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Posts from the ‘Southern/Soul’ Category

Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken

Charles Gabriel’s fried chicken is one of those fundamentals that every food knowledgeable New Yorker is supposed to be familiar with. For burgers the benchmark has become Shake Shack, though I was late to that game too with my first visit being in September (I’ve still never been to the Madison Square Park location). DiFara is a big duh pizza-wise, but I haven’t been in years because I’m impatient. And by years I’m merely talking early 21st century; no one would believe me if I claimed my fondness began as a Jewish boy growing up in 1960s Midwood.

So now that Charles’ Southern Style Chicken has been reopened as Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken and the city has become frenzied over wings and thighs, I really needed to go straight to the source.

A wiser soul would’ve gone during the weekend buffet and made sure to get a fresh batch straight from the skillet. I went on a random weeknight and figured that if the chicken had already been sitting awhile under heat lamps that another 45 minutes to the fancy $18 fried chicken enclave of Carroll Gardens wouldn’t cause much further damage. (I still can’t explain how a 14.3-mile ride from 155th St. to Brooklyn only takes five minutes longer than my daily 4.4-mile commute to Whitehall, the southernmost R/W station in Manhattan. I would take a cheaper, further, express train neighborhood any day and have been trying to convince the person I live with of this for years.)

Charles’ country pan fried chicken take out

What I’m taking a long time to say is that I know my fried chicken wasn’t at its peak. And it was still moist, crispy edged and covetable at room temperature. The skin was sturdy not heavy with a light, flaky powdered quality. I devoured a drumstick walking around (I never eat standing up) getting out plates for the collard greens (made smoky from turkey rather than ham hocks), soupy black eyed peas and leftover Thanksgiving sweet potatoes driven up from Northern Virginia.

Sitting down with a breast and my sides, I was glad that we’d ordered what I initially thought was too much chicken for two. I still have a wing I’m holding onto for today.

Charles’ country pan fried chicken red velvet cake remainder

My only recommendation is to not eat 95% of a slab of red velvet cake in one go. Normally, I share such things. As someone whose sugar intake is limited by necessity not choice, I go overboard when faced with my favorite form of glucose: a hefty, wincingly sweet slice of super-American layer cake frosted and filled to the nines. I didn’t even remember to take a photo. This is all that’s left.

Before going to bed I quickly clicked on the New York Times dining section and there Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken was getting the under $25 treatment. I made up to Harlem just in the nick of time. ( I also cracked open the new Saveur this morning only to be faced with a feature on mezcal, a subject I researched in Oaxaca last week, written by the Fort Defiance gentleman. Not that I was looking to publish in Saveur and not that they would let me, but I feel a quiet, nervous attachment to the subject in the same way I get anxious when I read others’ blog posts about chain restaurants, which thankfully isn’t a daily occurrence.)

Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken * 2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd., New York, NY

Lazy Catfish

There's a bizarre scene lurking in Williamsburg, and it involves Asians slinging southern food for hipsters. Well, primarily neighborhood residents, but the back room, where a friend threw a party, was also serving as a celebratory space for two other groups, both Asian (I don't know which ethnicity, though I'm leaning towards Chinese).

While service was sweet when we could flag it down, it was scattershot, to say the least. Menus were tough to get a hold of, we ultimately wrote down our orders on a piece of notebook paper to aid the lone waitress (I thought that was odd and it totally wasn't my idea) and the food arrived in starts and fits.

Actually, I was the one who started throwing a fit. It's unwise to drink excessively on an empty stomach, but I wasn't slamming beers by any means. The fact that I was on my third drink and still food-less was a testament to their pace rather than mine. What would be the odds that out of 13 people, I'd be the 13th served? (At last Christmas's gift exchange I also drew 13 out of 13 numbers–so I think I'm just lucky.)

