Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! There are some days along this path that you see on the calendar and you really start looking forward to them. National Fried Chicken Day is one of those. As soon as I saw it, I had visions of feasting on a bucket of chicken with sides of mashed potatoes and coleslaw, maybe some biscuits too. I could see the grease on my chin and hands from eating my meal like a starved castaway. I could already feel the rumble in my stomach that would come afterwards. That’s fried chicken and I was looking forward to it. I just had to get Lola on board.
That made it sound like Lola’s not a fan of fried chicken. Au contraire. She is very much a fan and in fact, if you could eat fried chicken without any repercussions or health concerns, she’d probably be in line for KFC every day. But Lola is kind of our grounding voice on matters of food (not an easy job when you have a husband who made it his duty to celebrate every day). Too much fried food is not good for you and sometimes your overzealous husband needs to be reeled in. It’s all out of love. However, when I told Lola it was National Fried Chicken Day, she was raring to go. She was excited. Now I just had to figure out a plan.
KFC (or Kentucky Fried Chicken to keep it formal) was my first thought. They are just the first to come to mind when I think of fried chicken. Maybe it’s their barrage of advertising that keeps them front and center in my mind, but it’s really because they have a good product. Plump, juicy chicken, extra-crispy skin, excellent side dishes and all served in the iconic red and white bucket. Nothing says feast like a bucket of food. That’s what KFC is to me. I know there’s other stuff going on under the surface. Hormones making the chicken extra plump. Chemicals in the special seasoning. Extra oil in the fried food. Be if you don’t think about that, then you realize it just tastes good. It’s an indulgence. Everyone should have a KFC night once a year. Make it special. Savor it. Just know that once you make KFC commonplace, then you’ve lost. However tonight would not be our KFC night. I’m saving up for that.
Lola quickly thought about making our own fried chicken. She has a great recipe that her Aunt Gail gave her who would make it for Lola and her family on trips to Florida. It would be soaked in buttermilk and then fried in a cast iron skillet. It would be crispy and juicy and flavorful. Lola’s had the recipe for a while but we haven’t had the chance to try it. We always get a little timid about deep frying at home, mainly because it makes the house smell like grease. You can turn fans on and use canola oil which doesn’t have an odor, but once you get all that oil heated and frying, the fry food smell comes and latches on to you. It seems to linger too. That smell outweighs the joy of the fried food at home for me. For chicken though, we might be willing to make an exception, especially Gail’s recipe. However, the chicken needed to soak overnight in buttermilk, so we missed our window.
My last solution for celebration was at a local restaurant that I have been wanting to try. They are called Winner Winner (as in chicken dinner) and they are at the end of Thames Street in Newport in the 5th Ward. They opened this past April and have been building a great reputation for themselves. They used to operate the Thames Street Kitchen (in the same building) and also run Mission, the burger place on Marlborough Street (of some renown). I heard about them when they arrived on the scene through some social network or local restaurant blog – I can’t remember exactly where. Since then, I have heard nothing but good things about them. Plus, I have been connected to their Facebook and Instagram accounts and have been seeing all these awesome pictures of perfectly cooked chicken. I was going to stop there tonight and bring a bucket home, but then Lola suggested we go together and that sounded much better. Suddenly, we had a Thursday night chicken date.
I picked her up on the way home and she was waiting outside for me tending to some flowers in the front of the house as she waited. She likes to dead-head when she has idle hands (remove flowers that are past blossom from their stems so it can grow more flowers) and it’s always fun to see her out there in the late day sun. She hopped in the car and we were off to Newport. The 5th Ward is on the southern end of Newport and we are at the northern end of Portsmouth, so it’s about a 40-minute drive from our house depending on tourist travel. That gave us some time to chat. We’ve kind of been in a weird new spot where we don’t see each other as much as we used to, so as we adjust, we are still relearning how this works. Time together for date nights is just one good way to catch up, and we had lots to discuss, so this was a pretty perfect way to start the night. It was a nice night out too. Cool by summer standards but the sun was out and shining. Once we turned by the beach and entered into Newport traffic, we started getting that summer vacation feel, even if just by osmosis. You see everyone walking about and enjoying the city and it reminds you about the treasure we have in our backyard. That made it a festive night for chicken (unless of course you were the chicken).
