’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee!
In honor of OnMilwaukee's Dining Month, we've decided tto take FoodCrush Live on the road for an arduous task: finding the best fried chicken in Milwaukee. I know: It's a hard job, but somebody's gotta do it. So each week, we'll pop in to a different Brew City establishment and dig into their finest fried fowl.
Our latest destination ...
We began our October fried chicken quest with a Milwaukee staple – and that's exactly how we end the month as well, with a stop at Gold Rush Chicken in Bay View. Its small Howell Avenue hub may not look fancy, but for more than 60 years, the takeout restaurant has suited the city's fancy with its comfort food classics, in particular its made-to-order buckets of golden fried chicken. But would Gold Rush's signature meal strike gold for us? Or would it serve up fool's gold? Let's dig in!
Congratulations to Gold Rush, because its fried chicken might have just snagged the gold medal from us (thus far). Of all the bird we've bitten into on our journey, Gold Rush easily has the best coating, a thin but impressively crunchy layer of chicken-flavored goodness that the restaurant could easily sell as a side. (Chicken chips! Do this, Gold Rush!) It's even more impressive considering we had to eat our takeout meal on a park bench outside on a breezy and nippy fall day, our bucket of golden chicken remarkably retaining its crisp outer crust rather than gumming up.
Thankfully, the inside of these golden brown and delicious pieces were just as delicious as the crackling outside. Biting into a piece of bird, we were greeted by thick and meaty hunks of tender chicken meat that were incredibly juicy – again, even more impressive considering the time elapsed from the kitchen and our windy outdoor setting. It wasn't grease or oil – just pure flavor-rich juice, dripping all over our table and running down our hands, a joyous mess. And even with the meat raining succulent broth out at every bite, the crisp exterior kept its crunchy texture, leaving a perfect bite of fried chicken – tender, soft, chewy chicken with an addictive crackling coating, delivering pure salty, animalistic satisfaction.
No fancy flavors or seasonings needed (though you can taste some herbal freshness in the breading and juice), just a bite of classic chicken enjoyment from a classic Milwaukee establishment that, judging by our meal, deserves every bit of its lauded legacy.
Follow our fried chicken trek
Here's our complete list of fried chicken escapades. (The most recent destinations are listed first.)
Turns out the third time would continue to be the charm for our chicken challenge as Crafty Cow served up a batch of bird as equally delicious and equally unique as our prior two stops. The breading was tenderly crunchy, and the overall flavor was satisfyingly fatty and satisfying.
But the real difference here was the chicken itself. Typically I hate the word "unctuous" (*shivers because it's a gross-sounding word*) but Crafty Cow's meaty chicken pieces give the term a good name and an even better taste and texture. Juicy and succulent without teetering into greasy and slimy territory, the moist and rich meat sure tastes like some buttermilk is involved in Crafty Cow's process – and it results in some unbelievably rich and decadent bites of supreme Southern comfort food. A crafty recipe indeed.
We really couldn't have picked more differing (but equally delicious) approaches to fried chicken for our first two stops. While TomKen's delivered a classic, no-frills-needed fried chicken bite, putting the pure chicken goodness first and foremost, Tupelo Honey brought some real flavor fireworks to the party.
As you'd expect from a place with the word "honey" in its name, the fried chicken – available in both white meat, dark meat and half-bird plates – brought a literal breath of sweetness on the first bite thanks to the light honey dust on the outside.
What really made his fried fowl fair in my eyes, though, was the surprising burst of burn which complemented the moist and meaty chicken (brined for more than 18 hours). Both the light and dark meat offered a deliciously pleasant mouth-warming heat that didn't scald or scorch the palate but simultaneously woke up and soothed the senses, teasing the taste buds for another chomp of sweetly spicy chicken.
The breading wasn't consistently crispy, with the larger chicken pieces (namely the breast and thigh) offering a far more satisfying crunch than the smaller pieces (drumstick and wing). But that aside, Tupelo Honey's fried chicken was undoubtedly a sweet success. I guess we'll just have to come back to try the sweet and spicy version. Oh darn ...
As it turns out, we couldn't have picked a better starting point for our fried chicken journey – because not only was TomKen's fried chicken delicious, it serves as an ideal baseline for the rest of our eating adventures.
The fried chicken isn't fancy or feature some signature flavor or element that paricularly sets it apart. It's just damn delicious fried chicken, cooked to perfection – the meat juicy and plentiful; the breading with a tender crunch but not thick or overbearing; the whole package exactly what you imagine when you crave fried chicken. We may find a more special or memorably unique basket of fried chicken in this series, but we may not find one more comfortingly classic.