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Shack Attack

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The concept of what is American is a very fluid in nature.  We are a nation of immigrants aside from the Native Americans, and our culture is a melange of different ethnic backgrounds.  However, one way that each community manages to hold on to their own cultural identity is through food.  Therefore, it is often times hard to find dishes that are uniquely American without having roots in another country.  Fried chicken is no different.  While it is synonymous with down home Southern American cooking and made famous through Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, fried chicken can be traced back to both Scottish and West African culinary histories.  Ergo, when both populations arrived in the Southern US, willingly and unwillingly, they brought this greasy treat with them to share with the world.  I’ve partook in my fair share of the poultry pleasure whether that is from a chain or an upscale eatery, but nothing like the Chicken Shack in Evanston.

My friend David had been talking about this eatery as the place to go for the best fried chicken in the city, so naturally I had to do an investigation.  When I pulled up to the restaurant, it actually looked more like a decrepit shack than a glittering monument to fried chicken.IMG_3540  How fitting given the name.  Usually, a shabby facade could either mean the food is really good or really bad.  We entered to another bare-bones interior similar to one of my favorite hot dog joints on the Southside. IMG_3539 Looking over the menu, they keep it simple at the Chicken Shack with chicken dinners, fish, rib tips, combo meals, and buckets.  David and I were feeling hungry, so we got a 12 piece bucket (3 breasts, 3 thighs, 3 legs, 3 wings for $18.14) with some extra hot sauce on the side, and a biscuit for me ($0.92).  We took a seat at one of their two tables next to the soda vending machines, and they even had plastic picnic tablecloths to keep the tables clean.  After about a 15 minute wait that signified they were making the chicken from scratch in the kitchen, we finally got our box.  When we opened it, it was a treasure chest of fried goodness. IMG_3536 I took a couple pieces out along with my biscuit and decided to try the flaky bread first. IMG_3537 It was fresh, hot, and fluffy, but not as good as the buttermilk biscuits with honey found at Popeyes.  Then there were the golden pieces of bird on my plate that I had to greet.  As I sunk my choppers into the crunchy, dimpled skin, I was greeted with a mouthful of pure white meat.  It was only further enhanced by the sour and spicy hot sauce and sweet bbq sauce.  Overall, it was solid chicken, but I still prefer the spicy Cajun seasonings at Popeyes over the only mild variety offered at the Chicken Shack.

Remnants of the feeding frenzy

Remnants of the feeding frenzy

I can see why Chicken Shack is a great option for fried chicken in Evanston given the surroundings, but it hasn’t captured my heart like my first love.  Still, I highly recommend anyone to make the trip up to the Shack!

Evanston Chicken Shack on Urbanspoon

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Which Came First: The Chicken or the Hot Sauce?

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Howdy y’all!  It’s time for another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I am going to be writing about a certain restaurant chain that has a special, deep-fried spot in my heart (and no I’m not talking about Atherosclerosis) but rather that golden brown, Cajun breading that comes on Popeye’s’ Chicken.  My favorite Popeye’s is located at 5711 S. LaGrange Road in Countryside IL.  There is a closer location on Cass Ave., but I no longer patronize that location due to its lackluster biscuits that are more akin to hardtack than buttermilk pillows, and a bout of food poisoning they served to me with a side of bland chicken.  But I digress.

The actual establishment is nothing too extravagant as there are numerous Cajun knickknacks hanging about the entrance, and Mardi Gras related memorabilia festooning the wall space between each table.  Many are quite humorous such as the following pics:

A Little African-American Vernacular English Anyone?

Sadly No Beignets Here

I Don’t Get It

After taking in all of this colorful scenery (including the hot sauce case that contains a bottle that should not belong in there. See if you can figure out this riddle when you go there), I got down to business by ordering the five chicken strip meal (which comes in either mild or spicy varieties and then two sides which can be either a biscuit and Cajun fries, mashed potatoes, dirty rice, or cole slaw).

“Some Mashed Potaters…mmm hmmm” a la Slingblade

As far as side dish affinities go, I normally choose the biscuit and the extra biscuit side which is an approximation of what God would eat for dinner if he resided south of the Mason Dixon Line.

Chicken-wise, I usually go for the spicy variety which I would liken to a slightly hotter paprika that resides under the crispy breading that doesn’t get spicier than a standard jalapeno heat.  Plus, if you decide to order traditional, whole pieces of chicken, you can also get it in regular and spicy varieties (unlike the Colonel who just has one flavor that relies on a mysterious recipe which still tastes bland to me).

However, I always manage to douse these strips with some good ol’ fashioned Louisiana Hot Sauce that is  in ample supply on the table in bottles.  Even though there are some people who complain that after eating fried chicken they have an unsavory “stuffed with grease” feeling, I can assure you that Popeye’s chicken is fried lightly enough to not turn off even the most finicky eater.  The preparation is a world away from the Cass Avenue location where even their freshest chicken seems a day old in terms of succulence and overall flavor/aroma, and their breading seems as mediocre as the service.  Not only that, but they also only give out hot sauce in packets…this isn’t Taco Bell, people.  Anyway, moving on to the sweeter part of my meal:  the biscuits!

Even the food smiles back at you!

Biscuits have long been a part of Southern cuisine whether being served alone or smothered in artery clogging, chunktastic white sausage gravy.  At Popeye’s Chicken, they are merely served as a side to the savory chicken which can be complimented with some decadent squirts of honey as shown in the bottle on the right in the photo (also served in packets at the Cass Ave. location).  Once again, this is where the Countryside location outdoes the Cass Avenue Popeye’s.  The former manages to combine flour, shortening, and buttermilk to form a porous yet firm, buttery-rich mini-pillow of ecstasy that teeters on the edge of culinary perfection whilst adding honey to its warm interior.Biscuit Enhancement...Trust Me, I'm a Doctor  On the other hand, the biscuits at the Cass location nearly always seem to have the consistency of a saltine in terms of flakiness, dryness, and saltiness which leaves me with a general sense of regret having subjected my palate to such arid dreariness.   I also must comment on the other side dishes that I have tried with my chicken dinners.  First, there are the Cajun fries where are like normal French fries but are fried to a dark brown hue and covered in a pepper based seasoning that is not too overbearing in terms of spice (they can be hit or miss though so tread with caution).  Then there is the dirty rice which is not as unsanitary as it sounds because it merely is a white rice dish that mixes in either sausage or chicken liver to give the rice an alleged “dirty” look to it (with this dish, either you really like it or you really hate it kind of like Brussels sprouts).  The final side I’ve had is the mashed potatoes which is my mom’s favorite, but they are worth the price because the sausage gravy nicely compliments the finely mashed potatoes and does not drown out their flavor.

Overall, Popeye’s Chicken at Countryside is a restaurant everyone should try if you’re looking for some great fried chicken and sides for a good price if KFC/Chick-Fil-A/Church’s has you clucking for something different.  In the immortal phrase of the  Cajun chef Justin Wilson, “”I ga-ron-tee!” (J’vous garantis! for all the Francophones out there) that this restaurant will leave you satisfied as demonstrated by my love for their biscuits/chicken.

I Got Double Vision!

Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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