10 Madison restaurants serving up backyard favorite: fried chicken
Elevate your summertime picnic with an offering from a local spot.
Breaded, seasoned and spiced, fried chicken has always been an ideal centerpiece of a summertime picnic or a Fourth of July cookout. Sadly, for many of us, our experience of this staple of the American South — which actually draws its origins from Scotland and Africa — comes from corporate America. Let’s put it this way: If you’d spent all your time paying attention to television and pop culture over the last year — it’s OK, we feel you — you might have come away with the mistaken impression that the height of the cuisine comes from Popeyes or Col. Harland David Sanders. Fortunately, Madison has a handful of places that are more than happy to put that misconception to bed.
Anointed One Soul Food
“Seasoning and love” is the only answer you’ll get if you ask Kenny House, the self-anointed “CEO of soul food,” to reveal the secret that underpins Anointed One’s crispy-yet-tender fried chicken. It’s okay. We know these sorts of mystical things move in mysterious ways — all we care about is that they’re completely delicious. Anointed One’s delectable chicken is available in a pile of wings or as part of a full-on chicken breast dinner. Anointed One has been filling the soul food quota on the far west side since opening back in 2018. “We grew up on soul food,” House says. “And everyone likes chicken.” Sometimes, simplicity really is best. 515 Junction Road, 203-9671
Bassett Street Brunch Club
During the coronavirus, Bassett Street Brunch Club tweaked its traditional menu for a couple different offerings. In place of the Chicken and a Donut — multiple pieces of buttermilk-fried chicken perched on a glazed doughnut (made in-house), drizzled with honey, surrounded by an artistically splashed Sriracha-sour cream sauce — is the chicken and biscuit. The delectable dish is a fried chicken fillet topped with a sunny-side-up egg then served with a house-made biscuit, sweet corn sausage gravy and an apple bacon salad. 444 Johnson St., 467-5051
You’ve obviously heard of chicken-fried steak, but you haven’t really lived until you’ve tried to tackle — and we do mean tackle, as in physically — Eldorado’s massive chicken-fried chicken. This plate is a veritable monster of flavor: a trio of flat-pounded chicken breasts, seasoned and soaked in buttermilk before frying. They arrive, skyscraper-style, on a bed of creamy white bacon gravy, flanked by mashed potatoes and pinto beans and capped with a surprisingly sweet corn cake. Currently Eldorado Grill has a limited menu, so currently the chicken-fried chicken is unavailable. You can still enjoy their tasty chicken in a meal for two of buttermilk fried chicken. While it’s designed for two, you likely won’t want to share. 744 Williamson St., 280-9378
Marie’s Soul Food
It’s always been carryout only at Marissa Holmes’ cozy Monroe Street soul food haunt, but you might not want to wait to get home to try Marie’s fried chicken, which is as crispy, tender and flavorful as you hope it’ll be. Your pile o’ wings is always cooked to order, so plan to factor in a 15-minute wait. Each batch comes accompanied by a fluffy, buttery corn muffin, but we suggest using one of your two side-dish options to double down on them — they’re that delicious. 1637 Monroe St., 405-5729
The chicken served by Pastor Esperdell McGee is genuinely a heavenly affair, whether you’re opting for the wings or going all-in on a massive chicken dinner (we strongly urge the latter). Regardless of whether you like the chicken thigh, leg, breast or wings, there’s a combination dinner that will satisfy your hunger. The restaurant closed its original Park Street location. But will be opening a new location on East Washington Avenue. But don’t worry, you can still get all the tasty chicken you crave at its Sun Prairie location. 950 W. Main St., Sun Prairie, 318-2888
Tempest Oyster Bar
When you think of Tempest Oyster Bar’s offerings, fried chicken is not typically your first thought. But people have been raving over the “Not Famous Yet Fried Chicken” introduced in March at the start of Safer at Home. Here’s our attempt to make it famous by adding it to this list of top spots for fried chicken, where it belongs. Get four pieces of flaky, deep-fried chicken with green beans, Yukon gold mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits with butter and Gentle Breeze Honey. We can only hope it becomes a permanent piece of the menu. 120 E. Wilson St., 258-1443
Spicin’ Up the Sammie
Breasts, wings and drumsticks with a side of okra are far from the only way to experience the best fried chicken Madison has to offer. Plenty of Madison restaurants supply a delicious fried-chicken sandwich — and, as it happens, many of the best ones opt to camp on the spicy side of the street.
The Avenue Club and The Bubble Up Bar
The Avenue Club and The Bubble Up Bar’s fried chicken sliders are cute little numbers, arriving on your plate in packs of three (although you can add on if you’re so inclined), speared with a pickle coin on top. A spicy honey and chili aioli bring a sweet heat to the appetizer-popping section of your meal, but they’re not the only way to access the joy. You can also score Avenue’s fried chicken as a slider accompaniment to the restaurant’s ultimate bloody mary on weekends. 1128 E. Washington Ave., 257-6877
Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry
The late Jeff Stanley, founder of Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, made the quick but fateful decision to use Pabst Blue Ribbon as the basis for the beer batter that bolsters his buffalo chicken sandwich. The batter is what gives this ’wich the perfect fluffy/crunchy texture to balance the medium heat of the buffalo sauce. Dotty’s obviously leads with its burgers, but employees swear by the buffalo chicken. If you’re after something less spicy, the fried chicken can be served as a DIY sandwich as well. 317 N. Frances St., 259-0000
Gates & Brovi
General Manager Tim Heinowski calls Gates & Brovi’s spicy fried chicken sandwich “approachable,” in part because half the entree’s spice comes from a chili aioli made with chiles de árbol. While the peppers are hot, the aioli helps calm it down. A cider slaw keeps everything in balance. It won’t take more than a few bites to understand why this sammie is one of the most popular choices on this bistro’s menu. 3502 Monroe St., 819-8988
If elegant and hearty is more your thing, Merchant’s Nashville hot chicken sandwich is your heat-happy jam. The chicken is battered in buttermilk, fried up and dusted with plenty of house spice blend, but don’t worry about needing to hit the water supply hard. A poppy seed and root vegetable coleslaw helps balance every bite. 121 S. Pinckney St., 259-9799
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, some restaurants may be closed to dine-in guests and offering slightly scaled-down menus.
Aaron R. Conklin covers dining and theater for Madison Magazine.