Once again, making people jealous is my buddy StB. Hill Country Fried Chicken opened recently, and after a brief discussion about fried chicken, she suggested – and I quickly agreed – a fat chick fried chicken feast. With a lot of walking in between.
We started at the very establishment that started the conversation, Hill Country Chicken. Located around the corner from Hill Country BBQ, Hill Country Chicken is a corner space with large windows, letting in tons of light. There’s a bit of seating on the first floor, and further seating downstairs (though I didn’t go down there to see how big it is).
Set up a bit like a fast food place, you wait on line to order from the counter. The menu is on the walls, and there’s quite some offerings – I was really hungry, but StB sternly reminded me we had more fried chicken places to hit after this and we couldn’t fill up on the first place.
I gazed longingly at the sides, the pies, everything, but she was right, of course.
I went to grab two seats at the counter along the windows facing the ordering area. Actually, heh, I just realized StB is in this picture. In any case, the wooden banister along the bottom of the picture is where the staircase leading down to the lower level seating area is.
But you really want to know about the food, not the decor!
Strawberry lemonade, which I love from Press 195, was free refills (help yourself from the big jug by the wall). Our first cups were more lemon-y than strawberry, but our second cups, which were pulled right after the big jug was refilled, had a lot more strawberry in them than the first.
Interestingly – as in, I’ve never seen this anywhere else, but maybe others have? – the sodas, also presumably free refills as it was fill-yourself, was all Boylan. On tap/draft. I really wanted to go try some to see if there was a noticeable difference in taste from the bottles, but we were on a mission, and it didn’t involve soda.
There are two kinds of fried chicken offered at Hill Country Chicken: Mama El’s or classic buttermilk. I’d actually had dinner with HB the night before the feast, and she’d been to Hill Country Fried Chicken the Friday past; she told me in no unclear terms that Mama El’s was leaps and bounds better, the classic was too salty and no one she’d had dinner with liked it more than the Mama El’s. But StB and I decided that to be fair, we should try a thigh of each (splitting both).
Mama El’s turned out to be breading, thick and crunchy, but both StB and I expressed surprised that neither of us liked it that much. It was crunchy and thick, yes, but too thick, we thought, especially given that the flavor wasn’t that awesome. The chicken was juicy and fried properly, but… that’s what I expected. If you open a place that focuses on one item, it better be done well. Either way, StB and I thought that it was a waste of space in our tummies – gimme more chicken!
Though she ordered one thigh of each type, apparently the thighs for classic buttermilk were smaller that day, so he gave her two thighs to make up for it.
Perfectly crisp skin, juicy interior, we both thought this was the clear winner of the two. Though it wasn’t quite as seasoned (read: salty) as I might have liked, overall, this was a solidly good piece of fried chicken. Not too much breading, tons of juiciness, crisp exterior, we were both happy. I was especially happy we each had our own piece – though the pictures say otherwise, we actually ate this piece first, and we both finished what was there. The second piece, Mama El’s, we both ate a sufficient amount to form an opinion, then left a little bit as it just wasn’t to our liking.
Look at that glorious meat. Juicy. Crisp. Yummy.
The condiment station, to the right of which (behind the woman) is the soda station (Boylan’s draft!) – honey, malt vinegar, some spice rub for you to sprinkle, I suppose, utensils, ketchup, the usual. Mmm.
We strolled right through and noticed that Pies & Thighs, our last stop on the Fat Chick Fried Chicken Feast, actually had a booth in the Mark’t, but alas, they were not offering fried chicken pieces, just chicken biscuits and other assorted items, so we passed on through and kept going.
A sign listing all the vendors – both food and otherwise.
Since we were already in the area, we decided to take a stroll through Eataly, the latest from Batali.
A huge, gorgeous, some sort of coffee machine (I want to say cappucino or espresso, but I don’t know enough about it to really say). I swear I saw one of these in Seattle, but I couldn’t get a good picture then (or this time), so … here it is. Gorgeous. Love the shininess (of course) and the rooster detail on top!
On this Saturday afternoon, though, look at the crazy crowd! I was pretty terrified, especially when we walked through more of the place and discovered that the wait for one of the casual restaurants in the back (the one with pizza, and some other stuff) had a wait over 80 minutes for two people, and even longer for more than two people. (We didn’t ask; we overheard as we wandered by.)
