Fried Chicken Showdown: The Crispy Coop and Meshikou Chikin
Fried chicken is at it again. Everywhere you look, a new restaurant concept dedicated to the bird is opening in Columbus. Here are two to check out.
The Crispy Coop
1717 Northwest Blvd., Grandview, 614-481-4040; 1510 Cross Creeks Blvd., Pickerington, 614-604-8699 , thecrispycoop.com
The Crispy Coop had a generous head start on the current fried chicken boom. Its origins start at The Buena Vista Café in Warren, Ohio. There, the 65-year-old restaurant serves something iconic in Northeast Ohio: Uncle Nick’s Greek Fried Chicken. A fan of its chicken while growing up near Youngstown, Drew Cleary brought an Uncle Nick’s franchise down to Columbus more than five years ago, opening up a no-frills spot in Grandview.
In February of last year, Cleary decided to close that location and branch out on his own, launching The Crispy Coop in Grandview. The chicken recipe, thankfully, doesn’t seem to have changed much, though the menu has grown to include Cleary’s take on Nashville hot chicken as well as house-made sides like a delicious cavatappi mac ’n’ cheese and flavorful collard greens.
A year after opening in Grandview, The Crispy Coop opened a second location in Pickerington in early March, and the expansion won’t stop there. One of the restaurant’s partners is Xuegong Chen, a co-founder of the Poké Bros. chain and someone who knows how to scale a food business. Founded in Columbus, Poke Bros. now has more than 40 stores in nine states and counting. “We would love to be on every side of Columbus,” Cleary says.
What really shines here are the traditional fried chicken meals, sans spice. (You can always get the sauces, Tennessee Mild or Nashville Hot, on the side.) The chicken is brined for 24 hours, lightly breaded and then cooked in pressure fryers. The result is a thin, light and crispy exterior encased around juicy meat that flirts with being too salty without
crossing the line. I recommend ordering the half chicken dinner ($11.50), which comes with a chicken breast, thigh, wing and leg, plus a choice of two sides. Leftovers? Great—the chicken tastes just as good cold.
Fried chicken sandwiches are ubiquitous these days (thank you, Popeyes), so it takes a lot for one to stand out. The Crispy Coop’s fried chicken sandwich ($11, with two sides) is decent though not tell-everyone-about-it good. You can order it traditional, Tennessee Mild or Nashville Hot. For me, the mayo-heavy slaw and sweet pickles, instead of dill pickles, on my Nashville Hot sandwich were deal-breakers.
All was forgiven after dessert. Here, the delicious banana pudding ($4) looks and tastes like the back-of-the-box Nilla Wafer recipe. And that’s a good thing.
What to order: Half chicken dinner with two sides and banana pudding
1504 Bethel Road, Northwest Columbus, 614-929-5539, meshikou.com/chikin
The sister restaurant to Meshikou Ramen, this Bethel Road chicken spot is the antithesis to The Cheesecake Factory. Instead of a laundry list of menu items, Meshikou Chikin owner Mike Shek picks one thing—fried chicken—and executes it very well.
Shek says he was encouraged to open the new business after seeing the popularity of his ramen shop’s karaage and chicken wings appetizers. He decided chicken alone could carry a spinoff, so he opened Meshikou Chikin right next door to the ramen shop last fall.
The menu is simple, with the option to order chicken breast ($10), thighs ($10) or wings ($11) as a meal (which includes two sides); or these items can be ordered à la carte. When I visited, only two sides were on the menu—a simple seasoned rice ($2.50) and ginger citrus salad ($2.50). Shek says he plans to add more sides in the near future, such as curried corn and teriyaki-style baked beans.
Overall, two things set this newcomer’s fried chicken apart. First is Meshikou’s supremely craggy, crunchy skin—achieved with a dredge through flour and potato starch—that creates a jacket around chicken meat that’s been brined for 48 hours. A naughty part of me wishes Meshikou would take the fried chicken skin, bag it and sell it—like pork rinds. I honestly might eat that.
Second is Meshikou’s globally inspired sauces, which are each unique and flavor-packed. For example, the wonderful Meshikou Garlic Bomb pays homage to Shek’s family recipe from Fujian province in China. Other sauces include a Peppercorn Teriyaki sauce, a nod to Japan, and the Spicy K-Pop sauce featuring the Korean condiment gochujang.
Rounding out the menu is—you guessed it—Meshikou’s Spicy Chikin sandwich ($8), and it’s one of my new favorites in the crowded genre. The sandwich features sizable chicken thighs—crispy on the outside and moist on the inside—doused in the restaurant’s Sichuan Nom Nom sauce, a spicy chile oil, and topped with (ahem) crunchy dill pickle slices.
What to Order: The chicken thigh meal with Spicy K-Pop sauce; the Spicy Chikin sandwich
VEGAN FIND: Brezel’s Spicy Chicky Sandwich
59 Spruce St., Short North, 614-586-0523, brezelpower.com
The North Market merchant Brezel has begun serving vegan chicken sandwiches on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until they sell out (which happens frequently). The sandwich is really a crossover between Brezel, known for its deliciously chewy pretzels, and the kind of plant-based food served at Brezel’s sister business, The Greene Canteen in Yellow Springs. Owner Brittany Baum sandwiches a seitan-based chicken patty, spring mix, tomatoes and a vegan Sriracha mayo between a hand-rolled pretzel bun. Definitely worth a try.