Chicken And Spice Is Really Quite Nice

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris December 19, 2020 10:20 in Dining Diary

It was a caller to the show that reminded me of Carl’s Fried Chicken at the Roosevelt Hotel a week before my birthday.  Since eating out is the norm for us here at Chez Fitzmorris, I am always at a loss for how to make the birthday special. But Carl’s Fried Chicken!!! What a great idea! I have been smitten with Carl’s Fried Chicken since it began at the The Fountain Lounge a few years ago.

Carl, for those who haven’t heard the oft-repeated story, is a longtime member of the kitchen staff at the Roosevelt. And he always made his family’s fried chicken for the staff lunch each week. His fried chicken was and is such a hit that in 2018 the hotel decided to offer it to the public for the very affordable price of $20 per person, served family style.

A large cast iron serving dish is filled with fried chicken for the table, and each person gets a biscuit, red beans and rice, and coleslaw. The chicken is greaseles, impossibly crispy, and tender inside. In other words, fried to perfection. It has a healthy spice level, offset by the honey drizzled on the biscuits. All of this adds up to a sensational version of all these items.

The first time I had Carl’s Fried Chicken I was absolutely thunderstruck by this idea. Carl has become somewhat of a local sensation, and deservedly so. We have gone a few times since that first time, and each time I have liked it less, though not enough to make me fall out of love with the idea. Still, the red beans have gotten soupier till they have become indistinguishable as beans, and the chicken has crossed over the spice threshold for me. If food is painful to eat, what’s the point? I felt that way my birthday night, and that made me sad. Maybe the COVID-related changes made a difference? 

First, the whole event has moved to the Sazerac Bar, which is definitely preferable to the Fountain Lounge. The Fountain Lounge is a nice space, but the Sazerac Bar is intimate, darker, and definitely more glamorous. I hope they keep it in this space. The Sazerac Lounge used to be part of the Sazerac restaurant, which in its day was one of the truly “it” places in town. The old vestiges of glamour remain, and it’s an eclectic twist to see fried chicken served there. 

Looking on the website to make a reservation didn’t yield much, but I’m not too good at it. I called late in the evening to the hotel and was told reservations were not needed. This seemed odd, but I wanted to believe it. When we arrived I realized how stupid that was. The wait was thirty minutes at least. We walked around the lobby a bit, and I wondered if it was my imagination that the decorations were much scaled down. After wondering that on the air I got a text to say that the Plant Gallery, who does the decorations, had to sell them on the idea at all in this crazy year. Yes, they are definitely scaled back. It is not your imagination. And yes they are still spectacular.

Even though we were told the wait was at least a half hour, it was only about twenty minutes before we were seated. There were about fifteen tables in there and all were full. What was clearly in short supply was waiters.

The chicken came out fairly quickly, but it was not something that could be devoured fast. The spice level was so daunting a proper pace was required to regroup between bites. The biscuit with honey sort of repaired the palate for another round of chicken. Even with all the sides and diversions, it was simply impossible to consume too much of that spicy chicken. Tables turned pretty fast, even with drinks flowing. We were out of there and back out into the cold in under an hour. 

I like Carl’s Fried Chicken. I still like Carl’s Fried Chicken even after the birthday excursion there. And the next time I have it, I will allow more time to savor it, imperfections and all. That’s what it deserves.