By the time my simple bbq chicken with marshmallow topped yams and mini corn on the cob appeared, half the table was already finished eating and I was sloshed and disgruntled. Fortunately, they happened to have one of my favorite foods in the world on the menu, cheese wontons, a.k.a. crab rangoon! Awesome, yet not quite awesome enough to salvage the meal.

The food was really neither here nor there. It wasn't wretched, but reminded me of what you'd probably get in Hong Kong. Not that I experienced that first hand–I steered clear of anything Southern or Mexican when on vacation. They do have a Tony Roma's in HK (which I realize isn't quite Southern, but it's ribby, saucy and American).

I did perk up a bit when the karaoke kicked in, alas; it was time to move on to a new venue. They did give out free cake and a cocktail for the birthday girl, nice touches, but all in all it was a bit of a freak show. That's why I don't attempt large birthday dinners.

Lazy Catfish * 593 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, NY

Praline Connection

I do think they sell pralines here, but it's really more of a restaurant.
I'll admit that Praline Connection wasn't my first choice, but it wasn't a
bad decision. It was our last night in town and I was crushed because the
place where I had wanted to eat, Dick and Jenny's, was closed for the summer
(same with Ugelisch's–what's up with these Southerners and their casual
ways?). I started feeling desperate and James began to threaten Gumbo Shop
or Bubba Gumps. This had to be nipped in the bud, pronto. I scrounged up
Praline Connection from the deep recesses of my back up to do list.

It wasn't that late, maybe 9pm or so, but as we walked in, the few
filled tables were finishing up. Eating in an empty room always makes me
uncomfortable, so I was a little stressed. I wanted fried chicken (even
though I'd overloaded on crispy birds during our week below the Mason-Dixon
line) but James had a plan to head to Popeye's later that evening, so I held
off. I probably should've just ordered the chicken because the stuffed crab
I did try was pretty bready and so-so (and we never even ended up going to

But the $4.95 fried chicken livers with sweet hot pepper jelly were
insane, the star of the evening. The serving plate was filled with the
little crispy nuggets, it easily could've served four, and this was
primarily for me since James wasn't keen on eating battered organ meat.

This was also my last chance to try fried pickles, something I'd meant
to do while on vacation, but there was too much breading and frying already
going on in my stomach. I settled for dill pickle flavored chips from the
grocery store. It does make me wonder why the pickle flavor is so popular in
the South (and ketchup flavored chips up North in Canada). I'd never seen or
imagined it before.

Praline Connection *
542 Frenchmen St. New Orleans, LA

Belle Meade Cafeteria

Lime cream salad…need I say more? This cafeteria is a serious period piece, from the elderly clientele to the large smoking section to the nearly all black waitstaff. Initially, I was a little intimidated as I always am in a point and pick situation. Unless you're a regular, it's hard to know what's what, prices, how much to order, and the procedure in general.

Bellemeade1_1 For instance, here you choose your food, it gets handed to you, you put it on a tray, and then you end up where you'd think a cashier would be, but it's just a woman asking what you'd like to drink. You leave your tray, and one of those aforementioned black people carries it to your table. (The South is so weird that way. Sure, in NYC, service workers also tend to be minorities, but so is a bulk of the clientele. It's more mixed.) It flustered me a bit, do you tip then and there? I figured you'd just leave money on the table like in any restaurant, but later I noticed people handing the tray carriers money. Oh well. I also noticed women with four glasses of sweet tea in front of them. I guess this maneuver was to preempt the need for refills (which are nonexistent in NYC, but a given everywhere we visited in Tennessee and Louisiana).

Limecream1 I picked out fried chicken, fried okra, mashed potatoes, lime cream salad and coconut cream pie. It was probably a little much, but the green jello, cottage cheese delicacy had to be ordered simply for effect.

You pay upon leaving, and there's the other anomaly. Many of the food servers (not tray carriers), and the cashier were Vietnamese (and that's a whole other deal, 99% of the servers at Caf Du Monde in New Orleans were also Vietnamese. You'd think they'd have really good Vietnamese food in The South. Maybe they do, but I didn't seek it out) I don't think I'd ever heard broken English with a southern twang before, there's a first for everything.

