Watershed fried chicken still elusive after all these years


The new Watershed on Peachtree is, in many ways, an entirely new restaurant from the one that once anchored the dining scene in Decatur. With executive chef Joe Truex and chef de cuisine Julia LeRoy at the helm and wide-open dining rooms laden with bare wood and muted colors, the renovated garage and bright quilts that defined the previous space seem to be a faint memory. The legacy of Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis might not even cast a shadow were it not for fried chicken night.

If the presence of LeRoy – who helmed the short-lived LeRoy’s Fried Chicken – put the thought in your mind that they might be changing Peacock and Lewis’ recipe, you can relax. LeRoy recently told James Oxendine, “The fried chicken is going to be the same recipe as it’s always been. It’s a vertebra in the backbone of Watershed and I have no desire to change that.” The only tweak is merely organizational – they’re serving that legendary fried chicken on Wednesday rather than Tuesday.

Calling fried chicken “legendary” can seem a bit excessive in description, but Watershed is one of the few places whose fried chicken can legitimately lay claim to that sort of hyperbole. Nearly a decade ago, John T. Edge named it among his favorites in the country and The Washington Post put that “treasure” alongside fine-dining destinations Bacchanalia and Joel (RIP). That was before Kim Severson wrote this elegant piece on the restaurant, profiling Peacock and Lewis and waxing on about the fried chicken for paragraphs at a time.

I had all that in mind before dropping into the new Watershed for the first fried chicken night, but didn’t realize how close to the script they’re playing it. The fried chicken night was almost as famous for consistently running out by 7:30 p.m. as it was for any other part of the recipe. So, of course, as my date and I sat down a little after 8 p.m., one of the first things we heard from the waiter was that, “The only thing we’ve 86’d for the night is fried chicken.” Apparently, they’re sticking to that part of the recipe, too.

We had the pork belly wraps, almost like bo ssam in presentation, and an utterly non-traditional, deconstructed jambalaya. Both were great, but that’s for another discussion. The tradition that Watershed is apparently sticking to is running out of the fried chicken. If you want it, skip out of work early, forgo the gym, forget cocktail hour, and whatever else you have to do, just get there before 7:30.

The closest I got to the fried chicken was running into a friend at the bar who had the sense to show up early.

“Did you have the fried chicken?” I asked.

She had that knowing look in her eye, probably aware that we were too late and wouldn’t be having any. She just smiled and said, “So good, so good.”

Photo courtesy Watershed / Liz Lapidus PR (not the author, who clearly did not have any fried chicken on his plate)