Winner Winner is on the smaller side with a counter that stretches almost the length of the building and that’s where you place your order (there’s also a few stools at the counter too for dining). There were two helpful staff members behind the counter taking the orders and behind them was the kitchen where the hard-working crew was frying chicken (and roasting them too). There are tables lined up in rows against the windows that face the street and most were already full. We found a seat in the corner at a communal table that was being used at the other end by a couple and their baby. It is a BYOB place so among the baskets of fried chicken and morsels of food on the tables, you would see an array of wine bottles and plastic cups. There was one person sitting at the counter eating his chicken basket and drinking a bottle of Korbel champagne (straight from the bottle). I suppose that’s the hipster style these days. In any case, we lined up to the counter and stared hungrily at the options on the menu board. They asked what we wanted and we decided to go for the 3-piece baskets which came with a biscuit and a side. Then they told us that they too were celebrating National Fried Chicken Day and they were giving everyone a free drumstick in honor of the holiday, so we just needed to order a 2–piece dinner. I liked this place already. For sides, Lola went mac and cheese while I went with tater tots. I’m a sucker for tots. We sat down and then waited for them to bring out our food. That came after a little wait, but that’s what you have to do when they fry your chicken to order.
I was so glad we went here rather than KFC. You could just taste the quality. I’ll start with the biscuits. They were among the best I’ve ever tasted. They were hot from the oven and golden brown on the outside. Inside was light and fluffy and popping hot. The butter (a handmade honey butter) just melted on top as soon as it hit the biscuit. I love biscuits and these were top notch. The sides were great too. Lola’s mac and cheese was super creamy with a layer of bread crumbs on top for texture. Each bite had strings of cheese from the cup to the fork and every bite was better than the one before. The tater tots were perfect too. They were a little bigger than most tots, more oblong in shape, and that led me to believe they were made from scratch. They were hot and fresh from the fryer where they were fried perfectly. I could have used a bit more salt on them because potatoes like me crave salt, but the flavor was spot on. They were winning here at Winner Winner. Last was the chicken. I had two drumsticks and one breast. Each was coated in a thick breading that turned a nice dark brown color after being fried. They were lightly salted (again, I could have used more) and there was a distinct taste of sweetness in the batter, likely honey. The outside crunched thickly when you bit into it. Inside was hot, an ouchy kind of hot – a testament that they had come fresh from the fryer. The meat was juicy too, and full of flavor. I liked the breast more than the drumstick because it gave you a nice chunk of meat in which the juices would seep out when you bit into it. It was full of flavor. The honey was present in every bite too and gave you that sweet and savory satisfaction. Believe the hype – this place is great.
It’s not a very fancy place which adds to the charm. It’s plastic forks and knives, food in baskets, clean your own table kind of joint, but still it was a great date night. Afterwards, we took the long way home and drove down Ocean Drive to take our time. We actually stopped at Brenton Point too to see the sun start to go down. I tried my patented yawn and stretch move to get my arm around Lola but she was on to my trickery. It was fun to be a tourist for the night. I’m not sure if you know it, but Newport is beautiful and they have some really gorgeous houses along the water too. Who knew? It was a fun drive home and an even better date with Lola.
National Fried Chicken Day turned out to be a pretty great day just as I had hoped it would be. Any day that ends with chicken grease on your chin and fresh biscuits in your belly is a win in my book. This day came with a surprise date night with a fellow fried chicken lover too which made the night more special. It also allowed us to check out a restaurant we have been waiting to try, and it didn’t disappoint. Some days just turn out better than you expect. Some days just bring their own surprise ending. That was today. And best of all, it came with fried chicken (and biscuits too – don’t forget the biscuits).
Next up: National Strawberry Sundae Day