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Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar – Fairway, Kansas

Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar, the home of P-A-N fried chicken since 1933

Kansas City is often referred to as the “world’s barbecue capital.”  With more than 100 barbecue restaurants, its reputation for outstanding barbecue is known far and wide.  It’s not as commonly known that Kansas City can also strut its stuff about its fried chicken.  In fact, Travel Channel television host Adam Richman has joked that KC actually stands for “killer chicken.” The killer chicken tradition started with Stroud’s Restaurant which not surprisingly, began in 1933 as a barbecue shack in Kansas City.  On Independence Day a few years later, founder Helen Stroud added skillet fried chicken.  It sold out immediately and has been on the menu ever since.  Ironically, barbecue is no longer on the menu.

Fittingly both of my visits to Stroud’s have been during the month of September which the National Chicken Council has designated “National Chicken Month.” For more than twenty years, the Council has increased its promotion of chicken sales during September, turning what was once a slow month as the summer grilling season slows, into a month in which sales are booming. John T. Edge, author of Fried Chicken: An American Story praises this strategy, advising that “as the air gets crisper, so should your food.”

The welcoming interior of Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar

Fried chicken is one of America’s comfort food favorites with a timeless appeal that evokes nostalgic memories of home-cooking and family gatherings.  In a poll administered by About.com, respondents listed among their favorite 25 comfort foods, four of which are served at Stroud’s: chicken pot pie, chicken soup, fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  It’s the home-style cooking aspects of dining at Stroud’s that has made it a family favorite for generations.  Meals are served family-style in capacious bowls meant to be passed around between friends and family.  Even the red checkered tablecloths seem to signify a welcoming warmth.

Even as America’s culinary diversity and the sophistication of diners’ palates continue to grow, so does the appreciation for home-style cooking, comfort food and especially fried chicken. While it may seem the only fried chicken you can find throughout the fruited plain is served by the Colonel and his eleven herbs and spices and other chains, you can still find home cooking style restaurants serving chicken if you look.  The pantheons of pan-fried chicken were even celebrated in 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late: and the Very Best Places to Eat Them, a terrific tome by Michael and Jane Stern who advise that “if you’re looking for the most effulgent chicken dinner in the land, there’s only one place to go: Stroud’s of Kansas City, Missouri.”

Chicken Noodle Soup

In 1998, Stroud’s was one of the inaugural winners of the James Beard Foundation‘s “America’s Classics” award which honors legendary family-owned restaurants across the country.  Considered the Academy Awards of the culinary world, the James Beard awards have been earned by a very exclusive “who’s who” in the competitive culture of cuisine.  Stroud’s has also been recognized by the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet Magazine, Bon Appetit, Playboy Magazine, Conde Naste Traveler and Esquire Magazine among others.  It’s the type of restaurant to which diners make pilgrimages, perhaps signifying the need for diners to reconnect with memories of comfort food favorites.

So, what is it that makes Stroud’s unique and special?  Sure, its chicken is pan-fried in a heavy cast iron skillet to a crispy golden hue, but there’s so much more than that.  One of the restaurant’s mottos is “we choke our own chickens,” a double-entendre laced reference to the fact that Stroud’s still does things the old-fashioned way with no short-cuts, using the same recipes as in 1933.  Missouri grown chickens are hand-trimmed before they’re dredged in a simple batter mix of flour, salt and pepper (who needs eleven herbs and spices?).  Each piece of chicken is only partially submerged in the skillet and receives plenty of individual attention as it fries on the pan.

Fried chicken (all white meat, all breasts)

The results are a light, delicate crust.  This is not a greasy, heavily-breaded crust, just one that seals in moistness and flavor, a flavor ameliorated by a well-seasoned skillet.  Each piece of chicken cooks for about ten minutes per side and all chicken is made-to-order so this is no fast food chicken joint.   Bite into the crust and you’ll soon be reaching for napkin because this is one beautifully juicy chicken.  After his first bite of Stroud’s chicken, Adam Richman called it “whole body-licking good,” meaning it is several orders of magnitude better than the Colonel’s finger-licking good chicken.  There may be no better chicken in America.

