Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Food

Is Publix fried chicken the best fried chicken? Let's discuss.

Happy Fried Chicken Day.

Yes, it’s a thing. Just like there’s a Cow Appreciation Day (July 10) and a Have a Party with your Bear Day (Nov. 16) and a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day (April 12).

It’s a little ridiculous, we know. But on past Fried Chicken Days, we’ve taken it as an opportunity to tell you our favorite local places to get your bird on.

And if it drives a little business to our local eateries, that’s not such a bad thing, right?

But this year we wanted to tackle a topic we thought people may have an opinion about: Is Publix’s Fried Chicken the best fried chicken around? If not, does it compete? Is it average? Or just plain lousy?

I witnessed a flap a while back between an editor and a columnist in our sports department here in the Times newsroom. The columnist insisted Publix’s fried chicken was the best around. The editor said he was a fowl, er, a fool.

We have ample evidence that Publix fried chicken is popular. All you have to do is watch the deli counter around lunch or dinner and see those cardboard baskets flying off the shelf. (That’s three bird puns in this story and I’m stopping).

There’s even a website devoted to alerting people when Publix’s chicken tender sub is on sale.

So I decided to crowdsource the newsroom and ask staff how they ranked Publix’s fried chicken — and to perhaps share their favorite fried chicken spots if Publix’s bird just didn’t do it for them.

The responses are below.

Do you have an opinion? We’d love to hear it. Please tell us what you think in the comments section of this story, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We may compile some of your opinions in a follow-up story.

It felt appropriate to give our first crack at this topic to our food critic, Laura Reiley.

• • •

Why are burgers the country’s No. 1 most ordered restaurant food? It’s not about a passion for beef patties at all.

It’s because Americans are mad for French fries and they aren’t going to make them at home. Same goes for fried chicken.

We may talk about the mysteries of buttermilk, the relative merits of brining (pickle brine! cola brine!), fighting tooth and nail about lard versus peanut oil. But nope, we’re not making it ourselves. Most of us have a morbid fear of deep frying. It’s dangerous. It makes your couch smell like the vestibule of KFC for three days. So we fetishize the crunchy-exteriored, plush chickeny unctuousness, we elevate it to cult status at places like Yardbird in Miami and Federal Donuts in Philly.

Publix fried chicken is not that kind of fried chicken. It’s good enough chicken. It’s Tuesday-night-and-I’ve-lost-the-will-to-live chicken.

It’s the chicken you bring to a potluck and slide onto the buffet table and hope that no one notices. It’s chicken that covers the law.

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You eat too much of it and feel vaguely bilious, but not so bilious that you won’t grab it next time the need arises.

The leftovers you chunk up with your hands, caveman style, and toss on top of tomorrow’s sadness salad.

And that last piece? The pope’s nose (guess what? chicken butt) sits there until you Google whether it’s okay to give to the dog.

Laura Reiley, Times food critic

• • •

I grew up in Nebraska, known for its beef and not its fried chicken, but I forever will hold the fowl at Rose’s Chicken Lodge in Omaha as my end-all, be-all bird bucket.

Boasting massive pieces of chicken coated in a crispy crust that dripped with juices, a half-a-chicken dinner managed to destroy even the most ravenous teenage boy’s hunger. Even my part-time job working for several years at a Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t change my preference for Rose’s, which unfortunately closed its doors upon Rose’s death.

That said, I moved south as a younger man, and first experienced Publix while living in Savannah, Ga. And Savannah knows from fried chicken.

The chicken at Publix, as anyone can tell you, isn’t so much its flavor, but its ubiquity. You can go in at any part of the day and those window boxes are lined up like tiny, fried soldiers, waiting to do battle on your hunger pangs.

For many of my post-college years I worked shifts that lasted late into the night, so my fried chicken consumption often occurred at lunch. During that time, the fried chicken at Publix was always ready for a road trip. But that chicken, it earned a special, extended nickname: Publix Sleepy Fried Chicken.

All my fellow vampiric coworkers knew that, should you partake of the Publix Sleepy Fried Chicken in the middle of the day, you would suffer the consequences. You would immediately become drowsy and, should you have a nearby couch, a bed or even a particularly comfy chair, you would fall victim. The itis was real, y’all.

I don’t know if it was something in the breading. Perhaps the grocery store chain would slather the raw meat in some manner of benzodiazepine. But to this day, Publix Sleepy Fried Chicken is for dinner only.

Joshua Gillin, general manager of Florida Beach Insider

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• • •

I suppose Publix fried chicken is some of the best around. I really don’t buy much fried chicken because it’s so far from homemade. Fast food and grocery store chicken is too uniform for me. Every piece is exactly the same orange, golden color, just like mass produced hamburgers are always exactly the same shape and thickness.

My bar is high. I grew up eating my Aunt Zetta’s fried chicken. She’d let my sister and I shake brown paper bags containing the raw chicken, flour and spices. Once Aunt Zetta determined each piece was coated enough, she’d throw them into her well-worn electric frying pan. A few minutes later, the menagerie of shapes and colors emerged. A single drumstick could be brown, dark brown, golden, orange and even have a few extra crispy singed spots that were almost black.

When I was a child, I preferred a drumstick because it was easier to hold and I didn’t realize there was more meat and crust with a breast. My dad usually got the piece with the wishbone and my sister and I would crack it. This always led to a fight when the loser claimed the winner pulled too fast or hard. Strangely enough, we often had chickens my dad said were born with no wishbone at all.

