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Evanston Fried Chicken Taste-Off: July 16

Evanston Fried Chicken Taste-Off: July 16
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  • Evanston Fried Chicken Taste-Off: July 16

    Post #1 - July 17th, 2005, 11:40 am
    Post #1 - July 17th, 2005, 11:40 am Post #1 - July 17th, 2005, 11:40 am
    One of my favorite summer events is a good old-fashioned picnic and yesterday, with the help of some fellow LTHers, we were able to do just that. Lots of good vittles and exceptional humor (especially from Bill Bender a.k.a chinola).
    Of the 3 primary chicken joints tried yesterday, I enjoyed both Hecky’s and Cajun Charlie’s equally. Both had a dark, crisp coating with fairly minimal seasoning in either. Both had respectable juiciness but didn’t appear to be brined. Not bad efforts but , in my opinion, not highly inspirational.
    As far as the Evanston Chicken Shack, from the first and only bite I took, it brought be back to the days when I would eat at commercial chicken establishments (Popeye’s, KFC,etc.). I’m not quite sure which part of the chicken I found so offensive; the overly fatty skins or something in the batter but it was there in the same way as the bad old days.
    Things couldn’t obviously been too bad figuring that we bought about 10 chickens for about 10 of us and had something like dozen pieces left.
    Thanks to Chinola for setting things up and to nr706 for bringing his home brew (and prematurely taking it home!) and everybody who contributed to this fun event.
    Last edited by PIGMON on July 17th, 2005, 4:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #2 - July 17th, 2005, 12:03 pm
    Post #2 - July 17th, 2005, 12:03 pm Post #2 - July 17th, 2005, 12:03 pm
    PIGMON wrote:Thanks to Chinola for setting things up and to nr706 for bringing his home brew (and prematurely taking it home!)


    I've gotta save those bottles - do you know how tough it is to get beer in returnable bottles these days? Returnables are much stronger than single use bottles. And I can refill them for another LTH event.

    It was a fun event, and I enjoyed seeing new LTH faces whose screen names I know well. As for the chicken, I think the consensus was pretty much split across the group. As several of us said, in a non-comparative tasting, any would be very good.

    My personal preference was for Cajun Charlie's, which I found to have a nice crispy crust, not overly spicy (which I thought the ringer was) letting the flavor of the chicken shine though (although Charlie later said he could make it spicier on request - he starts out at a low spice level, and can add spices - I presume he's not using a pre-packaged spice mix; which could also lead to either inconsistency [as Gary referred to] or he may be "tweaking" his basic spice mix - but they noted at the restaurant that it's easy to add spiciness, it's tough to take it out.)

    I put the Chicken Shack #2; also nicely crisp, not as well-browned, but I got a saltiness to it that detracted, IMHO. (Someone else speculated that Chicken Shack may brine their chickens.) I put Hecky's in last place - the crust was heavier, although nicely browned, but I didn't like the fact that it didn't adhere well to the meat underneath. (Although subsequent Gary explained to me that there is a historical/cultural precedent for that as a separate fried chicken style.)

    Some other notes - in retospect, I should have tried comparatively sampling chicken breasts - the samples I tried were only dark meat - almost always juicy - so I don't if the white meat - which can sometimes get a little dry - was an issue. And, FWIW, my ladyfriend (who has an excellent palate) rated Chicken Shack #1 and Cajun Charlie's #2.

    But I'll second your thanks to Bill/ChiNola for setting this up.
    Last edited by nr706 on July 17th, 2005, 9:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #3 - July 17th, 2005, 1:02 pm
    Post #3 - July 17th, 2005, 1:02 pm Post #3 - July 17th, 2005, 1:02 pm
    LTH,

    The Evanston Chicken Tasting aka which chicken joint in a 4-block radius has the best fried chicken, was, not surprisingly great fun. Twiggs park was quite nice. Gazebo with picnic tables, which we used for the afternoon, provided shelter from the sun, plenty of trash cans and a relaxing view of woods, path and playground. I was very surprised we were virtually alone in the park all afternoon, it really is quite pleasant.

