Fried Chicken

New York Press' Gut Instinct: Old Lady Syndrome

This is how I want to look when I'm old—and a woman.

"Are you going to behave?” my girlfriend asked, heading out the door. She eyeballed Sammy, our furry-sausage mutt, then me. Neither of us so much as snorted.

“It’s going to be a dude’s week,” i said, batting one of Sammy’s fox-like ears. “Anything can happen when it’s a dude week.”

She sighed that sigh i know so well, then gave us both a peck. At that, she was off to Seattle on family vacation. “Freedom,” I whispered to Sammy, rubbing his stomach. “Sweet, sweet freedom.”

If my life were a brain-dead bro flick, the week would flash past in a series of comic escapades, likely involving midgets, tasers, bodily fluids and kidnapping. you know, the usual. “Everything’s going great, honey!” I’d tell my girlfriend, as I’d hastily rectify my wrongs before she returned.

Life, though, does not imitate crappy art. I had the best intentions to break bad. Heck, I even handpicked my hell-raising henchmen: My pals Ben and Aaron, who were also without their wives. “I feel like I should go to strip clubs and rage all night,” Aaron confided on our first estrogen-free eve. “Me too!” I said, searching my wallet for dollar bills.

“But I’d much rather stay home, watch a movie and drink a beer.”

“That…does sound pretty good,” I said, putting bucks back in my billfold. “What movie?” “The Road,” he said. His wife cares not for super-violent movies, “so I frontloaded my netflix queue so I could watch them now.” “Have you seen 28 Days Later yet?” A couple years back I was in Beijing, the land of delicious dumplings and copyright infringement. Beijing offered a bounty of cheap bootlegged horror films—my celluloid weakness. Give me zombies or give me death! Well, give me zombies and lots of death. And beheadings. And disembowelments, too.

Most nights, while my girlfriend gets weepy-eyed watching The Biggest Loser, I’ll curl up on the couch with Buffalo Trace bourbon on the rocks, a serial killer slashing across my computer screen. La Horde, Battle Royale, Lady Vengeance: I can recite horror flicks like kindergarteners and the alphabet.

Long story short, I bought Aaron the apocalyptic 28 Days. Three years later, “I still haven’t seen it,” he admitted. I sighed. “Forget the movie. Let’s go out for a beer.”

We headed to Bierkraft (191 5th Ave., Brooklyn, 718-230-7600) and shared a growler of Two Brothers’ Bitter End, a mildly floral ale with a name fit for a misanthrope’s funeral. Naturally, our conversations wound to kids, mortgages, careers—words that sobered me up, no matter how much I drank.

The next eve, Ben and I planned to hit a Brooklyn barbecue. Meat! Fire! Alcohol! Then raindrops fell, fat and cool. “Maybe we should stay inside?” I said, staring fearfully at the downpour as if I were the Wicked Witch of the West. “I’m game,” Ben said. So we sat on my couch, eating crunchy Zapp’s chips and sipping Cascade Brewing’s Sour Apricot Ale till Cinderella time, when Ben headed home. I washed my face and slid into slumber, garnering nine hours of beauty rest.

The next morning, my eyes were bright and white. No jackhammer rattled my skull. When did I become a responsible old lady? i thought, making myself a cup of steaming coffee—no hangover-soothing Diet Coke needed. That night, i tried to not act my age at Williamsburg’s The Commodore. The nautical, ’70s-style dive is helmed by Stephen Tanner, a co-founder of the cultish Pies-N-Thighs.

I double-fisted cans of Modelo (2-for-1 till 7!), before tearing into Tanner’s beautifully brittle fish and fiery fowl sandwich. I ate until I was full, then I ate more. Who says I can’t have seconds? Or fourths? I’ll show you—until I nearly puke. I left the bar clutching my stomach, stumbling into a bodega for antacids and seltzer. Sadly, there’s nothing reckless about chomping Tums.

When did I get so old and wussy? Five years ago, my nights spun out of control like a car on an icy road. I loved careening toward that time of night when every bad idea seemed like a good one. Now, I like waking early and clacking out stories, an occupation at odds with a skull-crushing hangover. Sure, Hemingway did it, but his story ended with an unhappy bang.

My girlfriend returned from the West Coast, bearing kisses and gifts of beer. “So did you have fun?” she asked, dropping her bags.

“Well, not the kind of fun I was expecting,” I said.

“It’s called maturity. Face it: you’re too old to stay out all night,” my girlfriend said, “and you’re only getting older.”