Belle Meade Cafeteria * 4534 Harding Pike, Nashville, TN

Hog Heaven

Hogheaven1_1 This was my first southern meal. Well, snack, really. Yes, in Tennessee, a pulled pork or bbq chicken sandwich feels like a mere tidbit (to be honest, the sandwiches werent all that huge. We both ordered larges and they were filling, but not the gut busting behemoths wed feared) . I had a chicken sandwich with white bbq sauce, an anomaly I'd never witnessed first hand. I'm not exactly sure what's in the concoction, but I'm guessing lots of black pepper. I was particularly enamored by the mural on the side of the take-out joint, of a corpulent pig with a halo. Cute, but disturbing if you think too hard about dead pigs. Apparently, he had gone to hog heaven. You might too, when you get a taste of the porky goodness (ribs are also a thing here).

Hog Heaven * 115 27th Ave N., Nashville, TN

Cornbread Cafe

When you're craving fried chicken, you should just order fried chicken. I
opted for the pecan chicken, imagining this sweet, crispy, fried, nutty
thing akin to an Asian honeyed prawn dish, but it was just a baked
(broiled?) breast of chicken with a crushed pecan crust. Not bad, but not
what I was expecting. The collard greens were some of the best I've tasted,
sweet, sour and smoky all at once. The namesake cornbread wasn't bad either.
I'm just starting to slowly eat my way through Park Slope with trepidation.
It's like if I dine on Seventh Ave. too much I'll end up pregnant with a an
SUV or something.

CornbreadCafe * 434
Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Sweet Mama’s


What an odd scene. I honestly think this was the first time I've ever
uttered the words, "we're the youngest ones here" in Williamsburg. The aim
was barbecue and for some inexplicable reason I deterred James from going to
Pearson's with the promise of ribs at the newly located Sweet Mama's. I also
told him not to beat me if they didn't have ribs on the menu, though how
could they not, billing themselves as Southern and all. Well, the ribs were
on the menu in print, but not in presence. They'd just run out. Blasphemy.
I'll chalk it up to grand opening kinks, but that's a bad thing. I had
chicken with white barbecue sauce that wasn't white. I don't know what white
barbecue sauce even is, but for some strange reason I thought it'd be white.

Things turned interesting when the restaurant closed up shop at 11pm.
The bar scene grew a bit, a jazzy band started playing and craggy
milk-drinking lesbians sat in the corner. I became freaked out by the 4'11,
tan, heavily banged blonde, 50-something in a hot pink polyester dress with
white pumps and lots o' makeup primping in the bathroom mirror. Next thing I
knew, she started cutting a rug. I was a little shocked at first, then a bit
soothed. It looks like a slice of Park Slope came with the restaurant's
move. Williamsburg could use a little scene-shifting. (5/11/02)

So, it's back in Park Slope and in a lesbian bar. I wouldn't even know
that if I hadn't been assigned the place to review for Time Out NY. Odd,
very odd. (3/1/03)

*Gone for good. (6/11/04)

Sweet Mama's * 559 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, NY

Old Devil Moon

There's nothing remarkable about their dinners, but we're not discussing
that here. It's all about breakfast, a meal I rarely get up early enough to
eat in public. But when I do, I want something substantial, and Old Devil
Moon fits the bill to a tee. I've always been a staunch believer in biscuits and gravy,
and this is the best I've had in NYC. The omelets with country ham, and home
fries is also worth a try. The biggest problem is choosing between the
biscuit and sticky bun as a starchy accompaniment. And when the biggest
crisis of your day revolves around what bready item to eat, you know you're
in pretty good shape (emotionally, not physically).

