Let’s Talk Chicken

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Five successful Fort Worth businessmen embark on a mission to find the best fried chicken in the city.  But, there's one catch.  They only have four days to do it.

When this power five reached out with the idea to evaluate the best fried chicken in Fort Worth, we should have known that they meant business.  After all, each of their resumes alone is nothing short of impressive.  But, the five of them combined?  It’s the Who’s Who of the Fort Worth oil and gas world, including the man that keeps them so well-dressed.

To start things off, they put it simply.  “We all like fried chicken,” said Jim Dunaway, the de facto leader of the taste testers.  In his role, Dunaway put together a rigid and well-researched schedule.  But, hey, business is business, right?

“We wanted to also make it a ‘challenge,’ so we decided to eat at these 12 places in four days, 96 hours,” Dunaway added.  So committed to naming a winner, there was one day in which the team had four chicken dinners within 24 hours.

The five Fort Worth friends are all natives of the city, save for Steve Humble, who made his way here in the early 70s from Oklahoma, where he says he was raised on his grandma’s fried chicken.  All Southside and West Side residents, their knowledge and memories of Fort Worth run deep.  So, it was no surprise conversation often turned to “old Fort Worth” and some historic restaurants that are no longer.  Their childhood memories brought them back to places like Massey’s, a Fort Worth icon where the Texas House of Representatives officially declared the signature dish “the greatest chicken fried steak served in Cowtown.” Holloway’s Fried Chicken and Youngbloods also made the conversation.

I joined the crew at Drew’s on the second day, when morale was still high and stomachs hungry.  After eavesdropping on their rapport and Fort Worth knowledge, it was clear the fried chicken fate was in good hands.

THE RULES

The team decided that all chicken must be fried, bone-in and skin-on.  It was also required that the fried chicken be a regular menu item, not a special or something cooked just for the sake of research.  Drive-through restaurants Were not eligible.  The result was a list of 12 restaurants, although only 11 were eligible for top honors after a visit to Mash’d revealed that its chicken was indeed skin-on but not bone-in.  Rules are rules.  Four of the spots on the list fell into a subcategory, “Best Fried Chicken from a Private Club.”

THE CRITERIA

When their mouths weren’t full, the “fried chicken guys” discussed each meal at length.  Points of topic were the crust, tenderness, seasoning, greasiness, moistness, portion size, presentation, side dishes, biscuits, bread and price.  When it came down to it, the guys had to just consider the chicken.  “After all, what really makes any difference other than the chicken,” said Dunaway.

The Discovery Process Ever the curious crew, the team spoke to each chef during the chicken tasting, inquiring about how the bird was prepared and often talking their way into a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour.  Their findings revealed that each place has its own distinct style, Method and recipe.

THE RANKING SYSTEM

After the 12 meals were complete, each judge ranked the fried chicken from No.  1 to No.  8 in the regular category and No.  1 to No.  4 in the private club category.  “We were all just really impressed with how good it was, and we didn’t realize how difficult of a task it was going to be to select the place,” said Dan Lowrance.  But nonetheless, it was Finally time to count their chickens.

THE WINNER

With four of five first-place votes, Drew’s Place was the No.  1 winner for Best Fried Chicken in Fort Worth.  The participants measured all the four top-scoring restaurants — Drew’s, Buttons, Paris Coffee Shop and Babe’s — very closely.  “We didn’t have any bad chicken; it’s just that some were better than others,” said Jim Dunaway.

IN THE CLUB

Knowing that Fort Worth’s private club scene is also in on the fried chicken game, the team created a subcategory for “Best Fried Chicken from a Private Club.” Colonial Country Club was the clear and unanimous winner.

TESTING THE TASTERS

Dr. Darrin D'Agostino of The UN T Health Science Center ran a CardioIQ test, courtesy of Quest Diagnostics, on four of the participants before and after the chicken challenge.  The result showed that all but one participant saw a major increase in inflammatory cells that drive heart disease.  "This really highlighted that what we eat can make an immediate impact on us," said Dr. D'Agostino.  Good news for the taste testers: he expects a return to a normal diet will fix the levels.

THE TASTEMAKERS AND TASTE TESTERS

Louis Baldwin
Arguably the biggest fried chicken fan of the group, he paid great attention to each chef’s process including preparation, brining, batter and technique.

Steve Humble
Naturally the best dressed, he often arrived at meals in a full suit with a pocket square, and always cleaned his plate.

Jim Dunaway
The organizer and idea man, he created the grueling and delicious schedule.

Dan Lowrance
A diligent note taker, he was the chicken scratch of the group.  He doesn’t recommend 12 fried chicken dinners in four days.

James Taylor
A stomach of steel, he ate chicken fried steak the night after the challenge concluded.

THE RESTAURANTS

  • Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, 230 North Center St., Arlington
  • Button’s, 4701 W. Freeway
  • Drew’s Place, 5701 Curzon Ave.
  • Little Red Wasp, 808 Main St.
  • Lucile’s Stateside Bistro, 4700 Camp Bowie Blvd.
  • Mash’d, 2948 Crockett St.
  • MAX’s Wine Dive, 2421 W. 7th St., Ste. 109
  • Paris Coffee Shop, 704 West Magnolia Ave.
  • Colonial Country Club, 3735 Country Club Circle
  • Fort Worth Club, 306 W. 7th St.
  • Shady Oaks Country Club, 320 Roaring Springs
  • River Crest Country Club, 1501 Western Ave.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  • Best Mashed Potatoes: Colonial Country Club
  • Best Green Beans: Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
  • Best Gravy: Little Red Wasp and Drew’s Place
  • Best Dessert: Babe’s Chicken Dinner House and Paris Coffee Shop
  • Best Ambience: Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
  • Best Nashville Hot Chicken: Little Red Wasp
  • Best Pluck For The Buck: Drew’s Place