    I thought all three chicken, Cajun Charlie's (CC), Evanston Chicken Shack (ECS) and Hecky's/Evanston (H/E) quite good, with my favorite being directly opposite of Pigmon, ECS. I went into the Evanston Chicken Tasting with a well defined, and and admittedly premature, idea that H/E would be the clear winner. So for me the lesson learned, or should I say reinforced, was not which Evanston chicken joint has the best chicken, but really good fried chicken, same as BBQ, is subject to inconsistency.

    We all have our fried chicken preferences, mine are fairly aggressive spicing in a crisp crust, good crunch, chicken flesh that is somewhat toothsome (which is why I brine my homemade fried chicken in buttermilk/salt/spices) and, of course, moist juicy chicken flesh.

    I'll run down my impressions of the three main, Pigmon also brought a fried chicken from Lagniappe, but we did not factor that into the tasting as it had been out of the fryer for 3+ hours and had lost a step or two, mainly from tight packaging resulting in steaming, but importantly, at least to me, 2, of the 3, chickens in the taste off were markedly different than my previous experience with the same product.

    The line up (bottom to top) CC, ECS, H/E. Liver and gizzards in foreground from ECS.
    Image

    First up was Cajun Charlie's. The crust was on the thick side, though with little flavor in the crust. The chicken flesh, while juicy, lacked flavor as well. Most surprisingly, the chicken was very different than what I ate earlier in the week at Cajun Charlie's restaurant. The crust was much darker, I suspect the oil maybe have been a bit hot, while at the restaurant the crust was a quite light with ever-so-slight grease absorption in the crust. Steve Z and I were the first chicken customers at lunch and I suspect the oil was not quite up to speed.

    While the above sounds critical CC was my second favorite chicken of the day. Though I'd prefer a little less dark on the crust, I find the toasted flavor distracting, and a little more overall spice.

    Cajun Charlie Fried Chicken
    Image

    Evanston Chicken Shack was my favorite of the day. Crisp crust with a noticeable spice component, juicy, though toothsome, chicken flesh with a slight salt flavor to the flesh. Leading me to wonder if ECS brined their chicken prior to frying. ECS was the only chicken of the day that tasted the same as previous times. ECS livers and gizzards were quite good as well.

    Evanston Chicken Shack
    Image

    Hecky's of Evanston was mildly disappointing in that it was very different, not in a positive way, from my previous H/E's experiences . H/E's chicken crust, which is normally a symphony of spice, crunch and flavor, was verging on dark with a pronounced toasted flavor that masked the spices in the crust. The chicken itself was moist and juicy, but the flesh had very little flavor. My previous experience with H/E indicates they were having an off day.

    Hecky's of Evanston
    Image

    As has been mentioned we had a number of delicious non fried chicken items, NR706's home brew, Mexican coke from ChiNOLA, watermelon by Peter Daane, a wonderfully excessive amount of sides from Lagniappe brought by Pigmon and his nephew SushiBoy, and of course Steve Z picked up H/E, NR706 CC, I stopped for ECS.

    Mexican Coke
    Image

    Watermelon
    Image

    We also had a bottle of ketchup just in case Hammond showed up. :)
    Image

    A wonderful afternoon with fellow LTHer's ChiNOLA, Susan, Bob S, Tony C, NR706, Peter D, Steve Z, Pigmon and Sushiboy. Thanks again to ChiNOLA for, not only, setting up the tasting but thoughfully providing all the basics from paper towels to ice.

    Only person who had a less than wonderful time at the park that afternoon was this ice cream vendor who seemed mildly surprised he couldn't make a sale to our group. :)

    Image

    Additional pictures may be found Here
    Enjoy,
    Gary
    Last edited by G Wiv on July 17th, 2005, 10:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #4 - July 17th, 2005, 1:24 pm
    Post #4 - July 17th, 2005, 1:24 pm Post #4 - July 17th, 2005, 1:24 pm
    Is it possible that the size of the orders perhaps threw some of the competitors off? After all, ECS probably serves up a lot more chicken than CC or H/E.