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Gut Instinct: Don't Be Chicken

Yum yum in my tum tum.

“I think we've traveled far enough for a piece of fried chicken,” my friend Matt says, applying his bike brakes. Like a game-show girl, he fake-smiles and gestures to our impediment— an industrial canal featuring a 15-foot plunge into fetid water, with train-topped railroad tracks looming beyond.

“Maybe we can swim,” I replied, my mind set on crunchy wings, breasts as juicy as a summer melon.

“Think again, Bernstein,” Matt said, edging his bike from the precipice. “The quest for chicken has ended.”

To what lengths will a man go for food?

That question faced me in New Orleans last week, where I attempted to spike my cholesterol 50 points in 10 days. This is no chore in the land of gravy-sodden roast beef po’ boys, oil-crisped cornmeal oysters and praline bacon. It’s a sugary, fatty foodstuff that engineers both diabetes and heart attacks. But the meat of my quest was fried chicken.

I know, I know: In New York, I can gnaw on fine fowl at Locanda Verde, Blue Ribbon, the Redhead and Momofuku Noodle Bar.These restaurants, however, offended my delicate sensibilities—well, my wallet. I despise paying $15 or $20 for a few bites of bird. I quickly did mental math (a skill learned during college breaks spent working on factory assembly lines, when I tabulated how much I earned per second). Instead of paying highway robbery prices for Big Apple chicken, it was cheaper to fly to New Orleans and eat Big Easy fowl.

Quicker than you can utter irrational, I booked a flight, rented an apartment and convinced fellow carnivores to come.The days dissolved in a greasy blur.We consumed Cajun-spicy chicken at Coop’s Place, then peppery wings at takeout-only McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin’.The James Beard Association–designated Willie Mae’s Scotch House was worth the hour wait. Its chicken was deeply golden brown and discounted ($7.50 for a heaping plate), with crust as crisp and flaky as French pastry. But I will stop torturing you with sweet words about distant fowl.You’d rather devour a tale devoted to my overeager idiocy.

I’d heard whisper of McKenzie’s Chicken in a Box, which sold whole birds for about eight bucks. I consulted Google Maps, which showed an 8-mile ride—simple, since New Orleans is flatter than day-old Diet Coke. I departed with Matt, a tour guide and iron-forged adventure-seeker.We navigated Nola’s topography, passing homes rebuilt, ruined and somewhere in the middle. It can be heartbreaking to cruise through block filled with resplendent dwellings, while the next approximates war-savaged Kosovo, the streets possessing potholes the size of golden retrievers.Then we hit the canal. Then Matt and I squabbled like a sexless old couple.

“Look, it’s not that I don’t want this chicken,” Matt said, “but there’s no way to get this chicken.” “You want the chicken.” “No, you want the chicken.” I turned Buster Keaton quiet, as I often do when perturbed. I consulted my map. My eyes brightened, like sun sneaking out from clouds. “We just have to cross that.” I pointed to a nearby bridge, the speeding drivers seemingly practicing for the Daytona 500.

“I don’t know…” Matt began. “Adventure,” I whispered. “You love adventure.”

Like a dog resigned to follow his thick-headed master, Matt followed as I weaved onto the sidewalk—no bike lane, naturally—and crested the viaduct. I glanced at the water and tracks below, earning a sweet dose of vertigo, before gravity hurtled us down the incline.We entered the whizzing traffic, avoiding swerving cars and a dead-dog obstacle. In the distance I spotted the ’60s-style signage for McKenzie’s, the faint grease scent as heady as perfume.

“We’re there!” I high-fived Matt, finding empty air. He was several blocks back, crouched at his bike. I circled back. “My scarf,” he moaned, pointing at the blue fabric ensnared in an oily chain. I tugged. He pulled. I yanked. He jerked.The scarf shot out like a bullet. “No more delays,” I said, putting his scarf in my bag as we rolled to McKenzie’s. The seat-less Southern restaurant was a vision from a time when saturated fat was known as good eatin’: fried okra, deep-fried crawfish pies, fried sweet-potato pies. Fried, fried, fried! We ordered a box of half chicken, hustled it to a stoop and bit into bliss.

The bird was fresh and peppery, with skin as crisp as Saltines. A perfect end to an imperfect adventure. “Was I right?” I asked Matt, who was busily tearing into a meaty breast. “You wouldn’t be happy unless you were right,” Matt said. “Now eat a wing and shut up."

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Gut Instinct: Flour Power

It’s a two-handed adventure: from fried-chicken sandwiches to pig-cow heroes

Sandwiches are the most fun I can have with two hands.

