Thank goodness for fried chicken because without this dish, we'd have nothing to stuff ourselves with after an emotionally exhausting experience. It's one of the pillars of comfort food and -- particularly when paired with a heap of something starchy -- makes for a pretty much perfect meal.
There are plenty of places that specialize specifically in battering and frying pieces of bird, but we've also noticed a few spots around town that have added fried chicken on their menus. Bootleggers does a solid job with smoked meats and moonshine, but Southern fried chicken? We'll see about that. And as for fried meat on the otherwise health-focused menu at Phoenix Public Market Cafe -- well, you can understand our curiosity.
In this corner: Bootleggers
The Setup: There are now two outlets of Bootleggers, the upscale smokehouse courtesy of EATERAZ's Rick Phillips and David Tyda, and both the original location in north Phoenix and the Scottsdale iteration offer fried chicken on Monday nights. The rest of the menu focuses on smoked meats and upscale comfort food. The Phoenix Bootleggers is a bit cozier than its Scottsdale sister spot, but both include design features such as reclaimed wood and Edison bulb lighting. When we dined at the Scottsdale restaurant on a Monday evening the large dining room was almost entirely empty, but upbeat music and friendly (if slow) staff helped boost the mood.
The Good: The fried chicken special at Bootleggers includes three sizable pieces of meat -- a drumstick, wing, and bone-in breast -- and includes a side of cole slaw and an additional side of your choosing. Each piece of chicken features a thick coating of batter that sticks well to the moist chicken meat. The accompanying cole slaw makes an excellent pairing; it's light and fresh, full of raw red onion and crisp pieces of cabbage.
The Bad: The batter didn't offer much in the way of flavor, just a hint of generic spice, but some bites of chicken dealt a heavy blow of paprika. We chose a side of smashed potatoes with muenster cheese and chives to accompanying our dinner. Unfortunately the muenster gave a pungent flavor that we found a little too strong. Oh and the $20 price tag, which wasn't listed on the menu, was a little bit of a shock when the check arrived.
In the other corner: Phoenix Public Market Cafe
The Setup: Chef Aaron Chamberlin (St. Francis) took over the space formerly occupied by the Phoenix Public Market to open the Phoenix Public Market Cafe in 2013. The space was always nice, but Chamberlin has transformed it into the kind of place you can't help but like. There are vintage-chic chandeliers, exposed wood, vaulted ceilings, and an abundance of natural light. The menu highlights local and seasonal produce, but fried chicken is available as a dinner entree after 5 p.m. seven days a week. During the earlier part of the day the restaurant operates as a counter service spot, but switches over to traditional dining for dinner.
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The Good: Phoenix Public Market Cafe's fried chicken entree also comes with three well-sized pieces of bone-in chicken; we got two wings and no drumstick in this case. We really enjoyed the light, crispy batter, though it was perhaps a tad heavy on the salt for some. It feel off the moist chicken meat relatively easily, but that's ok because we picked up every piece and ate it anyway. The accompanying garlic mashed potatoes were also a hit -- with everyone at the table. We had to beat the potato thieves away with a fork.
The Bad: We didn't mind the saltiness of the batter, but can understand our dining companion's objections. The second side of kale salad was a bit boring. We would rather have had a double serving of potatoes.
The Winner: Phoenix Public Market Cafe. You wouldn't expect a healthy, seasonally-focused restaurant to have such excellent fried chicken but we'd happy go back for a second plate. This $15 price tag also gave it an advantage over Bootleggers, but we'd still pick PPMC as the winner even if the prices were the same.