas City, there weren’t a whole lot of choices for fried chicken outside the chain restaurants. There was Go Chicken Go for fast food and Stroud’s for a sit-down, more family-meal experience. These restaurants remain excellent choices for solid fried chicken, and both boast legions of loyal fans. But today, 31 years later, I sought some different options for a fried chicken fix. I combined personal experience and preference along with input from foodie friends and colleagues to come up with some delicious destinations.
My first stop was Wilma’s Good Food. Run by local character Brett Atkinson, you’ll find the Wilma’s truck out at Crane Brewing in Raytown. On Sundays, for the last four months or so, Atkinson has been serving up half orders of fried chicken served in four pieces along with mashed potatoes topped with a massively decadent gravy. Atkinson says the secret to his fried chicken is the multi-step process. “There’s a lot of seasoning in my chicken: salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne, or so on, so there are layers of flavor in each bite. Plus, I sous vide the chicken, which keeps it super moist while allowing me to reduce my frying time. I don’t really know how to describe it other than it’s old school,” Atkinson shared. Atkinson says a week doesn’t go by without someone, usually multiple folks, telling him it’s the best fried chicken they’ve ever had. Is it? Stop by and decide for yourself, but don’t procrastinate as Atkinson sells out nearly every week.
Red Door Grill
Another once a week treat can be found at the area’s three Red Door Grills. If you’re a Red Door fan, you already know the restaurants serve up amazing jalapeno-dipped fried chicken every Thursday. The recipe comes from Red Door Grill founder Gary Zancanelli, who spent 20 years as a KFC franchisee. Years ago, Zancanelli saw someone dip a piece of KFC into a number ten can of jalapenos to soak up some juice. It was an amazing combination, something Zancanelli knew he eventually wanted to recreate. When he started Red Door Grill, Zancanelli started the process. It took months to perfect the recipe and the method, which includes a four-day marinade, hand-breading the bird, and cooking the chicken in a pressure fryer. One of the last steps was creating the jalapeno sauce, which is served on the side. “People take the chicken off the bone and dip it in the sauce,” General Manager Neal Edwards said. One could say that it’s basically an updated version of that person who dipped the bird in the can of jalapenos, but it works!
Have you tried the fried chicken at Prairie Fire’s Brass Onion? If you have, you know why it’s included here. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? The breading is light. The chicken is moist and flavorful. It’s like that third bed Goldilocks tried – just right. I’ve had Executive Chef Chris Rohde’s fried chicken multiple times, and all I can say is that it’s legitimate! “It starts with the raw product. I buy only the best quality birds, no hormones, no injections, all natural. Then it’s the brine, which takes time, 20-30 hours. We go through 400-500 pounds of chicken a week, so that’s a real commitment in terms of time and labor, but it’s worth it!” Rohde exclaimed.
I’ve known Brookside Poultry Company owner, chef, and creator Charles d’Ablaing for years, dating back to his days at Chaz at The Raphael. D’Ablaing has always been able to cook with the best of them. But he’s really hit his stride in the casual deliciousness of Brookside Poultry. As you can tell by the name, the restaurant puts an emphasis on chicken, and their fried version is some of the best in town! “We do a 48-hour brine, sour cream based, hand-bread the chicken and then deep fry it. We take our time and it shows,” d’Ablaing told me.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and Intro Image
Last, a nod to an out of town entrant into the KC fried chicken sweepstakes – Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, which brought their version of a spicier fried chicken to Kansas City four years ago. Selling their chicken out of the back of a tavern in the small town of Mason, TN more than 60 years ago, over the years Gus’s has become a chicken legend. When Memphis natives Julie and Steve Zanone who had moved to Kansas City saw the opportunity for a local Gus’s, they jumped at the opportunity. So, what makes Gus’s so good? First, it’s the seasoning in the breading, a long-held family secret. The birds are always fresh, never frozen, hormone free, and natural. And, the chicken is cooked to order in peanut oil, so every order is as fresh as possible. “We just think it’s the tastiest, moistest, most delicious chicken out there,” Zanone shared.
From classics like Go Chicken Go and Stroud’s, to once a week treats like Red Door Grill and Wilma’s Good Food, to the daily excellence of The Brass Onion, Brookside Poultry, and Gus’s Fried Chicken, there is no lack of choices when it comes to fried chicken in Kansas City. A long way from our origins as a Cowtown, I’d say KC these days is a real chicken chowtown!