CM Chicken offers Columbus a welcome ‘snow’

The popular spot offers an unusual but inspired ‘snow’ topping that can kick its crisp and delicious fried chicken into a different sphere

G.A. Benton
Tenders: curry snow onion along with a beer at CM Chicken on Henderson Road. (Photo by Tim Johnson)

If a menu could talk to perusing customers (self-fulfilling premise alert), the items listed under “SNOW” at CM Chicken would likely scream at sky-high decibel levels. They’d be yelling the truth If they blurted: “We are edible roller coaster rides that you won’t find anywhere else in town!” 

That statement’s proof is in the chicken, which is commendably fried and tricked-out with unusual but inspired “snow” toppings to create dishes that are alternately hot and crunchy, cold and creamy, sweet and spicy. 

The proof is also in the booming popularity of CM Chicken, aka the first local branch of Choong Man Chicken, which opened to long lines in a Northwest Side strip mall in October. 

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Related to a South Korea-based family of eateries specializing in Korean fried chicken (“the other KFC”), CM Chicken occupies a bright and bustling space whose wooden features and brash atmosphere conjure a Roosters outlet where K-Pop videos play on TV screens instead of sports. 

The menu isn’t especially well-organized or generous with illuminating descriptions. Service was generally friendly but might best be described as well-intentioned. Because my writing gig entails being a professional — and willing — guinea pig (maybe “guinea” isn’t necessary), I’ve ingested enough “research” to crack the menu’s code.

The ubiquitous star is crowd-pleasing fried chicken with a craggy, crispy and heavy but grease-restrained breading. Its straightforward yet effective seasoning includes a hint of chile, but CM’s baseline fried chicken would be as at home in the American South as in South Korea. 

Sampling it unadorned costs $12 to $13 for CM’s sizable, set-in-stone options (more on these later): 10 wings, 10 tenders, five legs or a half-bird hacked into bone-in lumps. 

Sauce is $2 more. Four sticky glazes were offered with varying heat levels offset by a pronounced sweetness (one menu-advertised sauce wasn’t available during my visits): soy — relatively mild, teriyaki-like; curry — chile-kissed, slightly earthy; hot — resembles spicy jalapeno jelly; red hot — a fire-in-the-hole condiment that tastes like gochujang detonated with cayenne.  

Soy tikkudak wings at CM Chicken on Henderson Road. (Photo by Tim Johnson)

Back to those snow entrees ($15.99 and $16.99). They’re sauce-coated chicken further embellished with a chilled, mayo-enriched dressing that's thick, creamy, sweet, tangy and redolent of onion. The snow “frosting” is completed with crispness-increasing, razor-thin raw onion ringlets pre-soaked in cold water to mitigate their sting. This garnishing regimen sounds eccentric, but it absolutely works. 

Because the snow sauce — which evoked a Korean answer to Alabama-style white barbecue sauce — is a great foil for botanical heat, it can increase capsaicin tolerances. That’s a cue to consider flavor-boosting your food by ordering it with CM’s hot sauce or (for serious thrill-seekers) red hot sauce. Tip: The hefty, boneless tenders and a knife and fork are your best bets for mess-managing attacks on these garnish-happy, heaped-high, snow-capped creations. Tip No. 2: Ask for a complimentary side of sweet-and-funky pickled daikon.   

Tikkudak is CM’s other idiosyncratic and addictive dish. Priced exactly like the snow bird, it features sauced fried chicken, but with dark spots and a strong, smoky flavor resulting from the breaded poultry spending time with a charcoal grill. Wings and the half-chicken are good tikkudak choices, but I really enjoyed the uncommonly meaty legs prepared this way, too — and I’m not a big drumstick fan. 

All sauces pair well with the crunchy, smoky and irresistible tikkudak. If you choose red hot, I suggest tacking on the vinegar-tweaked but extra-creamy, sweet and cooling coleslaw ($4.99 for a huge serving). While hardly artisanal, the crisp, flour-dusted fries ($4.99) were a decent side, too.

Fried chicken and beer are so entwined in South Korea that a coined word — chimaek — describes their combined enjoyment. Bottles of Miller Lite ($4) and Corona ($5) will do their part here. If vodka-esque Korean soju ($15) is calling, it deserves to be listened to, as well.    

Half chicken: red hot pepper along with a draft beer at CM Chicken on Henderson Road. (Photo by Tim Johnson)

CM Chicken

1132 Henderson Rd., Northwest Side