Everyone needs some guilty food pleasures in life and I'd have to say that fried chicken is one for me! There's nothing like biting into a crispy, crunchy piece of freshly fried chicken that gets me drooling. It's one of those classic, treats that you know you should stay away from. But fried chicken is sort of like pizza to me: even when it's bad, it's still pretty damn good. And while any good Southern restaurant will have its own special recipe, even fast-food fried chicken will hit the spot! Fans of Bojangles will clash with Popeye's lovers over which one is better. The newly opened Beasley's Chicken & Honey has been getting rave reviews. And what about the classic chicken and waffle combo at Dames? So in the interest of culinary clashes, I present to you my Fried Chicken Deathcage Match! May the best bird come out on top.
Let's start with the Louisiana kitchen at Popeye's! I ordered up a standard 3-piece meal (dark) along with a side of dirty rice. Popeye's is decked out in the traditional orange fast-food motif but we're here for the fried chicken, amiright? My chicken came out very lightly fried without much grease. Popeye's fried chicken is famous for its Cajun style spice so their chicken has a tiny kick at the end. The batter is pretty light and not overdone at all, just enough to keep the meat juicy!
And while the chicken pieces were a bit smallish, there's plenty to eat in the meal. And the sides? The dirty rice was decent enough for a fast food side but the biscuit was pretty awful. Small, hard and dry, think hockey puck. Overall Popeye's does put out good fast food fried chicken for the price ($6.75 for meal, drink). Not a bad meal here but also not very memorable.
Moving on to a Southeastern classic Bojangles (or Bojo's), you'll often find their chicken at tailgates and parties and it ALWAYS disappears quickly. But it's not all about the chicken at Bojangles, their biscuits and sweet tea are equally popular. My three-piece dark meat dinner, mashed potatoes and biscuit came out to nearly EXACTLY the same price ($6.80) as Popeye's so there's no price advantage to either.
Bojangle's fried chicken is cajun-style and a bit heavier on the breading so there's a lot of crunch and snap to the skin. Inside the chicken was really juicy and there was just a hint of heat at the end. Portion size, the chicken was about the same as Popeye's but the biscuits at Bojangles are solid: large, fluffy and with a bit of salt. The mashies? Well, nothing to write home about but if you put sausage gravy on top, I'm eatin' it! Bojangles makes some excellent fast-food fried chicken, you really can't go wrong here.
Going up the fried chicken food chain is the down-home, Dames Chicken and Waffles in Durham. I'm not sure who the brilliant person was that concocted this combination but they should be congratulated! Dames is a small family-run joint that has only one thing on the menu: chicken and waffles. BUT you get to choose from a variety of plates for chicken drums, wings or filets. There are different types of waffles and different shmears (flavored butter) and syrups to go along with that delicious fried chicken. Home-made sides ranging from fruit to mac n cheese and sauteed squash, finish off the meal.
Supported by a group of voracious Triangle Yelper's, we popped into Dames for lunch today. My order of the Red-Crested Rose Comb comes with two chicken legs kissed with powdered sugar, strawberry shmear and a beautiful, soft waffle. Dames really knows its fried chicken: well-seasoned coating, deeply fried which makes it tender, tasty without much grease. Syrup at the table gives you an opportunity to bling out your waffle a bit. Slice off some chicken, fork it on with some waffle, dip it into some butter shmear-syrup and whoa. Flavor party in your mouth! The side of macaroni and cheese was also great, creamy and spiked with oregano. At $12.80 not a bad deal at all for the chicken, waffle, side and sweet tea. (Note: Dame's dishes out a LOT of food and in our group, the clean plate club was dominated by the Yelp women. A tip of my hat to the ladies...)
Pretty much anything Chef Ashley Christensen touches turns to gold in Raleigh so when Beasley's Chicken & Honey opened up, there was a tremendous amount of buzz. I waited a couple of weeks before visiting just to let the place settle in a bit. The space is open and well-lit with natural sunlight. One long communal table down the middle, some four-tops on the edges and stools at the bar make for plenty of seating in Beasley's space. The menu is brilliantly simple, you can have chicken, chicken, or if you feel like it, chicken! Chalked up on the overhead (similar to Poole's Diner) menu you've get three chicken options (1/4 chicken, chicken biscuit, chicken and waffles for brunch/late night) and maybe six or so sides.
I went with the dark chicken and we went a bit crazy beyond that ordering biscuits, collards, beans and mac n cheese. Beasley's chicken is beautiful on the plate: well-browned, plump and drizzled with a little bit of honey. Bite in and there's a bit of salt (my guess is the meat may be brined) on the tongue, along with juicy chicken and some sweetness, delicious! Breading is minimal so it's all about the meat at Beasley's. And the sides are excellent, chopped collard greens, beans spiked with jalapenos and a square of baked mac n cheese. The biscuits are nearly scone-like, fluffy but a touch dry. However at Beasley's prices, the meal HAS to be good. At $7.50 for just the chicken, $3.50 for a la carte sides, you'll drop $13 at the minimum for a meal.
Now it's really hard to go wrong with fried chicken, it's all good! And I'm certainly not trying to directly compare upscale Beasley's chicken with Bojangles but you do need to know what you're getting for your hard-earned dollars. You can go fancy, get the frou-frou honey-chicken at Beasley's (check our my updated review here!) or just feel content to eat your fried chicken at a plastic table, the choice is yours. Or you can go the middle route of fried chicken with those delectable waffles! And don't forget the biscuit, mac n cheese and collards, because the sides count too. Bawk-bawk and bon appetit...
Great Fried Chicken in the Triangle
Popeyes- Various Locations
Bojangles- Various Locations
Dame's Chicken and Waffles- Durham
Beasley's Chicken and Honey- Raleigh