Plenty of dishes represent the South’s love affair with deep-fried food.
Fried okra, catfish and hush puppies, for starters.
Then there’s fried chicken. It’s been a weekly staple for countless generations of Sunday family suppers. You might even call it one of the mascots for Southern cooking.
Interested in how Tacoma rates for Southern fried chicken, I toured our small collection of restaurants with a focus on Southern eats. It didn’t take long because there are only four that are full-service restaurants (five if you count Ezell’s, but that’s a fast-food restaurant, not a sit-down place).
Here, I take a look at how each restaurant prepares its fried chicken and how they scored for side dishes.
Uncle Thurms Finger Licken Ribs and Chicken
3709 S. G St., Tacoma; 253-475-1881; facebook.com/unclethurm.
Thurmond Brokenbrough, known to identify himself when answering the phone as “The Square From Delaware,” is the mastermind behind the Southern-drenched soul food at this Lincoln neighborhood restaurant.
Besides having the coolest-named restaurant in town, he’s also got the best fried chicken, all served up in a homey atmosphere with a sound system belting out jazz and rhythm and blues (and live music every Saturday night).
Brokenbrough and his wife, Linda, have been cooking in Pierce County for nearly 20 years — just over a decade at Uncle Thurms; five years at The Rail Splitter, the restaurant inside the old Lincoln neighborhood bowling alley; and two years at Fife’s Do Drop Inn.
Fried chicken is a standout on a menu that covers the gamut of soul and Southern cuisine, from fried catfish to ribs, chitlins to gumbo, greens to yams.
How it’s made: Call it a marinade-dry-rub-breading all in one. Brokenbrough starts with a rub of paprika, garlic powder, a touch of cumin, celery salt and a few other spices. Next, the chicken is dredged in flour with the same spicing. The breaded chicken gets a long rest — as long as overnight in the fridge — before being dipped into a fryer filled with peanut and vegetable oil. Adding the dry rub and breading simultaneously, then giving it time to relax, yields the chicken’s crunchy texture and deep seasoning. “The texture is a little better. You get a better seal in the chicken,” said Brokenbrough.
Order it: Four-piece fried chicken dinner, $10.95 with any two sides. The four-piece comes with bone-in breast, wing, drum and thigh (substitution requests accommodated, if possible). Also a chicken wing breakfast with eggs, hash browns and grits, $7.95.
Taste test: That seal Brokenbrough referenced is what makes his chicken such a textural treat. The coating clung like a paper-thin jacket to the skin-on chicken, with a satisfying crunch that broke to steamy, juicy meat, which was deeply seasoned thanks to time spent in that dry rub and breading.
Get it with: Delicious greens with a sweetened vinegar splash; cornbread that’s more savory than sweet; creamy red beans with a light showing of rice; cheddar-tinged macaroni and cheese; and quartered, sweetened yams.
1716 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-4282; southernkitchen-tacoma.com.
In an effort to focus on healthier eating, Gloria Martin has made subtle menu changes during the two decades she’s operated her Sixth Avenue restaurant. The neighborhood dining hotspot features a wide range of Southern food, from catfish to brisket; corn cakes to hush puppies and black eyed peas to fried green tomatoes.
In keeping with her commitment to help her diners eat better, she eliminated pork from the menu about a decade ago. Her side dishes are now vegetarian (except collard greens and cornbread dressing). More recently, she switched to free-range chicken. She uses chickens from Mount Vernon’s Draper Valley Farms, supplied to Southern Kitchen by Sysco, a food distributor.
One trade-off is a different flavor. Martin said, “The free-range chicken has a unique taste. It doesn’t have the flavor we’re used to. It’s a cleaner taste, but the taste isn’t very flavorful.”
How it’s made: To compensate for that mild flavor, she puts her chicken in a seasoned salt brine overnight. After the salty soak, she dredges the chicken — always with the skin on, because that’s where most of the flavor is — in a seasoned flour mix.
Order it: Two-piece, $13.95 (order white meat and get a breast and wing; dark is leg and thigh); Four-piece dinner, $17.95. Also a chicken wing dinner, $13.95. All come with any two sides and a corn cake.
Taste test: The light-and-clingy jacket wound tightly around the skin, with steamy chicken beneath a crisp exterior.
Get it with: Black-eyed peas out performed mildly seasoned collard greens. Cheddar-laden mac and cheese was the best side of all. Fried okra was good, too.
2717 N. Proctor St., Tacoma; 253-761-7685; facebook.com/TacomaSoul.
This is a restaurant that embodies soul food well beyond the South. Co-owners Natural Allah and Jennifer Zaskorski, who opened their second-story dining spot in the Proctor neighborhood in 2013, also have an affinity for the soul food from Latin American countries such as Cuba, Peru and Puerto Rico.
The greatest hits of Southern soul food are represented — from smothered pork chopsand catfish to fried chicken and waffles, alongside carnitas fritas, lomo saltado and tostones.
The duo expanded last year, opening a second Soul on the edge of University Place, but the restaurant didn’t work out and they closed it earlier this month.
The fried chicken recipe is from Allah, who said he learned everything he knows about the dish from his mother.
How it’s made: “Our seasoning is really basic. We use egg whites as an egg wash, then dip it in seasoned flour,” said Allah. The next step is the one that gives his skin-on chicken its signature texture. “We also double fry. It’s something my mom taught me. It gives you an extra crunch.” He said after the first fry, it’s dredged a second time, then goes back in for a finishing fry.
Order it: Southern fried chicken dinner, $15, with three wings or 2 thighs and any two sides; or a two-piece chicken wing over a buttermilk waffle, $14.
Taste test: The shattery-crisp exterior crunched loudly at first bite, and was well-seasoned throughout. I loved Soul’s chicken wings served atop the buttermilk waffle, with butter and syrup.
Get it with: Flavorful red beans and rice, lightly tangy mac and cheese or mild collard greens made with smoked turkey, not pork.
3832 S. Pine St., Tacoma; 253-474-9898; pacsouthtacoma.com.
Pacific Southern is Tacoma’s newest Southern-tinged restaurant. Consider it a Northwest-meets-Southern comfort food restaurant. The menu lists burgers and fries, but also jambalaya, shrimp and grits, catfish and pulled pork. The Northwest brush comes from adding healthier ingredients, said chef and general manager Paul Bang. That sometimes results in odd combinations, such as the addition of cauliflower and broccoli to jambalaya.
Last fall, shortly after the restaurant made over its menu and remodeled, I happily delved into the restaurant’s chicken and waffles. Those were the creation of opening chef Robert Walpole, who recently left the restaurant. Bang said he has tweaked the fried chicken recipe, but I found it less successful than Walpole’s version.
How it’s made: Bang described the method as a wet marinade, finished with a dip in buttermilk, then seasoned flour.
Order it: Three-piece fried chicken, $14.99. Also offered as chicken and waffles on the breakfast menu until 3 p.m., $13.99.
Taste test: As Southern chefs explain, the flavor is in the skin, so leave it on. Here, the chicken dinner was served with a boneless, skinless chicken breast. It tasted like a bland cutlet, rather than a full fried chicken experience. While the wing had its skin, the thigh only had a portion of its skin. If I were to order the meal here again, I’d ask for all wings and extra seasoning to help the flavor, which was lacking.
The sides: The three-piece chicken dinner comes with mashed red potatoes (good), barbecued beans (not so good) and cornbread (pretty good).