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Where to get the best fried chicken in Spokane

Tue., Sept. 5, 2017, 5:06 p.m.

Fried chicken is synonymous with the South.

But the classic Southern comfort food is a favorite north of Dixie, too. While the Inland Northwest isn’t exactly a stronghold of Southern fare, the Spokane region does have fans – and purveyors – of old-fashioned fried chicken and all the fixin’s that come with it: mashed potatoes, rice and beans, collard greens, cole slaw, corn, biscuits, waffles, macaroni and cheese.

Good fried chicken is all about balance. The meat should be tender, moist and juicy, not mealy or dry. The crust should be crisp, crackling and crunchy – never limp or greasy. It should leave hands feeling oily. And, yes, you do eat it with your hands.

Whether it’s cooked in a cast-iron skillet, deep fat fryer or pressure fryer, the chicken should be full of flavor, not bland, but not too salty – and not too spicy, either.

Here are some of the top 10 places to go for fried chicken in and around Spokane.

Casper Fry

The well-seasoned, bone-in, slightly smoky buttermilk fried chicken at Casper Fry comes from executive chef Mike McElroy, who was born and raised in Spokane but earned his culinary stripes in Louisiana and Texas. “The brine is what gives our chicken the nice moistness on the inside while a double dip in the batter gives the nice thick and crispy crust,” he said. Fast-food fried chicken this is not. McElroy’s dish has a kick to it, but the spiciness isn’t mouth-numbing. Diners aren’t going to be overwhelmed by heat. The gentle undertone of warmth lets guests focus on the flavor and texture of the fried chicken, which is brined for 24 hours in McElroy’s special mixture of Crystal Hot and Worcestershire sauces, garlic, herbs and vinegar. Then, it’s slow-smoked until it’s “just barely cooked,” he said. After that, it’s chilled, battered in a house-made dry flour mix, then battered again in a seasoned wet buttermilk batter. It’s deep-fried at 300 degrees in a creamy soy-based shortening, which doesn’t leave hands feeling greasy. A bit of smoked honey adds just a hint of gentle sweetness. Plus, “Our chicken is fresh, never frozen,” McElroy said, noting, “I find that the most common mistake made with fried chicken is not seasoning everything. Starting with the meat itself, every step has some extra layers of flavor. Our secret is definitely the brine and smoke!” 928 S. Perry St. (509) 535-0536. casperfry.com

Midtown Bluebird

The fried chicken at this charming Inland Northwest bistro is topped with a gently sweet honey-miso glaze and a sprinkling of sesame seeds and fresh herbs. The presentation – in a small cast-iron skillet with parchment paper – is elegantly rustic. The dish is served with a perfect house-made pickle – super crisp and crunchy, not overly briny – which might make you wish you had ordered the assortment of house-made pickles as a starter. The dish doesn’t come with a side, so consider a salad, fries – with Parmesan, salt, pepper and parsley – or the tater tot poutine with pork belly, Cougar Gold cheese sauce and green onion. There’s cheesy bread, too, along with baked cauliflower with curry, pear, honey, walnuts and golden raisins. The chicken is just as it should be – tender and moist on the inside and crispy but not overcooked on the outside. The glaze offers just a hint of sweetness; it isn’t cloying and lets the flavor of the chicken shine. 816 N. Fourth St. (208) 665-3777. midtownbluebird.com

Downriver Grill

The chicken-fried chicken at this popular Audubon neighborhood eatery is served with chorizo gravy, seasonal greens and a sage-and-Parmesan biscuit. Executive chef Tyler Gardner created the recipe, adding it to the static menu about a year ago after running it as a special – and getting rave reviews. Boneless chicken breasts are marinated for 24 hours in roasted garlic oil and sherry vinegar with shallots. They’re dipped in a mixture of flour, cornstarch and Downriver Grill’s seasoning blend – including onion and garlic powders, smoked paprika, salt and black pepper – then dipped again in a mixture of egg and buttermilk before cooking in a deep fat fryer with soybean oil at 350 degrees. DRG serves its fried chicken only on weekends as part of the brunch menu, so plan accordingly – and come hungry. “It’s probably the largest item on our breakfast menu,” said Gardner, who – of course – recommends the dish. The double-dipping “creates an extra-crispy texture,” he said. “You have that texture and the gravy together. It’s just awesome.” 3315 W. Northwest Blvd. (509) 323-1600. downrivergrill.com

