Hot Chicken Takeover

IMG_5027There’s a new sensation drawing throngs of diners to the North Market.  Called Hot Chicken Takeover, it appears on Thursdays in an otherwise unused space on the second floor, deftly serves thousands of hungry Columbusites eager to savor some delectable yardbird, then vanishes again until the next weekend approaches.

Yesterday when the Ex-Neighbor and I arrived the check HCT out the line was already long, and a look of bug-eyed chickenlust was on the face of every would-be patron.  A friendly worker handed us a menu, and the E-N and I scanned it as the line moved along.  We quickly decided on our choices — both featuring waffles — as the tantalizing scent of fried chicken hung heavy in the air and workers called out the names of people whose orders were ready.  In the meantime, some lucky souls were seated at long tables covered with red and white-checked table, already attacking their food with frenzied glee.

IMG_5028I got the thigh and leg combo; the E-N went for a chicken breast.  We both chose waffles over bread (which costs a bit extra) and selected the “hot” flavor (HCT has four seasoning options, with “hot” being second behind a mouth-burning level described on the menu only with a curse word) and took our seats.  After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, our styrofoam containers of crunchy goodness arrived, and we dug in.  The chicken smelled wonderful and tasted better than excellent — piping hot, juicy, with tons of flavor and a rising, accumulative heat level that left me greedily sucking my fingers and nibbling on bones searching for final scraps of meat until the E-N discreetly advised me, with just a hint of embarrassment, that I needed to wipe my face and start acting my age.  The spicy chicken goes perfectly with the sweetness a waffle and syrup, and the mac and cheese side dish, which is light and bright and not leaden with cheese, is a fine complement.

When we left a sign advised that HCT had sold out of two of its options, and by the end of the lunch hour it was all gone.  No surprise there!  When a place that serves fried chicken this good pops up — even if only in a mysterious, only-on-some-days, end-of-the-week way — it’s going to be ridiculously popular.  Now we know why.

A Soul Food Dinner At Sylvia’s

Last night we went to the famous Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem.  Sylvia describes herself — on the menu, at least — as the”Queen of Soul Food,” and if every member of royalty performed as capably as she does we might all still be living under monarchies.

We decided to go all in on the soul food experience.  We began with catfish fingers and chicken livers with Sylvia’s brown gravy.  The catfish fingers were light and well fried, and the chicken livers, served with onions and some fine gravy, were exceptionally good.  The brown gravy in particular was a revelation; I could easily have sopped up every bit of that rich goodness with cornbread, gobbled it down, and been quite happy about making a spectacle of myself.

For an entree I had fried chicken (a leg and thigh), with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese as my sides, and some corn bread.  I love fried chicken, and Sylvia’s version showed me why.  The chicken was moist and well seasoned; I ate it with my hands and enjoyed licking my fingers afterward.  (Russell ate his chicken with a knife and fork, but I think a fundamental part of the fried chicken experience lies in using your hands.)  I topped off the meal with a tasty, and locally brewed, Sugar Hill draft beer.

Sylvia’s food was great, and packed a real “stick to your ribs” punch.  After the meal we hauled ourselves out of our chairs and walked back to the Columbia campus area though the busy Harlem streets, enjoying the holiday decorations.