“In public,” my girlfriend would like me to add.

Lately, I’ve experienced a sandwich deficit. Too many sit-down dinners, liquid dinners or no dinners at all.

“Except for bags of Zapp’s chips,” my girlfriend would also like me to add.

“Quiet, you,” I muttered, eager to embark on a bread-chomping flurry. “Grab your bike, hon—it’s eatin’ time.”

“Where are we going?” my girlfriend wondered, as we left our house and pedaled to Brooklyn’s western edge.

“Shh, shh, don’t worry,” I said, in my coax-the-kid-into-the-van voice.

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m hungrier.”

“Don’t take me to another Chinese restaurant.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. We locked up at Ferdinando’s Focacceria (151 Union St. between Columbia and Hicks Sts., B’klyn, 718-855-1545), a century-old Sicilian joint situated where Carroll Gardens kisses Red Hook. Don’t expect herb-slathered chunks of pizza-like bread; instead, this earlier-era eatery specializes in arancina—breaded, deep-fried rice balls stuffed with spiced ground beef and peas—and rarities like cow-spleen vastedda sandwiches.

“You know I’m a vegetarian,” my girlfriend explained.

“Try the panelle sandwich,” singsonged the counterman. That’s a toasted semolina roll encasing fried chickpea fritters topped with creamy ricotta and pecorino ($5).

“So good,” she said, enjoying crunchy, gooey, greasy goodness.

I oozed indecisiveness: meatball or sausage hero?

“Get half and half,” suggested the newspaper-reading owner, Frank Buffa.

Compromise. How wonderful. Who knew? My hero ($9) was a marriage of spongy orbs relenting to a fennel-flavored sausage snap. I sighed with pleasure.

“That’ll put you one step closer to a heart attack,” my girlfriend reprimanded. “And how did you get sauce on your cheeks?”

I turned the color of tomatoes as we pedaled home.

Smartly, the next night I left my sweetie at home when I visited my favorite African-American motorcycle gang clubhouse, Imperial Bikers MC (652 Franklin Ave. at St. Marks Ave., B’klyn, 718-789-2451). It was a Friday night. I was shooting atrocious pool with my French pal Bati. We were wincing down 150 proof-plus rum mixed with 2 percent milk ($3).

“Do you even like this?” he asked, his right eye involuntarily spasming

“Not really,” I said, “but it makes me feel tough—or at least drunk enough to comfortably hang out at the biker bar.”

I took a deep glug and missed my shot. Bati missed his. I lined up for another shot when my nostrils flared: chicken, possibly fried. I dropped my cue and peeked around the corner. Jolly, rotund men with names like “Chaos” were chomping golden chicken.

“Is that the Crazy Chicken?” I inquired.

“Mmhmm,” a pro-wrestler-size man answered, ripping off a crispy chunk. Months before, I’d noticed a poster featuring a raw chicken encased in a straightjacket. “Call for Crazy Chicken!” the sign touted.

“Can you order me some?” I asked, like a kid begging for a Nintendo Wii.

“Sure,” he said, whipping out his cellphone. “How many sandwiches?” I turned to Bati.

“Are you sure it’s good? Or safe?”

“No and no.”


“Two,” I ordered.

Done. I acquired another OP and milk, feeling much like Superman, if Superman was one drink away from urinating himself. Thirty minutes passed.

“Cory!” screamed Crazy Chicken, toting black plastic bags. “Cory!”

I pointed at my chest.

He nodded.

“No, I’m Josh. Cory used to be my roommate.” I’m sure scads of flour-white crackers look alike, but not Cory and I: He’s far taller, with a lumberjack-quality beard. And he’s vegetarian, for Pete’s sake. I explained the mistake.

“Well, how about that,” Crazy Chicken said.

Bati and I unwrapped our fried chicken sandwiches ($4). They stretched the very definition of sandwich: two slices of Wonder Bread smooshily encasing a thigh and leg. I peeled off the soft bread and bit into the thigh. The skin was skillet-hot and crispy, the meat peppery and juicy as a ripe orange.

“You like it?” Crazy Chicken asked.

“Yesh,” I mumbled, tearing the chicken bones apart like an archaeologist searching for buried treasure.

“All right,” Crazy Chicken said, slyly sliding me his phone number. “You just call me when you want more sandwiches.”

Readers, do you fully comprehend that I possess a fried-chicken maestro’s home number? On speed-dial? The dangers shall be documented in full greasy detail.