Top ten places to eat fried chicken in Atlanta

We count down the most crispy, juicy, mouth-watering morsels in the city.

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1. Busy Bee Cafe

The fried chicken at this West End mainstay, in operation since 1947, doesn’t preen. Its bronzed crust is sheer, without dramatic ripples or speckles of spices. The bird is brined for a day, dredged in seasoned flour, and dunked in bubbling peanut oil: no dazzling alchemy of frying fats, no innovative cooking methods. But unlike cheffier versions served once a week in fancier restaurants, you can relish this trouper any day you’d like. And among Atlanta’s meat-and-threes and soul-food joints, it is the most consistent: crackly, juicy, and just salty enough. In its honest simplicity, it embodies all the qualities that make Southern fried chicken timeless. What to order: The chicken ($12.99 for plain or smothered, a comforting variation) comes with two sides and bread. If you stop in Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, try the onion-flecked black-eyed peas. Broccoli-cheese casserole, collards, and a vivid-orange carrot souffle are available daily.
810 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, 404-525-9212, thebusybeecafe.com

2. Watershed on Peachtree

When Watershed owners Ross Jones, Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, and executive chef–partner Joe Truex relocated their business from Decatur to a sleek space in Buckhead, they knew they could never leave behind the restaurant’s peerless once-a-week fried chicken. The recipe—crafted by Watershed’s former chef, Scott Peacock, and his mentor, the late Southern culinary preservationist Edna Lewis—is legend. After one day in brine and another twenty-four hours bathing in buttermilk, the chicken fries in a combination of lard and butter flavored with country ham. The porky twang was too subdued when I tried the dish, served on Wednesday nights, shortly after the restaurant reopened; more recently the oink factor showed up front and center. As always, make an early reservation or arrive before the prime dinner hour to claim a seat at the bar: The fried chicken usually sells out by 7:30 p.m. What to order: A half bird ($14.50) comes with two biscuits; order a la carte extras like custardy mac and cheese (arguably the city’s best) and a seasonal green vegetable like Brussels sprouts. 1820 Peachtree Road, 404-809-3561, watershedrestaurant.com

3. The General Muir

Executive chef and co-owner Todd Ginsberg devised an ingenious two-step cooking process for his Friday night special. He starts by coating brined drumsticks, thighs, and deboned breast meat in flour and cornstarch and steaming each piece just until the surface becomes a uniform varnish. Then he cools the bird until service time, when his team deep-fries every serving to order. The result is a glossy amber shell that shatters with every chomp. What to order: Three pieces of chicken ($18) come with a side of white wine–Tabasco sauce for dipping and a seasonal salad—peach and basil in the summer, for example, or a mix of pleasantly bitter greens in the winter. 1540 Avenue Place, 678-927-9131, thegeneralmuir.com

4. Greenwood’s on Green Street

This one’s for those who secretly like the crust more than the meat. Bill Greenwood plunges hefty pieces into a wet batter rife with black pepper, and after deep-frying them in canola oil, he drizzles the rippling surface with local honey. You spend half the meal plucking off crisp, sweet-spicy morsels, and the other half devouring the juicy meat underneath. What to order: The plate ($14.95) comes with two generously portioned sides. Go classic with creamy broccoli casserole and mashed potatoes with gravy. Take a couple of bites of apple or cherry pie for dessert and finish the rest for breakfast the next morning. 1087 Green Street, Roswell, 770-992-5383, greenwoods­ongreenstreet.com

5. Star Provisions

The deli counter at Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s gourmet market is best known for sandwiches, but peer into the glass case by the cash register and you’ll notice a come-hither platter of fried chicken. Monday through Saturday, before the lunch rush, the kitchen fries chicken (brined for one day and soaked in buttermilk the next) in lard using skillets. This is the only pan-fried chicken available six days a week in the metro area. It renders a flaky, old-timey crust that deep-frying doesn’t deliver. What to order: Some Wednesdays, Star Provisions offers fried chicken as a lunchtime blue plate special ($13.95) with three revolving sides, such as collards and mashed potatoes. You can also order the chicken (which the staff will reheat in an oven) and sides like coleslaw or apple salad with mint by the pound; three pieces plus two sides cost around the same as the blue plate. 1198 Howell Mill Road, 404-365-0410, starprovisions.com

