See also: Nine Favorite Spots for Fried Chicken in Metro Phoenix The hype leading up to this blitzkrieg of the birds was protracted and more than a little goofy: a tiny poster on both restaurant's Facebook pages shows two drumsticks duking it out like boxers in a ring. Their classification? Featherweight, of course.
And then there was the promotional video . . .
But, of course, all that was just delicious build-up for the event itself because, at last, after all the breast jokes and posturing, there was fried chicken to eat. This was where the rubber would meet the road, which the chicken would cross (or something like that).
Charleen Badman (billed as "Badass Badman" for the fight, er, throwdown) and her trusty assistant Sacha Levine took the end spot toward the windows in Noca's long exhibition kitchen.
Noca's crew stayed at the other end, while Claudio "Italian Stallion" Urciuoli planted himself in the middle, turning out pastas for the 20 (possibly oblivious) folks who showed up for the regular menu.
He also made creamy mac and cheese (loved the sturdy rotelle pasta) as an $8 add-on, which felt like a slightly odd mash-up of classic American and classic Italian.
Reservations were booked weeks in advance, and over the course of five hours, 155 fried chicken fanatics showed up to taste-test the birds.
Both entries were served on the same plate, with no mention of who had made what. But of course, some of us knew which was which for a variety of reasons (Facebook posts or eating at one or both of the restaurants a lot).
Badman's side of the plate featured her crispy buttermilk-brined fried chicken, a short hunk of pickled corn on the cob, kale slaw (a terrific combo containing radish, radicchio, Savoy cabbage and heirloom carrots, bound with a poppyseed dressing containing house-made mayo and créme fraiche) and a little knob of a baking powder biscuit, ladled with creamy gravy (think giblet) containing bits of heart and gizzard.
Noca's side of the plate contained deep brown, ultra-crunchy, buttermilk- and water-brined fried chicken, ladled with tomato gravy and served with mashed potatoes, haricots vert and an out-of-this-world honey-butter biscuit, created by Alex Talbot (ideasinfood.com), which the Noca crew tweaked a bit.
And the winner (drum roll, please) was Noca -- BY ONE VOTE. I kid you not. ONE.
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Wexler is already asking for a re-match, while Badman laughs and says, "Since when does the winner want a re-match??" And, of course, she's right. But she adds that she and her crew had a lot of fun and says she loves the sense of camaraderie events like this one create. It's not something we see a lot of in this town.