By Doug Deal
Macon Community News
Fried chicken is the ultimate comfort food. When it is crispy, juicy, and seasoned to perfection, this dish can please anyone except a dyed-in-the-wool vegan. Unfortunately, great bone-in fried chicken can be hard to find.
Because of the breading and deep frying, fried chicken runs a-fowl (pun intended) of many diets, because it is neither low carb, low fat, nor low calorie. For me, this is a feature.
This month, we scoured the area to find five top-notch local places to feast on deep-fried yard bird. Based mostly on reader’s recommendations, we selected Dawson’s Kitchen at Milltown Market, Buckner’s Family Restaurant, H and H Restaurant, Jeneane’s at Pinebrook, and Dab’s Cafe.
Dawson’s Kitchen’s fried chicken is a significantly-sized breast quarter that will fill anyone up. It has a thicker breading and is cooked to a higher degree of doneness than the other places we visited. This results in a drier breast, but not exceptionally so. It’s a texture that some people like, and not off-putting to those who prefer a juicier breast. I often sous vide my own chicken breasts, and therefore, I am used to a texture that resembles chicken-flavored butter. That texture is not possible when frying, and I understand the preferences that some people have in a more well-done breast.
If salt is a factor in your diet, Dawson’s breast was on the lower end and a clear leader in that regard from the other places we reviewed. I tend to prefer saltier meat, but I also love to flavor my chicken with hot sauce. Adding a bit of Texas Pete to my chicken satisfied my palate perfectly.
The sides I chose were mac and cheese and mashed potatoes. Both were serviceable and filling, and the gravy was particularly delicious. Our service was friendly, and the lines of people streaming in and out prove Dawson’s Kitchen’s appeal to regulars.
Dodge the cars coming and going in the busy parking lot, and give this place a try.
Buckner’s Family Restaurant:
The search for delicious fried chicken sent me far afield to Jackson, Georgia–exit 201 on I-75, to be exact–to Buckner’s Family Restaurant.
The family style all-you-can-eat restaurant serves its meat and sides on lazy Susans placed in the middle of large, wooden circular tables, giving everyone equal access to their delicious food in a more sanitary way than you’d get from a buffet.
Their fried chicken is made from cut pieces of bone-in breast with the skin removed and dusted with flour. It still gives a slightly crispy exterior without the heavy skin. The meat is perfectly seasoned to the bone, and you’ll have to force yourself not to keep taking another piece.
Options of other items change daily, but I enjoyed the buttery lima beans, sweet creamed corn, finely chopped sweet cole slaw, peeled tomatoes, homestyle green beans, and peach cobbler for dessert.
The trip is not too far from Macon, and the Sunday family meal feeling is well worth the price of gas and the drive time.
H & H:
H&H Restaurant was a frequently recommended spot with our online readership. It is a place with a lot of history that longtime residents instantly recognize. They served up a mix of white and dark meat, two sides, and banana pudding.
The chicken was moist and moderately seasoned with a dark brown skin that was lightly breaded. It wasn’t crunchy but almost felt velvety. Very good, but maybe not the best. Still delicious and worth trying.
Their mac n cheese had an excellent homemade quality to it, with that universally-craved baked cheesy top.
The mashed potatoes were food service mix, but they were really high quality and the finished product almost fooled me into thinking they used whole potatoes. They resembled what good home cooks would make in their own kitchens.
Finally, the banana pudding was some of the best that I’ve had in a while. The cookies were so well incorporated into it, it was hard to tell a difference in the texture. This texture is precisely what I dream about and long for in banana pudding. The price was a little high with a la carte pricing on sides, but the chicken itself was reasonable at $5.50 for two pieces.
Jeneane’s at Pinebrook:
Next, I was off to Jeneane’s at Pinebrook. The skin had a slightly heavier level of breading than H&H, a lighter brown color, and a nearly identical level of seasoning and flavor. H&H may have had a slightly better texture, but Jeneane’s was a bit moister and was also a bit less expensive.
Jeneane’s had in-house mashed potatoes, and their mustard-based potato salad was top-shelf and good to the last bite. The mac n cheese did not have that sought-after browned top layer, but it still was excellent.
I am not judging on the banana pudding, but Jeneane’s has a bit of meringue on top of theirs, and there appears to be less of a pudding soak on the cookies, as they are less creamy and more like a soft cookie.
Since the whole family joined me, we also a couple of other dishes, but we won’t cover them here.
Dab’s Cafe is hidden away at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. Near the gate is a small food court with one restaurant that makes arguably the best fried chicken in Macon. It is not a well-kept secret among people who work around the airport, but most others are surprised to learn that there is even a restaurant there in the first place, much less one with such delicious comfort food.
Dab’s chicken is well seasoned and flavorful in every bite. The meat is always juicy, and the skin is brown and crispy with no trace of over-cooking. Mac n cheese is also on the menu and is the perfect accompaniment to fried chicken no matter where you go. The best side, however, is either their cobbler or banana pudding. As I mentioned above, I am not scoring on deserts, but if you go, be sure to get one.
To be frank, all of these places make a delicious chicken and ranking them is more about your own preferences than the quality. For me, Buckner’s was the surprise winner, and that was based on the interesting skinless breaded breasts. Since my visit, I have been experimenting with cooking skinless fried chicken at home, and I have been delighted with the results. Second place, for me, was a close one between Dab’s and Jeneane’s, but due to the greater consistency of Jeneane’s, they get the nod for second, and Dab’s takes third. H&H has the unfortunate luck of going up against such tough competition and places fourth, but could very easily be first with a different judge. Last was Dawson’s Kitchen because it did not represent my own personal style of chicken, but it is a noteworthy, and less-salty, variety.
Each of these restaurants has their own die-hard fans who fondly shared with us their affection for the different recipes and cooking methods used. If there is a restaurant whose fried chicken you haven’t tried, it’s worth visiting each of these locally-owned dining spots to give their recipe a try.