So much for Chicago being a pizza and Italian beef kind of town. I had no idea last week’s post about my Top 5 Fried Chickens would stir such a passionate discourse. With more than 40,000 views from my Facebook page alone, all of the sudden interest crashed my website briefly the next morning. As promised, I’m back this week, focusing on the boneless fried chicken sandwich. There are quite a few good options in Chicago for this southern indulgence, and you don’t need to go to Chick-whatever to satisfy a craving.
233 E. Erie St.; (312) 344-1374
Note: even though there are two locations, the store at 50 W. Randolph in The Loop sells only doughnuts; you have to go to the Streeterville store, on Erie, for the sandwich.
To be honest, I’m not in love with Do-Rite’s doughnuts. But leaving Northwestern Hospital last week, I spotted their second store, where they also sell chicken sandwiches. Their hormone free chicken breasts are submerged in a proprietary brine (“buttermilk and pickle” according to their website) for 24 hours, before breading, frying, and serving on proprietary brioche buns made by Z Bakery. The chicken comes in Original and Spicy, but I just ordered the Original – what a perfect combo of juicy, crispy, but not too much breading – a fate too many places suffer. The bun is also just that right amount of starchy grip, without overwhelming the chicken. I wish more places paid attention to ratios like Do-Rite. They also make an off-menu Sweet Heat sandwich with spicy chicken and house made jalapeño or maple aioli served on one of their donuts (overkill). $6.99 for an Original sandwich, fries, and a soda.
2523 N. Milwaukee Ave.; (773) 904-8567
Few of my friends even know about Analogue, and what they do know is limited to the fact they make awfully good cocktails (at very fair prices). But the secret weapon is their chef, cooking the cajun dishes from his Louisiana childhood. They have a fried chicken dinner special on Tuesdays (go) but they always have a killer chicken sandwich on the menu too. Slagel Farms chicken is brined with herbs, lemon zest, honey, and pickle juice then dredged in heavily seasoned buttermilk and flour before being fried. Served on Red Hen white bread with house made pickles, crunchy slaw, and Louisiana mayo, this beauty costs $11. See if they’ll make you a sazerac for the total NOLA experience.
959 N. Western (773) 394-4444
600 N. LaSalle St.; (312) 944-4444
Eating at Leghorn is all about decisions. Breast or thigh? Hot or not? Bun or biscuit? And now, the original shop on Western Avenue or the newer Cafe in River North, which occupies a corner in that grubby old motel at Ohio and LaSalle, across the street from the Rock ‘n Roll McDonalds. They start with local, Amish-raised hormone and antibiotic free chickens, and whether you go with breast or thigh (I say thigh), they’re both pounded thin for easier frying. Marinated in a signature pickle brine for several hours then dredged in a secret herb and spiced breading, the chicken comes in original or Nashville hot, which is slathered with a homemade Nashville hot sauce after it exits the fryer. Served on housemade buttermilk biscuits (good, but too puny to hold the chicken together) or buttered brioche (yes!). $8 for a sandwich and 3.50 for a side of fries – CASH ONLY, although they have ATMs there.
2952 W. Armitage Ave.; (773) 384-3333
In the summertime, sitting out back on that massive patio, it’s hipster-watching at its finest, but their year round commitment to local farms is notable. They start with Amish chicken that’s brined for 12 hours in salt, sugar, and spices. Then it’s battered and fried. Served with homemade aioli, coleslaw, and hot sauce, American cheese, and NorthStar pickles (from Mundelein) on a brioche roll from Red Hen Bakery, it will set you back $10 for a sandwich with homemade potato chips.
3361 N. Elston Ave.; (773) 478-4000
Updated as of 5 p.m. today: got a call from HBFC, and despite my claim that they double battered (one of the reasons I knocked them off my Top 5 Fried Chickens last week) they have since changed to a single batter about a year ago, which yields a much lighter, less dense crust.
I’ve really enjoyed watching the Honey Butter owners’ arc over the past few years, moving from quirky little under-the-radar dinner club, to crazy lines-down-the-street business in Avondale, with that original Sunday Dinner Club housed upstairs. But I haven’t been as enamored with their fried chicken, which was notably absent from last week’s Top 5. I’m not a fan of having all of the pieces boned-out. But here’s the thing: there’s redemption in their sandwich. Like the others in this list, it’s all about local – starting with whole Amish chickens raised humanely and antibiotic-free in Indiana; butchered in house, then brined for 12-18 hours, battered in seasoned flour and buttermilk and then fried in non-GMO, trans-fat free canola oil. Their Original sandwich features candied jalapeño mayo, and crunchy slaw served on a toasted, buttery bun from Highland Baking Co. of Northbrook. $8 for an original sandwich. The much-heralded honey butter slather that is recommended at the table is superfluous, like putting bacon and pulled pork on top of the “Led Zeppelin” at Kuma’s. I love that they brine it overnight in citrus and chili; I love that they dredge it in buttermilk and assorted flours and powders. The fact they dust ’em with pimentón before serving is a nice touch too. But does it need the honey butter? Not really.
The Roost Carolina Kitchen (also among Top 5 Fried Chickens post)
1467 West Irving Park Road; (312) 261-5564