I kept hearing about the fried chicken at The Monkey Wrench. I heard how good it was. I had a couple of dishes there after it made its transformation last year, both in menu and décor, and I was quite impressed. Somehow, the fried chicken had eluded me.
These days, you can get the fried chicken with grits every Tuesday for 10 bucks. Ten. Bucks. OK, let me say this – it seems like a good deal on the surface, but when you’re face to face with what 10 bucks gets you on Tuesdays at the Wrench, it becomes a whole different proposition.
I took my girlfriend Cynthia and her 8-year-old son Nikolai last week with the promise that it would be a wonderful experience. Now, know that The Monkey Wrench’s menu isn’t particularly kid-friendly, especially if the kid is a tad picky (like Nikolai can be), but we got him an order of hand-cut French fries and a side of ketchup, and he was one happy guy. Also, note that when I say “order” of fries, I mean “giant, heaping pile.”
Oh, and a side note: If you get fries at the Wrench, ask for the bloody mary ketchup. Our super-friendly server Candace brought us a cup of it, and it was pure spicy goodness. Nikolai wasn’t a fan, but clearly it is aimed at adults.
Cynthia and I each ordered the fried chicken special; I paired mine with a Bluegrass Brewing Company Mango Tango IPA. When our food arrived, we realized that we had a daunting task ahead of us. I figured that for 10 bucks, we’d get a wing and a thigh. Nope. We each got a gi-normous fried chicken breast paired with a whole wing that was ample in its own right. Seriously, that chicken breast was as big as my face. And the side of grits could realistically be a meal in itself – at least a light lunch.
I don’t know what to say other than we were not just pleased; we were actually somewhat astonished at the deal. First off, the grits, made with Kentucky-produced cheese, are lightly peppered and creamy to the point that they play like mashed potatoes. Seriously, if you told your kid they were mashed taters, you might get away with it. (We didn’t try that on Nikolai, as he is no fan of mashed potatoes. Go figure.)
As good as the grits were, the chicken was just astounding. It’s classic, Southern-style fried chicken that is drizzled in a sorghum-based syrup of sorts that adds a mild sweetness to a lightly spicy, crispy, traditional favorite. Know that I don’t like sweet stuff, like, at all. But the balance here was so spot on, I was plenty happy.
I think what struck me was that the batter was so delicious that it cut through the sweetness. And the chicken was fresh, moist and perfectly cooked. One of the aspects of fried chicken that I have loved since childhood is that it has those double layers – you get the crispy, salty goodness of the batter and the underlying moistness of the tender meat, and they are equally delicious eaten together or separately. The fried chicken at The Monkey Wrench has this by the bucketfuls.
Cynthia was especially taken by the crispy crust. “I wish I could order just a side of the crispies like you can do at Long John Silver’s,” she said. “You know, the skillet cracklins.”
Oh yes. Part of why the “cracklins” are so good is that this chicken is fried in a cast iron skillet. The way your grandma fried it.
In fact, Cynthia ended up trading her plate for mine near the end of the meal (good god, we’re such a couple) to harvest whatever crispy cracklins I had left, in turn leaving me about a fourth of her chicken. She was impressed by my attention to devouring all the meat on my plate.
“It’s like I’m dating a pterodactyl,” she said as she mined my leftovers for crust.
You get the point. Normally, an order of fried chicken at the Wrench is $14, and that comes with cornbread. Sides are extra. So this $10 deal is a friggin’ steal. Just an aside: I’ve tried the frog legs at The Monkey Wrench. If they ever have a $10 deal on those, I’ll be camped out on a weekly basis.
Just get behind me, and you won’t get hurt.