6. The Colonnade

A meat-and-two meal at the Colonnade, in business since 1927, should be a mandatory initiation rite for every Atlanta newcomer. The colorful crowd (nicknamed “gays and grays” for good reason); the retro brown carpet and fluorescent lighting; the stiff, cheap drinks: The place is one of our few institutions. Fried chicken may be the restaurant’s go-to dish, but I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it over the years. I appreciate the midweight crust but have often found each piece so salty I’ve wished they were passing out blood pressure meds instead of mints with the check. Lately, however, the kitchen seems to have eased up on the sodium. And when a friend recently stared at his drumstick with misty eyes and told me it was the closest he’d ever tasted to his long-deceased mother’s fried chicken, it melted my hard critic’s heart. What to order: Per the Nixon-era vibe, you’ll find throwbacks like canned peaches and cottage cheese or tomato aspic among the vegetables (each plate, at $13 to $15, comes with two sides). I’ll take the turnip greens and, when offered as a frequent special, crowder peas. 1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-874-5642, colonnadeatl.com

7. One Eared Stag

Robert Phalen made his reputation on unlikely creations such as beef tongue pie, but on Monday nights he plays it straight with a special of classic fried chicken. Phalen began the tradition in 2012, skillet-frying each piece to a freckled mahogany. The nubbly batter provides homey crunch and keeps the meat underneath succulent. What to order: A single plate of three pieces costs $13; for a group, order a whole chicken ($20) or two birds ($30). The plate comes with two vegetables: Count on porky collards and a seasonally changing inspiration like butternut squash gratin. 1029 Edgewood Avenue, 404-525-4479, oneearedstag.com

8. The Farmhouse at Serenbe

Marie Nygren—who cofounded the Serenbe community fifty minutes south of Atlanta with her husband, Steve, and whose mother, Margaret Lupo, ran Mary Mac’s Tea Room for thirty years—serves her upscale yet down-home fried chicken for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. She uses an airline breast cut (with the wing joint, or “drumette,” attached), designed to be eaten with knife and fork. Pan-frying, resulting in crisp skin handsome with shades of tan and caramel and a few wonderful burnt bits, saves this bird from coming off as too fiddly. What to order: The entree ($15.95) comes with three seasonal sides (kale, cabbage, and rice casserole are common in winter) and a basket of ethereal chive biscuits. 10950 Hutcheson Ferry Road, Palmetto, 770-463-2622, serenbefarmhouse.com

9. Matthew’s Cafeteria

Scoot down the line of this long-standing meat-and-three (opened in 1955), which strategically places the desserts—pecan and fruit pies, banana or butterscotch pudding, peach or blackberry cobbler—before the entrees. The key to Matthew’s fried chicken is its freshness: Snag it the moment a new batch hits the holding bin, and you’re rewarded with taut crust and luscious meat. Come upon poultry that’s been wilting under the heat lamps, and the coating begins to take on an unappealing floury taste. Ask one of the hustling servers how long it’s been on the line; it could be worth a ten-minute wait for the next round. What to order: A plate with two pieces ($7.50) includes two sides and a biscuit or a dinner roll. Some sides rotate throughout the week, but count on mashed potatoes and turnip greens. 2299 Main Street, Tucker, 770-939-2357, matthewscafeteria.com

10. The Shed at Glenwood

Executive chef Todd Richards goes head-to-head with Watershed on Wednesdays, when he also serves once-a-week fried chicken. Richards browns his bird to a rich cocoa hue until it achieves serious crispness. Elusive spices that bring to mind curry powder enliven each bite. What to order: A plate ($15) comes with three pieces, a fluffy biscuit, a side of hot sauce, and a bowl of grits. If you crave something green, order a side like roasted broccoli with tomato and olives ($6). 475 Bill Kennedy Way, 404-835-4363, theshedatglenwood.com

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Comments

  1. Mary Davis

    January 15, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    You missed Fried Chicken FryDays at Moe’s Original BBQ in Midtown. It’s awesome with their southern sides.

    Reply

    1. Richard Bagge

      January 17, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      How did he “miss” it? He made a list of ten, and only ten. That, by definition, excludes many.

      Reply

  2. Jennifer Harris

    January 17, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    You can get great gluten-free fried chicken at Cardamom Hill and gluten-free fried chicken tenders at Chick-a-Biddy and Bantam + Biddy.

    Reply

  3. Dan

    January 18, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    These places are legit but if you want some seriously awesome, southern, delicious fried chicken in Atlanta it virtually unthinkable to have not mentioned Mary Mac’s on Ponce.
    http://www.marymacs.com/

    Another hidden gem where a ridiculously tasty menu happens to reside is Steinbecks, located in Oakhurst. Great little pub & atmosphere where the fried chicken is some of the best around!
    http://www.steinbecksbar.com/

    I’ll look forward to trying out the spots you mentioned that I’ve not yet been to although your list seems a bit on the “trendy” side… with some exceptions.

    Reply

    1. alex

      May 14, 2014 at 2:18 am

      Dan, half on the list have been in business for more than 15 years and the average age of those 5 is 50+ years. Not what I would call trendy overall

      Reply