Stroud’s strains its grease from the skillet in which the chicken is fried to extricate the cracklings (residual fried bits from the chicken) for making their gravy.  This gravy is transformative, the very best I’ve had on mashed potatoes anywhere.  Laced with pepper, its prevalent flavor is that of the fried chicken from which the cracklings were obtained.  Cracklings are, after all, concentrated flavor.  Fresh soybean oil, two cups of flour and a splash of milk  followed by a vigorous wisking are what it takes to make this smooth, thick ambrosia.  It’s gravy so good, you’ll want to drink it up and smother everything in it.

Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Green Beans

Chicken dinners are served family style with three pieces of chicken–one breast and two cook’s choice pieces.  As an old-fashioned “have it your way” institution, Stroud’s also offers all-dark meat and all-white meat options, including an all-breast option that features three beautiful “D” cup breasts (these are not your chain variety “A” cup breasts).  In addition to the aforementioned chicken and gravy, a chicken dinner comes with your choice of potato (mashed, baked, French fries, cottage fries), your choice of a side salad or chicken noodle soup, green beans and cinnamon rolls, all served in heaping helping size on overflowing bowls.

Before your dinner is delivered, your side salad or chicken noodle soup arrive.  The chicken noodle soup is among the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had.  It’s redolent with the flavor of chicken, both from the thick shards of chicken and the broth in which those shards swim.  The perfect accompaniment for gravy, of course, is mashed potatoes.  Stroud’s mashed potatoes are the real thing, not some reconstituted flakes out of a box.  They’re stick-to-the-spoon thick, not light and fluffy.  The pan-drip made gravy is also rather thick, but neither are lumpy.  The green beans are made with bacon which imparts its inimitable flavor upon fresh, thick, perfectly prepared green beans.  Dip the green beans into the gravy and you’ll swoon at the resultant deliciousness.

A basket of housemade cinnamon rolls

It’s your choice as to whether the basket of cinnamon rolls is delivered with your dinner or afterwards.  Savvy diners will opt to have these golden beauties delivered with their meal to make sure they have room in their stomachs for them (plus they’re great with the gravy, too).  The cinnamon rolls are yeasty and buttery with a coating of cinnamon and absolutely no icing.  Stroud’s menu may have alternative dessert options, but most people are too sated to ask.

Stroud’s elevates chicken from the level of comfort food to the level of sublime sensation.  Best of all, it’s prepared in a homey environment by very attentive servers who treat you as a welcome guest.

STROUD’S RESTAURANT & BAR
4200 Shawnee Mission Parkway
Fairway, Kansas
(913) 262-8500
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fried Chicken Dinner

Stroud's on Urbanspoon

El Pollo Picante – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Pollo Picante in the Journal Center area

Pollo asado, marinated grilled chicken, has been a staple in Mexico for years, but save for those pockets within metropolitan areas heavily populated by scions of Mexico, it hasn’t made significant inroads throughout the fruited plain. Mexican grilled chicken restaurants seem to fly under the radar, unbeknownst to much of the local populace outside the Mexican neighborhoods in which they’re clustered. Many grilled chicken shops–even in Albuquerque– operate in ramshackle, lilliputian buildings not much larger than roadside stands.

In the 1980s, El Pollo Loco, a Mexican grilled chicken chain expanded into the United States, launching in about a dozen states including New Mexico. Today, the chain operates in five western states (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas and California) as well as in Illinois (and in episodes of Breaking Bad), but despite expanding beyond its grilled chicken niche to include burritos, quesadillas, salads and more, it hasn’t been able to compete significantly with the popular pseudo Mexican concept restaurants.

Empty tables at 11:30AM. It’s almost criminal for a restaurant which services such good chicken!

After Albuquerque’s erstwhile El Pollo Loco restaurant–which operated on San Mateo (in the location which currently houses Siam Cafe)–closed, it would be more than a decade before another Mexican grilled chicken restaurant would open in a heavily-trafficked commercial area.   In May, 2012, El Pollo Picante launched in the Market Place at Journal Center just a few doors down from Torinos @ Home. My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, a discerning diner, was one of the restaurant’s first guests, enjoying it so much, he’s returned several times…and he brought me with him.

