By Heather Hoch
By Eric Schaefer
By New Times
By Rachel Miller
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
By Robrt L. Pela
By Heather Hoch
Scripture informs us that a prophet is never welcome in his own country, and the same holds true for exceptional individuals in one's own backyard. Even the surly savants of the New Times editorial staff are not immune to this truism. Consider the injustice done to their next-door neighbor, Stacy Phipps of Stacy's.
Did you know this four-and-a-half-year-old establishment, which rightly labels itself Phoenix's "finest Southern down-home cookin'," has never received a proper review from the paper's scribblers? Instead, previous critics have lavished sweet praise on newcomers less adroit at preparing Southern/soul food, such as Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles, run by Larry White, grandson of Elizabeth White of the venerable (though not nearly as good as Stacy's) Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe. The younger White swiped the bird and battercake idea from Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in L.A., but that's okay because Roscoe's lifted the concept from the legendary Wells Restaurant in Harlem, where Cotton Club devotees would go after hearing the likes of Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington.
Despite its ghetto-fabulous lineage, you'd have to have a platinum-rimmed tummy to nosh this combo on a regular basis, with or without a 40-ounce of Old English. Let's be honest, it's a freakish dish, something akin to consuming fried Twinkies or cheeseburgers on a stick at the state fair.
602-254-1736. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 7 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 7 p.m. (winter only).
But when I asked my new colleagues where, oh where, I could find fried chicken like in my native Dixie, they raved ad nauseam about Lo-Lo's, repeating the name so many times I thought they were mimicking Lil' Jon and the Eastside Boyz lyric, "Get Low, Get Low, Get Low, Get Low"! Problem is, I'd been to Lo-Lo's and knew the sad truth: Their chicken tends to be dry, and frankly, not as good as Stacy's. Lo-Lo's has an interesting gimmick, name and pedigree, but Stacy's has fried chicken that's the bomb. Not only that, it has exceptional fried okra, chicken gizzards, black-eyed peas, greens, sweet potato pie, and on and on. It's Stacy's that has the best Southern cooking that I've ever tasted outside of the South. And from an ofay escapee from the Tar Heel State, that's a high compliment indeed.
Stacy's fried chicken is crispy-moist on the outside, tender to the bone inside. It has that light greasiness that the best fried chicken always has, without being overly so. Some folks seem to believe the bleedin' fowl should be so lardaceous that Saddam Hussein could straighten his beard with the leavings. Balance and subtlety should be the hallmark of fried poultry, and Stacy's has it, by gum.
My favorite way to enjoy Stacy's bird is as a "smothered" three-piece plate with sides of mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, fried okra and greens. The chicken comes bathed in gravy made from a savory roux that Stacy is more secretive about than any other item he prepares. Here, the gravy is not overly peppered or seasoned (like at Lo-Lo's), so you can still enjoy the mildly crunchy chicken beneath.
"We just put [the chicken] in the batter we use, and we use 100 percent vegetable oil for everything," explains Stacy, 35, an affable African-American gent originally from Chicago, who's usually sporting a baseball cap and blue work clothes. "And we don't cook the vegetables with pork or meat. They're all just cooked with the seasoning added. My grandmother cooked with a lot of pork. But we're trying to provide food on a healthy scale, while keeping the taste."
Healthy soul food? Stacy, you must be crazy. Down South, bacon and pork fat are used in everything to enhance the flavor -- from ham hocks placed in pots of collards to the bacon my grandmother wraps around baked green beans. Stacy also eschews the use of salt, declaring, "Salt's on the table," while using a mixture of spices to offset the missing sodium chloride. As skeptical as I am of such tinkering, Stacy's results are impressive. I'm used to salty fried okra, but Stacy's is a refreshing, lightly spicy riff on the artery-clogging original. The same goes for his greens, which have a delicious pot-likker taste without the pork fat that's de rigueur in the South. Still, Stacy, would a ham hock or two really hurt us that much?
Then, there are the gizzards. The only other Southerner I know in P-town -- the ever-intemperate and irascible Mikey -- shares my complete and utter adoration of Stacy's gizzards, which come in a large hopper the both of us can barely clear on our own, even with the aid of copious quantities of sweet tea. Back home in Carolina, these breaded, fried lumps of digestive muscle were prized whenever roasters were cooked up, as were chicken livers. We Southern expats want fried livers, and Stacy says he's carried them before and may one day again.
It's difficult to render justice to Stacy's bill of fare, there are so many outstanding items on it. Though I'm loyal to North Carolina's unique brand of finely shredded, pulled-pork barbecue, both Stacy's rib tip sandwich and his pulled pork are first-rate, with chunks of pig flesh doused liberally with Stacy's thick, sweet sauce. A couple of Stacy's competitors fail to understand that cornbread is not supposed to taste like cake. Stacy avoids this pitfall by making square-cut cornbread that derives its flavor from the natural sweetness of the corn itself.