So we exited and continued the feast by walking to Georgia’s on the LES. Pretty small place; we arrived at exactly the right time, when the place was near-empty, because within minutes, the place was filled with people looking to chow down.
We were both thirsty from the walk, and ordered sweet tea. Pretty good, not cloyingly sweet, but not particularly special, either.
This time, the menu was a set plate, as opposed to by-the-piece chicken, and came with sides. Above, the collards, which were really tasty – cooked to perfection, and tasting ever so slightly of honey, we both really liked these.
As for our chicken, I was pretty surprised when our plate came and it was a breast, a wing and a drumstick. I like thighs. Where is my thigh? Em… this side was one of the specials of the day, brussels sprouts cooked with honey and bacon. Really, really, really good. I really, really, really liked this side, and intend to make this myself one day soon – brussels sprout season is upon us! (Okay, I don’t know if that’s true, but cruciferous veggies are my favorite in the cooler months, cuz they make you gassy. Don’t ask me how that’s related, but to me, it is.)
Onto the chicken…
Very moist, juicy, and flavorful – no breading here, just a light dusting of flour, seasoned. I noted that while I had enjoyed the Hill Country classic, I felt this was that – but salted afterwards, which elevated it just a tad in my eyes. Yum! I definitely want to go back.
After eating a good portion of our food and boxing the rest, we began the walk across the bridge. Yep! We continued the walk south, heading to the Williamsburg Bridge, because our third and last stop was right next to the bridge…
Pies & Thighs!
An order of sweet tea for me, to cut the grease.
Our “chicken box” which had a biscuit, a side, and – what the flip?! TWO DRUMSTICKS AND A WING??? Okay, it was an odd time of day – I believe around 4pm – but if you’ve run out of thighs, you tell me when I order. Otherwise, I’d presume a thigh didn’t come in my box, but a friend who goes there often told me that he always gets a thigh in his box. /grumble
Our side of spicy black-eyed peas, which weren’t that spicy. It was a pretty good side, the vinegary ‘bite’ cut through a lot of the fried chicken grease, making it an excellent complement to the meal.
Now, I’m not a biscuit fan, and I barely glanced at this until StB remarked, “Hm, cheesy” as she poked her fork into the top. I shrugged and took a bite, and noted the crust, the crunch of biting into my piece. The cheese made a subtle appearance in the taste, but what got me was the crunch. The biscuit had such a good crust to it, with a pillowy soft interior, I was so happy eating this, I actually ate the whole thing, which is unusual for me. I normally try a bite of a biscuit someone’s said is good, then grunt and shove it to the side, and/or let someone else finish it. This was not the case here. So…good…
And now, the chicken. Good looks –
Simple, non-battered exterior. Crunchy. Tasty. Moist interior. But not enough salt (yes, that’s my problem here), and honestly, honestly, honestly, given the trek to this place (even had we not walked there, and taken the train), and the comparison to the other two places that are much closer… It’s unlikely I would go back on a whim. Good. But not blow-your-mind-amazing. (I do want to try that chicken biscuit, now having seen Brownie rave about it…).
In all honesty, given the way such a walking feast had to take place, I definitely want to go back to each place and have a full meal at each to really get a feel for them, their sides, and and their chicken. When I write full reviews, I take everything into account: difficulty of getting to the place; accessibility (affordability); atmosphere; service; everything. These are a part of what makes me, personally, decide to visit a restaurant or not…
Having said that, this being really just about the chicken, my order of preference – based on chicken alone, ignoring the sides and everything else :
- Georgia’s Eastside
- Hill Country original
- Pies & Thighs
- Hill Country Mama El’s (apparently I really don’t like that batter/breading)
StB ranked them on her own criteria:
- Hill Country original
- Hill Country Mama El’s
- Pies & Thighs
We actually had two more places on the list, but both only offered fried chicken as full dinner meals, and we started a little past noon, so they had to come off the list.
Yvo says: Each place had its awesome parts, and I will definitely be back to each of these places – hopefully soon – to check out a full fried chicken meal, with a write-up to follow. But for the purpose of this Fat Chick Fried Chicken walking Feast, the results are what they are and based solely upon fried chicken head-to-head-to-head-to-head.
eat more fried chicken!