El Pollo Picante is owned and operated by Steve and Cindy Lee, a genial Korean brother and sister who know what they’re doing behind a grill.  Whether you’re visiting for the first time or have become a regular, you’ll receive the type of personalized attention you can’t help but appreciate.  Cindy will take your order while Steve mans the gas-fired grill visible from the counter where you order, evoking the captivating aroma of marinated chicken being expertly grilled.  To anyone who’s ever enjoyed Mexican grilled chicken, that aroma is an aphrodisiac, a siren’s call.  It’s an irresistible lure.

A half chicken, beans, rice, pico de gallo and salsa

The aroma is a preview of poultry perfection.  It’s mouth-watering truth in advertising.    The marinade penetrates deeply into the meat, turning the skin an ochre hue and imbuing it with a seasoned flavor.  If you’re of the habit of discarding grilled chicken skin, this skin will break you of that habit.  It’s crispy without being dry and it’s thoroughly delicious.   The hot flames of the grill sear in all the spices and tangy goodness of the marinade. A half-chicken order (dark meat) gets you two wings, two legs, two thighs and two thighs.  As with all chicken–grilled, roasted, rotisseried, baked or fried–the most moist and juicy pieces are the thighs.  You can also request all white meat if you prefer.  The breasts are snowy white, tender and surprisingly moist.

At the risk of committing sacrilege, El Pollo Picante’s Mexican grilled chicken blows away the chicken at El Pollo Loco and the Chicken Flameante at Taco Cabana. Similar to those restaurants, Polo Picante chicken is accompanied by Mexican inspired sides: beans, Spanish rice and corn tortillas. These sides are wholly unnecessary. They’re also not especially good…maybe the caliber of airline food (not the peanuts and pretzels). Luckily they’re served with pico de gallo and salsa. These are good and do greatly improve the flavor of the beans and rice.

Teriyaki Beef

When it first opened, El Pollo Picante’s menu was pretty much limited to Mexican grilled chicken, but has since expanded to include teriyaki chicken and beef as well as a curry plate, all Korean style. My friend Señor Plata and I are applying our charm to convince Cindy that the menu should also include KFC. No, not that greasy chain chicken. KFC stands for Korean Fried Chicken and it’s the rage among savvy diners in Los Angeles. The pairing of Mexican grilled chicken and KFC would make El Pollo Picante a formidable poultry presence.

While researching the blogosphere for information about El Pollo Picante, I happened upon a refreshing new food blog called “Once Again We Have Eaten Well.”  Written by Edward Sung (a long time friend of this blog) and his lovely better half Hannah Walraven, Once Again… is a delightful change of pace from the mundanity of most food blogs.  The blog employs a novel conversational approach so entertaining and realistic, you’ll  find yourself transported to the table with Edward and Hannah. It’s almost as good as being there with them.

El Pollo Picante
7600 Jefferson Street N.E., Suite 5
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 797-1288
LATEST VISIT: 1 August 2012
1st VISIT: 30 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $
BEST BET: Half Chicken

El Pollo Picante on Urbanspoon

Pollito Con Papas – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pollito Con Papas in its new home on Gibson  just east of San Pedro

I think a rotisserie is like a really morbid ferris wheel for chickens.
It’s a strange piece of machinery.
We will take the chicken, kill it, impale it and then rotate it.
And I’ll be damned if I’m not hungry because spinning chicken carcasses
make my mouth water. I like dizzy chicken.
-
Mitch Hedberg

Comedian Mitch Hedberg may have meant it in a funny vein, but it’s no joke that Americans are finding rotisserie chickens  not only sexy and sumptuous, but convenient, flavorful and oh, so easy to prepare.  The latter three were reasons most cited by consumers for liking rotisserie chicken.  A National Chicken Council survey revealed that in 2007, 52 percent of all respondents had purchased a rotisserie chicken within four weeks prior to being interviewed.   In 2008, an estimated 750 million rotisserie style chickens were sold with more than 200 million of them being proffered by restaurants and food service outlets. 

Since 1980,  the per capita consumption of poultry–and not just rotisserie chicken–in America has increased significantly.   According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Chicken Council, Americans are eating more chicken than ever.  The per capita consumption of chicken has risen from 48 pounds in 1980 to almost 83 pounds in 2010, a 72.5% increase.  This increase is attributed to consumers desiring to eat leaner proteins.