Bruncheonette

Located on West Broadway Avenue across the street from the county courthouse – you’ll likely overhear some lawyerly types here – this newer breakfast and brunch spot serves three pieces of fried chicken with a scratch-made cinnamon-brown-sugar waffle. The chicken is dipped in a wet coat of buttermilk before it’s dredged in a scratch-made – and secret – blend of wheat-free flours and spices: garlic, chili powder, salt and pepper. The chicken is boneless, and the coating is extra crispy; the chicken inside, moist and tender. Green onion adds a pop of color to the plate – and just a tiny bit of bite. If you’re craving fried chicken but prefer it in a hand-held, Bruncheonette features the same fried chicken in its fried chicken sandwich. The owners and chefs – husband-and-wife Allen Skelton and Joile Forral – recommend both be eaten with a side of house-pickled jalapenos for an extra kick. Bruncheonette also carries three types of Yellowbird Sauce – hot, hotter and hottest (jalapeño, habanero, ghost pepper) – from Austin, Texas. 1011 W. Broadway Ave. (509) 443-5968. coupleofchefscatering.com

The Yards Bruncheon

Found on the menu under a section called “The Goods,” the chicken and waffles at this popular, new American breakfast and brunch spot features “Spokantucky” fried chicken, a waffle, honey butter and maple syrup. It also comes with pickled peppers and slaw on the side. “Spokantucky” is “just a fun play on words,” said chef and owner Adam Hegsted. The chicken – skin-on but boneless – is brined for 12 hours in mixture that’s “a little more on the sweeter side,” Hegsted said. The brine includes salt, sugar, honey, bay leaf, pepper and coriander. Then it is dipped in what Hegsted calls “chicken flour,” a mix of seasoned flour, corn meal and corn starch. It’s dipped again in a mixture of egg and buttermilk. Presentation-wise, it’s piled atop a quartered waffle and comes, for your convenience, already sliced. The dish is approachable and filling but not over-filling. Decor is retro-modern and done in black, white and aquamarine, lending a light, bright and beachy vibe to breakfast or brunch. 1248 W. Summit Parkway. (509) 290-5952. theyardsbruncheon.com

Farmhouse Kitchen and Silo Bar

Fried chicken is one of the specialties at this popular new Ponderay eatery, another one of Hegsted’s establishments. (It’s also known for barbecue.) But, here, it gets a different treatment. “It’s basically a double-fried chicken,” Hegsted said. “So, we blanch fry it, and then we crispy fry it.” Chicken is cooked first at 250 degrees, then finished at 350 degrees. So, “It gets really crispy skin,” Hegsted said.” The chicken is bone-in and skin-on. Servings include both dark and white meat. It’s listed on the menu as Twice Fried Chicken and described as “Sandtucky” – Sandpoint and Kentucky – fried chicken. It’s served with mashed red potatoes, honey butter, biscuits and slaw. And it’s available in whole or half orders. 477227 Highway 95 N. in Ponderay. (208) 255-2603. farmhousekitchenandsilobar.com

Wandering Table

Once a month since January, the Wandering Table – another Hegsted establishment – has been presenting Fried Chicken Dinners at the Yards Bruncheon next door. It was during these dinners that Hegsted tested the recipe for the fried chicken he now serves at Farmhouse, which opened over the summer. Fried chicken dinners take place every second Wednesday at 6 p.m. and feature beer from a local brewery. (The next one is Sept. 13 with Big Barn Brewing Co.) Tickets are $35 and comprehensive; that price includes tax and gratuity. Seating is limited. Diners must RSVP and pay ahead. Fixin’s, like the featured brewery, get switched up. “We like to play with the sides. We have a little more fun with the sides there,” said Hegsted, noting the fried chicken dinners have featured Korean- and Mexican-inspired sides. To RSVP, call (509) 443-4410 or send an email to info@thewanderingtable.com.