Aunt Zetta’s fried chicken was a staple at the Snow Reunion, which has been held the first Sunday in June at the recreation center in Yadkinville, N.C. since the 1950s. There are no save-the-date reminders, no Evites, no post cards. But every year, more than 100 Snows arrive just after noon with Corningware brimming with squash casseroles, corn picked that morning, deviled eggs and ham biscuits. There are about four folding tables for lunch and five for the desserts.

Aunt Zetta died in 2010 at age 93. Since then there’s been a bucket of Hardee’s or KFC fried chicken, (there’s no Publix in Yadkin County), on the tables sagging with food.

I never have any.

Katherine Snow Smith, Editor of Bay Magazine

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• • •

Publix fried chicken certainly is not the best fried chicken around, right? I mean, there are thousands of mom and pop places that certainly do it better.

But as far as fried chicken available to the masses goes, I think there’s little doubt that Publix competes. The breading is a nice blend of herbs and spices. The meat is moist and juicy. And it’s usually near-perfectly deep-fried.

Usually.

That would be my one complaint: The cardboard basket 8-piece you pick up can be a little uneven — a little overcooked and tooth-hurty one day, a little undercooked and doughy on another.

As for my favorite fried chicken ...

I grew up in the northern woods of Wisconsin, where we have these things called supper clubs. Most supper clubs have wood paneling, stuffed fish and deer heads on the wall, and a juke box with both kinds of music: country and western.

They serve Miller beer products and Old Fashioneds with brandy — which are gross. They have baskets full of candy behind the bar for the kids. They serve lots of fried fish on Fridays.

If you go to a supper club for an event like a wedding reception or a meeting of the local Kiwanis, you generally get two options: tenderloin tips and fried chicken.

That supper club fried chicken is the best I’ve ever had. The skin is perfectly crispy, the meat flavorful and slightly greasy.

It also could be that my childhood memories of this chicken are better than it actually is; sort of like that time when — as a guy in my early 30s — I stayed up until 4 a.m. to watch childhood staple The Superfriends on the Cartoon Network for the first time in 25 years and realized: This kinda sucks.

Maybe a taste test is in order the next time I visit.

Chris Tisch, Times audience editor

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• • •

Before crowning Publix as the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, I need to make a Bill Clintonian statement: That depends on your definition of "fried."

The best battered chicken I have ever tasted came out of a place called Chicken Roost in Laurel, Md.

I associate Chicken Roost with two things: bowling and not practicing my guitar enough. Chicken Roost is long gone now, but when I was growing up it was located in the Safeway Shopping Center on Route 1 in Laurel, next to the bowling alley and a music store, where I took once-a-week guitar lessons and got chewed out for not practicing enough.

It seemed like every week, on the way out the door of that music store, my mom would ask, "If you’re not going to practice, why are we paying for guitar lessons?" and promptly turn left, walk into Chicken Roost and order a bucket.

Looking back, I wish she would have phrased her question like this: "If you aren’t going to practice, why don’t we quit guitar lessons so we can order more than a bucket from Chicken Roost?"

Now for the Clintonian technicality: A few years ago when I was reminiscing about Chicken Roost, one of my cousins reminded me that Chicken Roost’s chicken was broasted — using a pressure cooker — and not fried.

So Publix wins on a technicality. Best fried — not broasted — chicken I’ve ever tasted. At least until the next time I’m in Oklahoma and go to a Homeland grocery store….

Mike Sherman, Times sports editor

• • •

I don’t remember my mother cooking fried chicken, ever. Instead, I remember her coordinating picnics and get-togethers with lots of friends and family involved, and so, when it comes to my favorite fried chicken, my memory, my heart, is tied to mom and countless KFC dinners on the beach.

However, my kids would disagree. Although their fried chicken memories are also tied to the beach, for them it’s with their dad who enjoys spicy food. Nothing makes them happier than surfing or skim boarding on a summer day and then grabbing a box of Popeyes (hot, not mild) chicken while they are still fresh with salt.

Piper Castillo, Times staff writer

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• • •

To all those who I have troubled with requests for public information over the past three decades, I have a confession.

It’s all fried chicken’s fault.

Back around 1970, with a curious mind and a yen for the crisped-up foul, I sent what would be the first of a torrent of requests seeking enlightenment.

To that fried bird colonel named Sanders.

"Can you please tell me your secret ingredients?" I queried the colonel in a letter, the actual hand-written kind we had to rely on before Al Gore invented the internet.

Ever the stickler on OPSEC, Sanders replied not with answers, but with an autographed photo and so I was no closer to learning how to duplicate his recipe on my own.

Fast forward to the present, and this supermarket chain called Publix.

While there are many greasy-chicken joints across the land that offer wondrous renditions on deep-fried cluckers, no mass-scale fry operation can compete with Publix, at least when the order is fully cooked.

Tender and succulent, crisped just right with its own delightful breading recipe, Publix fried chicken pulls rank on KFC every day of the week.

Still, much to the chagrin of many a recalcitrant public official, I owe Col. Sanders a debt of gratitude for a lifelong pursuit of knowledge.

And for that, sir, I salute you.

Howard Altman, Times military affairs reporter

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