Someone suggested to me that fried chicken is somehow making a local resurgence with Seoul Fried Chicken, It’ Dog and Dixie Lee all hanging out their shingle relatively recently. I would argue that while the fried chicken thing has been degraded enough in its fast food incarnation, where epic doses of salt threaten the cardiovascular health of patrons as much as the eponymous cooking medium, it’s long been a conspicuous offering of quality restaurants that espouse a southern (or South Korean) orientation. Dadeo and Daravara (and now Have Mercy) do notable southern variants, for example, and Lee House and Coco’s exemplify the Korean propensity for sweet, sticky, spicy fried chicken.
Now suddenly along comes Northern Chicken on 124 Street—say, wasn’t there a burger place there a minute ago?—boasting its allegiances right there on the marquee. They mostly make chicken—fried, roasted, in sandwiches, just the wings—and assorted picnicky trappings, although a grown-up picnic with beer and whiskey. Or, if you’re homesick for Atlantic Canada, they’ll make you a fried baloney sandwich.
For this, Northern Chicken became instantly popular. Both my visits—mid-afternoon on a weekend and Monday at supper time—found the place not just busy, but bustling, the open kitchen a hive of activity that mirrored the jostle of eager customers looking for a seat at one of the communal picnic-style tables or a stool at the bar. Despite not departing that much in appearance from its predecessor, the place has tons of personality that emanates from the staff and from the vibe when the room is packed.
You order at the high wooden counter, probably from one of the people who own the place. He runs you through the chalkboard menu; if you’re abashed, he suggests a meal appropriate to your party. In the case of my co-diner and I, he advised a five-piece order of chicken ($20)—two original recipe and three spicy—that came with pork and beans, plus a couple of small sides. The co-diner was feeling cocky or something because she said she liked it really spicy. We added a small coleslaw ($4) and honey-thyme cornbread ($5). She got the housemade iced tea and I was happy to order a Wild Rose Cowbell Sour Ale ($6.75)—not everyone likes the citrusy pungency of a sour ale, but if you dig the style it’s a great quaff to wash down extra spicy fried chicken.
We took seats at the bar with our drinks and were surprised how quickly the food came even with practically every seat in the house full.
Just like at a picnic, the provided side plates were too small to hold all the food I wanted, and there was a roll of paper towels at my elbow to keep me from licking my fingers. Five pieces of chicken and three sides looked like a lot of food, even for two people. We each started with a piece of the golden-browned, still-sizzling original recipe chicken. Very nice—tidily breaded, ideally cooked, the right amount of salt and pepper, juicy to the bone. The extra hot version was the same chicken doused with housemade chili sauce that added more heat than flavour—in fact it might have become harder to taste with all the fire. The hefty pound of wings ($14) I’d enjoyed on my first visit were less violently spiced and more my speed.
The enormous slab of grilled cornbread in a little ceramic skillet was drizzled with honey and crisscrossed with thyme sprigs. I love honey with fried chicken, so was happy to see it, but it was seriously dense portion of carbs with a serious quantity of butter in it. The coleslaw was nice and fresh, with hints of mustard, fresh dill and green onion enlivening the shredded cabbage and carrot. I liked the beans too—a smoke and tomato flavour rather than pork and ketchup. I was less enthused about the corn-tomato salad I had on my first visit—it had lots of corn and a fair number of grape tomatoes, but an inordinate number of raw jalapeno slices and whole sprigs of cilantro that were unwieldy among the more chopped ingredients.
In the end, though, it’s the fried chicken drawing the crowds and on that account it doesn’t disappoint. But it seems like a lot of people know that already.
10704 – 124 St., 780.756.2239