Follow That Bird
Pleasant autumn temps call for outdoor picnics. Picnics, obviously, call for fried chicken. Where to get the best versions of the good bird this far north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Hunting for great fried chicken in Boston is a little like seeking the finest lobster roll in Albuquerque. Southern specialties just aren’t our long suit. And yet, as the buzz surrounding the new Dorchester eatery Mrs. Jones has proven, Bostonians have a craving for this archetypal hands-on soul food. To discover worthy incarnations, all you need is bit of patience (proper fried chicken is made to order and takes a good 15 minutes), a willingness to explore, and the ability to ignore your cholesterol count for the day.
Bob’s Southern Bistro
The former Bob the Chef’s draws the South End’s friendliest, most diverse crowd in search of refined home cooking, live jazz, and strong drinks. The signature Bob’s Famous “Glorifried” Chicken boasts a thick and pleasantly crunchy coating. Here, as elsewhere, fried-chicken fanatics know to order the moister, richer dark-meat option, a whole drumstick and thigh. Crispiness: 7 (out of 10) Juiciness: 7 Overall finger-lickin’ goodness: 7. ($11.95 dark/$12.95 white; 604 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-536-6204, bobssouthernbistro.com)
Great fried chicken, but with a caveat: Get the thighs, even if you’re a breast man. This tiny storefront just outside Central Square fries its chicken to a deep toffee brown, which results in perfect dark meat—crunchy-crisp, succulent, peppery, and not the least bit greasy—but overtaxes delicate breasts. So be brave. Otherwise, don’t blame us if your white meat is dry. Crispiness: 8 Juiciness: 6 Overall finger-lickin’ goodness: 7.
($9.25; 233 River St., Cambridge, 617-354-7644)
Packy Connors Pub
To nonlocals, this windowless, cavernous neighborhood tavern in lower Roxbury may appear unpromising, even a little daunting. But intrepid diners are rewarded with a cheap, ample feast. With superlight batter, a dusting of salt, and a hefty dose of pepper, these gigantic, meaty whole wings are fantastically crisp-skinned, leaner than most, yet still mouthwatering. Crispiness: 8 Juiciness: 8 Overall finger-lickin’ goodness: 8.
($6.50; 203 Blue Hill Ave., Roxbury, 617-442-7827)
Go on to the next page for four more top fried chicken choices…
Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits
We’d heard this outpost of the fast-food chain actually captures some of the flavor of its New Orleans roots, and were hopeful for another cheap pre-Sox option in Kenmore Square. Alas, the “spicy” chicken had no cayenne fire in its insipid, overly thick crust, and had spent far too long in a mountain of parts under a heat lamp. The dirty basement space and glacially paced service didn’t help. What’s Cajun for “appalling”? Crispiness: 2 Juiciness: 3 Overall finger-lickin’ goodness: 2 ½.
($5.99; 645 Beacon St., Boston, 617-236-7272, popeyes.com)
Everybody seems to know one another at this sleek Dorchester soul-fooder. Sweet-natured servers bring a quarter-chicken plate with superior crunch and a complex, herb-heavy seasoning with hints of rosemary, thyme, and ginger (no way to know for sure, though, as the formula’s a well-guarded secret). Some say this is Boston’s best fried chicken—and we’re inclined to agree. Crispiness: 9 Juiciness: 9 Overall finger-lickin’ goodness: 9.
($8.25; 1100 Blue Hill Ave., Dorchester, 617-825-0700, poppab.com)
The go-to for white-meat devotees, although they also do dark. While we’re not sure how (our sources deny brining the bird, a popular technique for sealing in juices), the breast meat comes out juicy and golden brown, with little greasiness, and enough breading to satisfy fans of a certain courtly colonel. Crispiness: 7 Juiciness: 8 Overall finger-lickin’ goodness: 7 ½.
($12; 149 Alewife Brook Pkwy., Cambridge, 617-520-9500; 50 Dalton St., Boston, 617-867-9955; other locations; shackfoods.com)
The problem with fried chicken at a cloth-napkin restaurant is that customers don’t want to use their hands to eat it. That’s probably why Andy Husbands breads and fries boneless chicken breasts instead of serving the customary bone-in pieces. This makes the meat easy to cut with a knife and fork, but also robs it of critical juice and flavor. The crust is crisp and nicely seasoned, but fried chicken is finger food, and boneless breast ain’t fried chicken. Crispiness: 7 Juiciness: 3 Overall finger-lickin’ goodness: 5.
($16.50; 647 Tremont St., Boston, 617-266-4600, tremont647.com)