Old Devil Moon * 511 E. 12th St., New York, NY


I agreed to visit Saratoga Springs in a work-related capacity. This means
sight seeing, stopping in Chambers of Commerce, small-talking B&B owners and
the like. No fun, right? All I cared about was finding good food. S.S. is a
prissy sort of place, moneyed and full of beastly, aging, tan women.
Fortunately in March, the place is pretty dead and I could explore my

Our first night in town, we were peeking in the windows of Hattie's when
we witnessed a freaky altercation between a drunk girl and her boyfriend.
She was yelling at some woman for wearing a fur coat, he was trying to get
her to shut up, then completely body slammed her in the alley next to the
restaurant. She was out cold, it was eerie as heck and I was like what are
we supposed to do? I swear, this kind of shit only happens when I'm out of
the city.

During my research, Hattie's immediately jumped out. No horse racing
memorabilia, no lattes, no continental American cuisine. This is a place
known for their fried chicken and other southern specialties. Maybe that's
out of place in upstate New York, but it intrigued me. I do know that it was
run by Hattie herself until her death, and supposedly the recipes are the
same. I can't vouch for consistency or authenticity, but the food was a
definite breath of fresh air.

Of course, I had to get the fried chicken. (This prompted a mini
argument. I thought we could both get fried chicken [with the same two
sides] if we wanted to, but James thinks that's wrong. That two people
shouldn't order the same thing like it indicates ignorance or some sort of
un-cultured-ness. Is this really true?) My two sides were collard greens and
mashed potatoes. I was wary of the succotash since I've only sampled the
canned variety, and the yams sounded good, but I figured I could sneak a few
bites off James's plate. He refused a double order of chicken and opted for
the smothered pork chops, which was my second choice. I think he actually
would've preferred my choice, and vice versa since I'm a bigger fan of the
meat/sweet combo, but oh well. The yams were deliciously candied and nothing
like the pan of bright orange mush you find on Thanksgiving tables.

The chicken was near greaseless and had a light quality. James insisted
it was nothing special, but that's just because he likes to think he makes
the best fried chicken. I'll agree that the chicken wasn't heavily seasoned,
but that's how I prefer it (and to be honest, he puts a little too much salt
in his coating). The greens had a sweet and sour aspect which combated the
potential for an overly heavy meal. My only complaint is that for such a
large half chicken portion, I'd have liked more greens to scoop up with my
meat. But that's just me.

The meal was enjoyable, and creepily, we were seated right next to the
window overlooking the alley where that girl was practically dead in a heap
the night before. It weirded me out a bit, but of course, that didn't stop
me from gobbling like nobody's business.

* 45 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, NY

Cowgirl Hall of Fame

Somehow this restaurant has become the place where friends go whenever it's
a celebration or parents are in town. And accordingly, it was the
Thanksgiving choice of two individuals I know–one whom I like and the other
who's a different story altogether. This made for some tricky
reservation-making, but all was well in the end.

I was feeling sort of Scrooge-ish, but got into the holiday spirit while
waiting outside. I was sitting on a bench when I heard Van Morrison's
"Dancing in the Moonlight" (at least I think that's what it's called)
blasting from a car to my right. There was this guy in a Celica with New
Jersey plates singing hi s heart out with the window rolled down in the
freezing cold and it warmed the cockles of my heart. Truly.

Cowgirl Hall of Fame is sort of kitschy and serves things like barbecue
and Frito pie, complete with chili piled over a slit open bag of chips.I
thought it was a mildly odd Thanksgiving choice, but I couldn't come up with
anything better so Cowgirl it was. They had holiday menu with entree choices
ranging from turkey, ham, salmon, pot pie and roast beef accompanied with
deviled eggs, biscuits and honey butter, sweet potato soup, a goat cheese
salad, and pie for dessert. I wanted the roast beef, but chose the turkey
just for the stuffing.

Everything hit the spot, but I was most thankful for our harried
waitress accidentally charging us for Pepsis instead of wine.

Cowgirl Hall of Fame * 519 Thompson St., New York, NY