The Taste Bud: Try Chicken King … spork optional

Sep 22, 2010 at 5:00 am

You wouldn’t hesitate to eat with your fingers in front of your grandma, would you? Well, would you?

Much like at grandma’s house, table manners can be left at the door when visiting the quick-serve spot called Chicken King at the corner of East Broadway and Clay Street downtown. Nobody in the room cares how messy you get.

Chicken King (which sounds like either a fast-food mega-chain idea that didn’t quite make it or a really lame super-villain) offers the requisite fried chicken, spicy fried chicken, chicken wings and even fried chicken keel, but the menu also lists barbecue, ribs, pork chops, seafood and a ton of sides.

The trip through the line is an experience in adaptation: You place your order through a tiny square portal in a wall of heavy black-framed glass, and if you don’t lean down and speak directly into the hole, your order won’t be heard and you’ll be asked to repeat yourself, holding up the line and making enemies of the hungry people behind you. You then proceed to tiny window No. 2, through which you pay, whereupon the Chicken King slides your food toward you on a plastic tray. It’s reminiscent of the “Seinfeld” Soup Nazi episode, without the yelling.

All that aside, however, there’s one thing you can bet on at Chicken King: The Southern-style food getting shoved through that window is going to be good.

My friend Kirk and I stopped at the King for lunch recently. He ordered the barbecue baked chicken, and I opted for a Jamaican jerk baked chicken dinner. We had the option of a breast/wing or thigh/leg combo; our meal came with two sides and a roll.

We got messy. The chicken was ample, delicious and juicy. Many napkins gave their lives that day.

Which brings me back to table manners: For a while, we poked and prodded what lay before us with the single, flimsy plastic sporks provided at the pickup slot; but as Kirk observed, bone-in chicken is not utensil-friendly. Finally, he picked his up and started gnawing away like some sort of animal, effectively tossing etiquette out the door and into the middle of Broadway.

Hard to blame him. The barbecue chicken was baked in a smoky red sauce, and there was no shortage of it. Best to attack it face-on. Meanwhile, the Jamaican jerk spices were spot on — not hot, but spicy and flavorful. The chicken itself was tender, flavorful and bursting with juiciness, which gave us a chance to make use of the standard dinner roll that comes with a Chicken King meal. Kirk named the stuff “Pure Concentrated Awesome Juice.” Chicken King may want to use that in its marketing campaigns.

The sides were solid, as well. The fluffy mashed potatoes and brown gravy could have used a bit of salt and pepper (there was none available in the dining room), but the green beans were deliciously seasoned, the barbecue baked beans were sweet and a bit soupy, and the sweet potatoes were delicious and seasoned with plenty of cinnamon. Other interesting sides on the menu were red beans over rice, white beans, and a broccoli, cheese and rice casserole. The deep-fried potato wedges looked darn tempting, too.

And what did this feast set us back? Five bucks each. That’s right, $5. Chicken King does catering, as well. Hear that, Grandma? And you won’t even need your spork.

Cheap Treat of the Week

As a Clifton resident, I’ve gushed over the Rush Inn’s pub grub in these pages before, but there’s another fun treat you can enjoy at the Inn: Fischer’s “snack bologna.” It’s $1.25 for a hot-dog-shaped hunk of the stuff; it’s disgusting and makes a greatly affordable solution for the drunken hungries. (And hey, wouldn’t “The Drunken Hungries” be a great name for a rock band?)

The stuff has a flavor that’s hard to describe — it really doesn’t engage your buds the way traditional bologna does. The lightly spicy meat cylinder actually tastes sour somehow, and one can’t help but wonder just how long it has spent floating in that 40-ounce jar of salty vinegar. It also could be that it doesn’t get refrigerated.

Like I said, Fischer’s snack bologna is probably best experienced after a few frosty beers. It’s also a fun trick to play on your friends who’ve never had it before — watch the faces they make and note the sounds that come out when the taste hits.

But for God’s sake, brush your teeth afterward.