    Of course, there was clearly on consensus, so who knows.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #5 - July 17th, 2005, 2:01 pm
    Post #5 - July 17th, 2005, 2:01 pm Post #5 - July 17th, 2005, 2:01 pm
    gleam wrote:Is it possible that the size of the orders perhaps threw some of the competitors off? After all, ECS probably serves up a lot more chicken than CC or H/E.

    Of course, there was clearly on consensus, so who knows.


    There was quite a bit of speculation on that very point.
  • Post #6 - July 17th, 2005, 8:43 pm
    Post #6 - July 17th, 2005, 8:43 pm Post #6 - July 17th, 2005, 8:43 pm
    G Wiv wrote:CC was my second favorite chicken of the day. . .Evanston Chicken Shack was my favorite of the day. . . Hecky's of Evanston was mildly disappointing in that it was very different


    Interesting Rankings

    G Wiv wrote:Only person who had a less than wonderful time at the park that afternoon was this ice cream vendor who seemed mildly surprised he couldn't make a sale to our group. :)

    Enjoy,
    Gary


    He should have been surprised, You guys should recognize quality when it rolls by - carrying arroz con leche and coco leche bars.
  • Post #7 - July 17th, 2005, 10:53 pm
    Post #7 - July 17th, 2005, 10:53 pm Post #7 - July 17th, 2005, 10:53 pm
    G Wiv wrote:CC was my second favorite chicken of the day. . .Evanston Chicken Shack was my favorite of the day. . . Hecky's of Evanston was mildly disappointing in that it was very different



    Zim,

    Seems we are on the same page, at least for that particular Saturday afternoon.

    zim wrote:He should have been surprised, You guys should recognize quality when it rolls by - carrying arroz con leche and coco leche bars.


    Let's see, 10-people, 10-chickens. Gizzards, livers, boudin, dirty rice, greens, 4-kinds of cobbler, watermelon, Mexican coke, homemade beer and a few things I'm sure I forgot.

    We were lucky to be standing, much less, at the end of the day when the vendor rolled by, eating ice cream. :)

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #8 - July 18th, 2005, 8:05 am
    Post #8 - July 18th, 2005, 8:05 am Post #8 - July 18th, 2005, 8:05 am
    I've got to agree with Wiv's assessment of the chicken for the most part. Here's my take:

    ECS was it's usual self. Of the three contenders, only ECS seemed to be the same as it ususally is when you pick up an order. The chicken itself was somewhat small and scrawny, as is normally the case at ECS.

    Hecky's was surprisingly off its game on Sunday. I've had Hecky's fried chicken often enough to know that what we got was atypical of the normally excellent chicken to come out of Hecky's kitchen. As has been suggested earlier, Hecky's was thrown for a loop by our large chicken order combined with a few other fairly large orders that people were picking up at the same time I was there. The chicken was cooked at a higher than normal temperature in an effort to crank it out at the fastest possible rate. Our order was placed for a 4:00 pick up time. When I got there, I was told it would be another 15 minutes, but it actually turned out to be an additional 35 minutes before our chicken was ready. They obviously rushed the order since I was sitting there waiting. I have no explaination as to why the coating was not as flavorful as normal, though. As a side note, as good as Hecky's fried chicken is, it's not really an item they appear to sell a lot of. The largest amount of chicken you can order off their menu is 1/2 fried chicken. FC does not even appear on their catering menu. When I called in my order for 3 fried chickens, the person taking the order said, "Do you mean 6 half chickens?" It didn't even occur to them that someone would want to buy large quantities of any non BBQ item.

    Cagun Charlie's chicken was much different than the chicken I got at the restaurant on my only visit. It was darker crusted and had a little more flavor in the crust (though it was still pretty bland) than the restaurant version. CC's was the only chicken vendor that was made aware that we were doing a chicken taste-off, so it's possible that they doctored the chicken to appeal to this particular audience...or it could mean that CC is wildly inconsistent. I was fairly unimpressed with the chicken when I ate at the restaurant and only slightly more impressed with the version we got at the taste off. That's not to say that the CC chicken was bad. No, not at all. It's just that in an area that is rich with Fried Chicken sources, it doesn't quite stack up to some of the others. I will definately be going back to Cagun Charlie's for more research in an attempt to figure out which version of FC is the real Cagun Charlie's chicken. I'll also be posting soon about my Cajun Charlie's dine-in experience, which has more to offer than just fried chicken.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #9 - July 18th, 2005, 9:54 am
    Post #9 - July 18th, 2005, 9:54 am Post #9 - July 18th, 2005, 9:54 am
    I'd had only Hecky's chicken before, and only once (and not recently), so I was coming into the other two fairly unprejudiced and even Hecky's knowing that my memory may not have been reliable or representative.

