Friday, February 26, 2010

Redheaded Stepchild? I'll Take It!

I enter. I scan. I locate. I zone in.....I hover.

Having a game plan that's not totally dissimilar from the U.S. Central Command's blue prints for combat in war, and that involves hovering around innocent diners, is not my usual modus operandi when it comes to patronizing a restaurant. But it was at The Redhead.

That kind of diligence, focus, and stick-to-it-iveness is what's REQUIRED at this dining spot du jour, located on E. 13th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves, that promises 2 hour waits and the best fried chicken north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Opening its doors in 2009, after chef-owner Meg Grace was motivated to turn her hugely successful weekly family-style suppers that she served out of another restaurant's kitchen into her own restaurant, The Redhead is a unique East Village dining experience that promises real, homemade, Southern cooking like bacon peanut brittle, shrimp and grits, cider pork chops, and fried chicken in a neighborhood that boasts exotic offal and pork bun madness (a la David Chang) and other such international or Yankee (aka NOT fried chicken, biscuits, and grits) cuisine. But trying it -- now that should be top on your bucket list.

On a recent Friday night, just as I expected (since this place has been reviewed more times than the latest health care plan to hit Congress's floors), my friend and I were greeted with a 2 hour wait, and a maelstrom of diners clucki..err, clamoring to score bar stool seats to circumvent the hellishly long waits.

Part A of Operation Fried Chicken: relocate to a nearby bar for an hour and a half or so, exchange stories, then return when it was hopefully a little less insane.

Upon our return, there were still hordes of hungry people, and after confirming with the waitress that we were still looking at a 30-45 minute wait, we moved on to Plan B of Operation Fried Chicken: zoom in to kill..and eat. We spotted two innocently unaware male diners readying to pay their bill. Now I normally never do this (mostly because I detest people who do this to me, but hey, it's New York; it's a dog-eat-dog world out there), but I stood uncomfortably close to the diners to send the message to them that I was impatient and wanted their seats.

They took note of our awkwardly close distance and quickly and kindly wrapped up their meal and got up to leave. As they were readying themselves with their coats and scarves, a lady came running over to try and claim the spot. Oh no, I told her, ain't gonna happen. She was shorter and smaller than me, but I felt no sympathy. Must keep eye on fried prize. I told her sorry, hun, but we've been waiting. She begrudgingly walked away, while my friend and I buoyantly sidled onto the narrow bar stools, grabbing our forks and pounding them repeatedly into the wooden tables, demanding service (ok, the last part didn't happen, but you can only imagine after such a long wait).

We started out with cocktails and the homemade waffle chips with butter-braised onion dip. I ordered the Ginger Snap (natch, because there's ginger in it: Gosling's rum, ginger syrup, and fresh citrus juice), and my friend ordered the Pear Cosmo (I think?? -- citrus vodka, pear-cranberry syrup, and candied cranberries). The drinks were refreshing and chug-worthy. And the chips and dip, oohh -- crunchy, light, airy, and a perfect introduction to the fried chicken feast. On their own the chips were so good I would have purchased a bag to go if they sold them, but the buttery onion dip was smooth, creamy, and with just enough of an onion kick to move it away from boring sour cream territory.


Onto the fried chicken, ohh the fried chicken. Now, I was definitely excited to try the restaurant's famed and incontrovertibly most popular dish, and knew it would be good, but this chicken did something to me that rarely happens: it went beyond my expectations. It was so delicious and divine that I was tempted to cancel my friday night plans with friends so I could sit alone on my apartment floor and rock back and forth, concentrating and thanking the culinary gods for delivering me with such edible divinity.

Upon biting into the fried chicken, which comes with two pieces of chicken, breast and/or thigh, cornbread, and a spinach and apple salad topped with pecans (which are both AMAZING -- the dressing on the salad was gulp-worthy), I was blind-sided by the extreme crunchiness of the outside layer. It's just thick enough to be the real deal, but not too thick so as to mask a poor quality piece of meat bashfully hiding beneath. While people like the exterior of fried chicken for its crunchy texture, you don't generally expect to find as much taste on the exterior as you do on the interior. But you do here. It's seasoned so beautifully and on balance that my taste buds were rocked and engulfed by bursts of crunch and spiciness.

The initial crunchiness of my bite quickly gave way to an explosion of juiciness and seasoning of the actual chicken meat. The chicken was so delicately tender, soft, and juicy, you could almost cut it with a spoon (if it weren't for the skin). Whether it be thigh or breast (a notoriously dry part of the bird) of your two-piece portion, the juiciness maintained itself throughout the whole piece.

It's as if the chicken arrived on this earth juicy; it was perpetually juicy; not one bite dry. This is apparently due to a three-hour salt, sugar, and herb brine, seasonings, and a quick trip to the deep fryer, but I attribute it to other worldliness.

Just look at it...

The juxtaposition of the crunchy and the tender, the hard and the soft, the crumbly and the
meaty, it's a whirlwind of textures and tastes that go blasting and rocketing through your mouth.

I'm telling you, kids, it was something else. It honestly got me thinking about it for days. It's something that catches me off guard at random hours, times when I'm not normally inclined to think about fried chicken, or food for that matter (like when I'm talking to my doorman about my professional aspirations, or when scanning my debit card to refill my subway card)

The remains of the day....

So yes, the wait is a hassle, you can only make reservations for parties of 5 or more (trust me, the place is small, you don't want to go with 5 people), and you may be forced to compromise your morals and values to get a spot here, but once you settle in and take a bite of this glorious Americana, you'll be left waving your Stars and Stripes and clucking with glee all the way out the door.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

1 comment:

J.Lee said...

My mouth waters just by looking at that succulent goodness. Must go back again.