One of the best reasons to “break the chain”–great restaurant owners like Monica and Rene Coronado

In the coastal nation of Peru, restaurants and roadside stands featuring pollo a la brasa (an entire chicken prepared on a rotisserie charcoal oven) are as ubiquitous and beloved as burgers are in America.  In the world culinary stage, this is significant because Peru (yes, Peru!) has been widely recognized by the cognoscenti as a delicious dining destination and a culinary trend-setter.  In fact, Frommers Travel Guide recently proclaimed Lima, Peru as the “top food and drink destination for 2012,” declaring that “Lima is now drawing a new flock of visitors who travel all the way to Peru just to eat.” Peruvian cuisine. In 2005, Bon Appetit declared Peruvian “the next hot cuisine,” extolling its “vibrant ceviches, crispy, spiced rotisserie chickens and packed-with-flavor empanadas” then encapsulating its declaration with “this is one cuisine we could eat every day.” 

What’s surprising is not that the culture-rich cuisine of a small, multi-ethnic nation rarely on the world’s stage is receiving such acclaim, it’s that it’s taken so long.  Peru’s culinary traditions, after all, began in pre-Columbian times. Peru was home not only to the oldest known civilization in the Americas (the Norte Chico civilization flourished as early as the 30th century BC) but later to the largest civilization in the Pre-Columbian Americas–the Incan empire.  Immigration melded the culture and cuisine of the Spanish, Basque, African, Moorish, Sino-Cantonese, Japanese and in the 19th century, the Italian, French and British with Peru’s indigenous peoples, the descendents of the pre-Incas and Incas, to combine the flavors of four diverse and distinct continents.

Chimichangas engorged with Peruvian style chicken

With our typical “land of mañana” attitude, Albuquerque hasn’t been as quick to embrace Peruvian cuisine as have larger American metropolitan areas–not that we’ve had much opportunity.  In the year Peruvian was declared “the next hot cuisine,” the Duke City’s first (and only) Peruvian restaurant both opened and closed.  Albuquerque–you’ve got a second chance!  In 2011, Rene and Monica Coronado launched Pollito Con Papas on the southeast intersection of Broadway and Avenida Cesar Chavez.  In August, 2012, the Coronados moved their restaurant to Gibson Avenue, just east of San Pedro.  The specialty of the house is Peruvian style chicken.  It’s addictive!

The Coronados have the pedigree to make this delicious concept work.  The vivacious Monica is originally from Peru.  Her face practically glows with pride as she discusses the cuisine of her place of birth and the successes of her family in the restaurant business.  One cousin owns the fabulous and famous El Pollo Rico Restaurants in the Arlington, Virginia area.  El Pollo Rico is one of the highest rated rotisserie chicken restaurants on the entire East Coast where Peruvian style chicken has been all the rage for years.  One of her brothers is the chef at a highly regarded Peruvian-Spanish fusion restaurant in Berlin, Germany.

Half a Peruvian style chicken

The Coronados are new to the restaurant business, but they did a lot of homework prior to launching their eatery.  During their most recent visit to Peru (where Rene admits to having gained 12 pounds), Rene visited several rotisserie chicken restaurants, gleaning as much information as he could from the owners.  Because local ordinances in Peru tend to be somewhat more liberal than those in America, Rene quickly recognized he would have to modify his method of  preparing rotisserie chicken.  He wouldn’t, for example, be able to bring onto the premises and use the 18 outdoor grills–ranging from smokers to barrel-style–he’s been using for years to prepare chicken in his backyard. 

One area in which the Coronados don’t have to compromise in the least is in the uniquely wonderful marinades and sauces used in the preparation and serving of the chicken.  More impressively, they do not serve frozen poultry–apparently an anomaly because city inspectors were nonplussed  over the fact they had never before seen a restaurant open without a freezer.  Each chicken is simultaneously brined and marinated for at least ten hours in a bath of several ingredients (vinegar, cumin, salt and pepper are discernible, but that constitutes fewer than half the ingredients in the marinade).  The chicken is served with a creamy “green sauce” made with jalapeño, cilantro and other ingredients which give it addictive properties.

