Nostalgic for Houston's Fried Chicken

If there is one thing I've began to miss about Houston over the years ever since I moved away, it's the chicken.

Sure, I could've said the usual stuff, like family, friends, the Astrodome or whatever. But family and friends are always a phone call away, and I can look at photos of the Astrodome, especially back when it was in tip-top condition. But I miss Houston fried chicken, and if you live where I currently live, you wouldn't blame me. Where I live, we have chicken chains like Church's (which I'll get to a little later), KFC (where homeless people have no qualms rolling up to you while you're eating and asking for money) and Bojangles' (yes, that is the name; I often feel like I'm contributing to continuing racism in the South whenever I eat there).

But Houston has chicken spots you just can't find anywhere else. There was one point a few years ago when H-Town was swarming with fried-chicken joints, all possessing their own distinctive style of chicken cooking. What chicken enthusiast could forget when the Dallas-based Henderson's Chicken Shack opened up a franchise near Texas Southern University, my alma mater? Okay chicken, but you practically had to call in your order ten minutes before you got there, since they apparently only fixed your meal when you ordered it.

Or how about when there was that new chicken chain known as Williams Chicken, also from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area? Its chicken was peculiar, especially the white meat portions. The wings were irregularly large, since they'd cut half the breast off along with the wing, making the breast portions smaller in the process. But it was good nonetheless, and I often bought them by the box-load. I'll never forget when I tried to pick up a girl at The Proletariat, that now-defunct Montrose dive bar, by whispering in her ear, "I got a box of Williams fried chicken in my car," which I actually did. I didn't get anywhere with her, mainly because she couldn't stop laughing.

Both Henderson's and all the Williams Chicken spots are now gone in Houston. Most of the Williams restaurants have been taken over by the Frenchy's Chicken chain. It appears the Frenchy's is now booming, with locations all over the place. When I recently came back to Houston for a brief spell, I immediately went to the original Frenchy's on Scott, near TSU, and found myself back in love with the place.

I bought my old college usual: two breasts and a medium order of their lightly seasoned fries. The chicken was just as juicy, succulent and delicious as I remember. I added the pepper they usually give you over the chicken for extra seasoning, and I pretty much went to town. I'd bite into a breast and the juice would just pop out, running down my hand, like I just struck oil. Sure, there were pigeons and crows hanging around the open dining area, but when you're knuckle-deep in Frenchy's chicken, nothing in the world matters. If Frenchy's founder Percy Creuzot, who passed away last month at age 86, was still alive, I'd give him a big, greasy kiss on the lips for still giving me so much joy whenever I eat his chicken.

I ended up getting Frenchy's chicken twice during my recent Houston trip, once at the Scott location (which I still believe is open until three on Friday and Saturday nights, for all the clubbers who are too drunk to go home) and once at the H-E-B Pantry Foods on O.S.T., where they have a Frenchy's counter right inside. And I wasn't disappointed either time. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the chicken I got at Popeyes.

I don't know what has happened, but something seems off about Popeyes chicken these days. As a person who has grown up eating Popeyes, I don't remember it being so bland. It's like they've made the chicken more crispy and less flavorful (unless, of course, you're eating spicy chicken and not mild). Now, I'm not saying that Popeyes has eclipsed Church's as having the worst fried chicken in the world (you know how the old joke goes: Church's is just a bag of grease, with a little chicken thrown in for flavoring), but I just hate to see one of my favorite chicken chains lose its mojo. I don't know if they are trying to make their chicken more healthy by cooking it in better oil and skimping on the seasoning or what, but this is not the chicken I grew up with. No wonder the Popeyes I went to, on Scott, was practically deserted.

So until I find my way back to Houston again, I'll just remember the fun times I had, chomping on a tantalizing breast from Frenchy's, thankful that after all these years, it still tastes the same way I remember it.

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey