It is one of life's truly great pleasures to find something delicious in an unexpected place. The best meal of my life was found a few years back at a small Japanese restaurant in a non-descript strip mall on the edge of the Columbus, Ohio suburbs. It was wonderful food, beautifully prepared and served, made all the more special by the unexpectedness of the experience. This, unfortunately, is not one of those stories.
This is a story of fried chicken, ill-advised enthusiasm, and ultimate disappointment. The setting for this tragedy - Disco Kroger. Allow me to explain.
Last year, the Randall's near my house was singled out for having some damn good fried chicken, even being declared best-in-class for 2010. The convenience of getting high-quality fried chicken when I stop by my bank, coupled with the marvelous incongruity of that notion, quickly made that chicken a semi-regularity for me.
A few weeks ago, I found myself craving fried chicken, but was already headed toward work with no time for a round-trip detour in search of that remarkable Randall's stuff. I had just pulled in to Disco Kroger to grab something fast to eat at work when I smelled it. The unmistakable aromas of grease, fried flour, and savory bird filled my nostrils. Thinking about that award-winning chicken found at another grocer just down Westheimer, I decided to give it a go. Who knew? Maybe I'd end up with another hidden chicken gem.
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Sadly, it was not to be. My eight-piece box contained two each of thighs, wings, drumsticks and breasts. I tore into a drumstick first; the legs have always been my favorite part of a bird, save for the oyster. I was hoping for crisp, greaseless crust, and moist, flavorful meat. Instead, my teeth met with a tough, leathery coating that tasted mostly of salt, atop rubbery chicken skin and meat that was devoid of flavor, though relatively moist and tender.
The rest of the pieces fared progressively worse. The wings - here comprised mostly of that most pointless of chicken parts, the wing tip - were tough and leathery throughout, so desiccated as to be closer to chicken jerky than fried chicken, and not in a good way. The breasts were thoroughly flavorless and horribly stringy, and suffered even more grievously from the one-two mediocrity punch of tough, salty coating and flabby skin.
I suppose I should have known better. After all, the chances of finding great fried chicken at a grocery chain deli once are pretty slim. I suppose I even knew at the time that I was pressing my luck. The smell of that chicken, and the hopes of finding beauty amongst the mundane, took hold and wouldn't let go. That is, until I actually tried the stuff, at which point those thoughts didn't so much let go as run screaming into the night. Of course, I still believe that there are diamonds in the rough all over the place. It's just a matter of finding them, and being willing to wade through a lot of coal in the process.