Chicken-N-More

Come for the fried chicken, stay for the chance to chat with proprietor Bob Hemphill. His longtime downtown eatery is synonymous with fried chicken around these parts. He’s famous for dispensing words to live by, too – his own recipes for happiness. “Let me tell you something,” he might start as a customer cuts into a three-piece chicken dinner with red beans and rice and mashed potatoes. “You’ve got to have some joy. You’ve got to have some laughter. Life is all about laughter.” Part preacher, part Sprague Avenue philosopher king, Hemphill was born and raised in Texas. He opened his Southern-style diner 25 years ago, and it’s been at its current location for 13 years. Diner walls are dotted old license plates, and tables are topped with rolls of paper towels rather than napkins. The secret to home-cooked fried chicken, Hemphill said, is simple: “You have to marinate. Don’t ever cook chicken without marinating it.” He recommends self-rising flour for the crispy exterior, plus “salt and pepper, a little onion, a little garlic. That’s basically all you use.” But, he warned, “You don’t want it too salty. Salt will break down your oil.” And, of course, he said, you could throw in a little sage, thyme and paprika, too. Is that how he makes the batter here, then? Nope. “It’s commercial,” Hemphill said, noting he just can’t make it by hand as cheaply as it comes. His favorite piece: thighs. “I could eat thighs all day long,” he said. Hemphill deep fat fries his chicken; he prefers that method to pressure frying. And, at 75, he has no plans of retiring. Retirement, he said, just might kill him. Plus, owning and operating this place isn’t just work; it’s a dream. “There’s one thing in life no one can take away from you and that’s your dream, your vision.” 414 1/2 W. Sprague Ave. (509) 838-5071. chicken-n-more.com

Ezell’s Famous Chicken

Started in Seattle’s Central District more than 30 years ago, this regional chain has 13 locations in all. Spokane has the first – and only – one in Eastern Washington. The South Hill store, the 11th location, opened in 2015. Its battering process is proprietary. But this part isn’t secret: Ezell’s uses vegetable oil for frying and its spicy chicken – a little cayenne pepper gives it extra zing – is marinated for 24 hours with a New Orleans-style seasoning. Fried chicken comes in two to 24 pieces as well as chicken tenders and dipping sauces. Fried chicken livers and okra round out the menu. Ezell’s is known for generally offering larger chicken pieces than many of its competitors. It uses “bigger birds” – 3-pound chickens instead of 2-pound chickens, according to its website, which also noted, “The chicken is cut into eight pieces instead of the traditional nine pieces, giving customers more meat per portion.” 4919 S. Regal St. (509) 448-4881. ezellschicken.com

Crafted Tap House and Kitchen and Victory Sports Hall

One of the signature dishes at these side-by-side sister businesses in downtown Coeur d’Alene is the towering “Rockafella Ya’ll,” featuring savory, green-onion Belgium waffles and buttermilk fried chicken. These building blocks are dressed up with black pepper bacon, egg, black pepper syrup, fennel seed, huckleberry fool sauce, blueberry and whipped cream. It’s not for the faint-hearted. The entire thing is held together with skewers, making for dramatic presentation. Consider splitting it – it’s gianormous. So are the beer offerings. Crafted offers 50 taps while Victory recently expanded to 90. All beers are available at both places, which share the same owners. Crafted: 523 Sherman Ave. (208) 292-4813. craftedtaphouse.com. Victory: 519 Sherman Ave. (208) 930-0112.