Dirtiest Bird

A blind fried chicken taste test

In the eighties, my birthday parties were catered exclusively by Popeye's. Although my mother—a cookbook author—was available in the kitchen, it was clear to me that fried chicken simply couldn't be done better.

Those days are long gone. If you know better and normally eat better, it's hard to enjoy fast food. More and more, Manhattan types get their fat fixes in "authentic" forms, made fresh with superior ingredients. The fact that it costs a lot more and is not all that fast seems to help alleviate the grease guilt.

Enter Dirty Bird To Go. Former chefs at Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar (and current spouses), Alison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing opened this small takeout spot featuring rotisserie and fried chicken a week ago. Already, the web is teeming with amateur critiques and a line of young moms and giddy couples is stretching out the door.

How will the chickens stack up?
photo: Nina Lalli
How will the chickens stack up?

As Dirty Bird puts it, their recipes "offer an exciting alternative to conventional fast food to satisfy families and foodies alike." Since they define their chicken in contrast to conventional fast food, I decided to do a blind taste test with a couple of hungry young men—Dirty Bird versus the real dirty birds.

Dirty Bird To Go
204 West 14th street
212.620.4836
Total Wait Time: 24 minutes
Purchase: 4 pieces, shallot cornbread, mac n' cheese. $16.25

Despite honest efforts, the blind aspect of this test was short lived. Dirty Bird looked totally different than the other contestants, with a light-colored, intensely thick crunchy layer (thanks to double-dipping). The outer shell is so thick, in fact, that it's not always clear what part of the chicken you are shoving into your face. Dirty Bird is meant to travel, which is always risky with fried food. They get points in this area—the chicken was by far the crunchiest, and it had suffered the longest travel time. The chicken itself was moist and had the best taste (not surprising, since it's free-range), but all the tasters found it markedly lacking in seasoning. Of course this was underscored by the fact that we were sampling it next to some very salty alternatives, but regardless, it seems the Dirty Bird could use an extra sprinkle.

KFC
1286 Broadway
212.630.0315
Total Wait Time: 15 minutes
Purchase: 3 pieces, biscuit. $5.95

KFC is easily picked out in a crowd because of its dark color (the colonel's eleven herbs and spices). The taste is distinct as well—no herb or spice is particularly distinguishable, but the combination has been unique and consistent for decades. This was the greasiest, least crispy bird we ate—you could say it was the dirtiest of all.

Popeye's
221 W 34th St
212.947.2993
Total Wait Time: 5 minutes
Purchase: 5 pieces (no choices), 2 biscuits. $6.47

I have no shame: I couldn't stop eating this trashy, delicious chicken. The flesh is shiny with fat, the fried shell puffy and golden brown. Perhaps, as one taster suggested, there is some sort of addictive chemical incorporated into the batter. Maybe it's just the salt and the childhood memories.

 
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