The papitas–hand-cut French fries

The entire Pollito Con Papas menu is comprised of whole chickens; boneless, skinless marinated chicken thighs; fresh, hand-cut wedge fries with ketchup, and chicken engorged chimichangas all served with that wondrous green sauce.  By design, the restaurant does not serve tortillas, pico de gallo, or other popular extras.  Rene’s objective is “to keep it super simple but incredibly delicious.”  “We just give our customers a taste and explain how our chicken is prepared and how we are able to provide two whole chickens, fries, and creamy sauce for twenty dollars due to the fact that we have minimal waste. Where else can you feed four people good quality food for less than five dollars a person-our price includes tax.” Where else indeed?

Pollito Con Papas’ new home as of August, 2012 is in a much more heavily trafficked street and in a much more capacious building with generous parking than its predecessor.  One thing that won’t change is the friendliness of the affable owners.   When my friend Ryan Scott, the dynamic host of the galluptious Break the Chain radio program and I discuss what we love most about mom-and-pop restaurants, near the top of the list is the warmth and hospitality of mom and pop themselves.   The Coronados didn’t need years of restaurant experience to understand this formula very well!  It comes from the heart!    

Boneless thighs–marinated for eight hours

To ensure the highest level of freshness, Rene advises patrons to call in whole chicken orders two hours in advance so they’re cooked specifically for them and not sitting on a warming plate.  Many of the restaurant’s repeat visitors have responded very well to this practice.  Rene is contemplating ways to be even more responsive to customers calling in pick-up orders, perhaps even instituting curb-side service. 

If you don’t happen to call in your order two hours in advance, there’s still plenty on the menu that will make you very happy.  You might want to sample a bit of everything on the menu as we did.  Consider the chimichangas your appetizer. Reminiscent of egg rolls on steroids, the chimichangas are sliced diagonally and are engorged with the restaurant’s wonderful marinated chicken.  There’s no scrimping on the chicken which is so very finely chopped that the chimichangas become very dense and tightly packed.  You’ll want to deluge the chimis (an Arizona diminutive) in the creamy green sauce which has a nice piquant bite New Mexican fire-eaters will appreciate. 

External signage lists the menu in Spanish

The half-chicken–breast, wing and thigh–is an even better way to enjoy the marinade in which the chickens are prepared. The lengthy marinade process ensures deep penetration of flavors so it’s not just the skin which absorbs the ten ingredient melange of flavors.  The brining and marinade process ensure every single bite is redolent with deliciousness while the process of slow-cooking makes a moist, delicious, non-greasy and very healthy chicken that doesn’t rely solely on salt for its flavor (as grocery store rotisserie chicken tends to do).  The fact that each chicken is fresh and never frozen further seals in flavors and gives the chicken a texture you won’t find in poultry previously frozen (which tends to become desiccated after thawing).  The accompanying papitas are fresh and hand-cut on the premises.  They’re Texas thick and golden hued, better with the green sauce being a better condiment than the ketchup. Peru, by the way, is where potatoes were first domesticated.  There are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru today so it stands to reason Pollito Con Papas fries are among the very best in Albuquerque.

The boneless, skinless marinated thighs are a best bet for bone-phobic diners.  Chicken thighs, not breasts as is the common misconception, are the most moist, tender and flavorful piece on a chicken.  These thighs are oh so mouth-watering moist and the flavor profile is a nice balance of spiciness, savoriness, and peppery qualities with discernible hints of sweetness and tanginess, too.  The discernment of flavors is an adventure in pure deliciousness. 

There is nothing fancy about Pollito Con Papas. It has none of the over-the-top veneer, flash and panache of the well-financed corporate chains.  What it does have is a wonderful product–likely the very best chicken you’ll have in New Mexico.   This is four-star quality food prepared by very nice people and served in the most humble surroundings.  Whether you order it for take-out or enjoy it at the tiny eatery, the operative word is enjoy and you WILL enjoy it immensely.

Pollitos Con Papas
6105 Gibson, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505-765-5486
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 13 April 2012
1st VISIT: 26 November 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $
BEST BET: Boneless Thighs, Half Chicken, French Fries, Chimichangas, Inca Kola

Pollito Con Papas on Urbanspoon