    But I end up concurring with the consensus. I have no idea why Cajun Charlie's chicken, the first I tried Saturday, is any level of Cajun; I didn't even taste much salt and pepper in the seasoning, let alone any level of heat. Bland and uninteresting, it's the chicken I'd buy for unadventurous friends. Balancing that, I do have to say it's perfectly decent, if without character, and if it had been the only chicken I were eating, I probably would've just been content. And with one sample literally and figuratively under my belt, I'd have it again (without him knowing in advance that the results would be posted on the Internet) to see if he was having an off day.

    But the next chicken I had was Evanston Chicken Shack's, and that jumped right out at me, pointing out everything Cajun Charlie's was missing. It was by far my favorite, skin having a little kick to it, meat tasted like more than just industrial processed chicken. Taste and texture combined on this one to carry it into the winner's circle.

    The problems with Hecky's have been covered pretty well, but still, I have to give them credit: If, as we're surmising, the oil was a little too hot, the meat was still done right, steaming hot and moist enough to squirt. So I'm going to assume that if they boosted the temperature a bit to move the birds along, they still knew how to compensate and give a presentable product, the meat taking priority over the skin. I would hope not to get another chicken like that from them, but if I saw that telltale color, I'd merely shift my expectations.

    And I'll echo the thanks to everyone for the myriad extras -- on reflection, my lemonade was a little too sweet, but even that was with seven lemons for the three cups of water, so Wild Oats may have been selling old items once again. (Or maybe unripened and undeveloped.) Fortunately with a great selection of homebrewed beer courtesy of nr706 and Mexican Coke from ChiNOLA (lemme tell you, two bottles of that stuff before 6 PM and I was still up plenty late into the wee hours), still plenty of good summer refreshment. Good crowd of people as well, for me a mix of old friends and new, so all around a very fine afternoon.
  • Post #10 - July 18th, 2005, 5:07 pm
    Post #10 - July 18th, 2005, 5:07 pm Post #10 - July 18th, 2005, 5:07 pm
    G Wiv wrote:
    Zim,

    Seems we are on the same page, at least for that particular Saturday afternoon.



    Gary, I think my point is that Hecky's fried chicken is pretty inconsistent, I put at the bottom of my list because of that issue, though for me the real problems have been it being underdone, rather than the overdoneness you folks experienced

    G Wiv wrote:
    We were lucky to be standing, much less, at the end of the day when the vendor rolled by, eating ice cream. :)


    Seems like an odd comment for someone whose motto has been "nothing says excess like excess"
  • Post #11 - July 20th, 2005, 10:10 am
    Post #11 - July 20th, 2005, 10:10 am Post #11 - July 20th, 2005, 10:10 am
    Great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, for sure.

    I concur w/ Gary and Steve's rankings, and was equally surprised that ECS came out on top. Hecky's was surprisingly off their game, but I haven't eaten their chicken very many times. Zim could be right that they are inconsistent & we just wound up with a batch that wasn't that great.

    One thing I DO want to try is Lagniappe's fried chicken fresh out of the fryer - the stuff that had been sitting around for hours was still pretty good & I'd like to sample it at its best.

    Thanks to all the participants. It was definitely a fun time.
    I exist in Chicago, but I live in New Orleans.
  • Post #12 - July 21st, 2005, 4:44 pm
    Post #12 - July 21st, 2005, 4:44 pm Post #12 - July 21st, 2005, 4:44 pm
    In retrospect, I'm surprised that no one commented on the fun that ensued when Bill opened a *slightly* overcarbonated bottle of beer.

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