“I f I have to eat another piece of fried chicken, I might go insane,” said my dining companion as she sipped a cup of soothing digestive tea. I told her she better get used to it; southern-fried cooking, in its greasy, queasy glory, is all the rage. To experience the madness firsthand, grab a table at the unassuming, even poky little East Village gastropub The Redhead, where former New Orleans chef Meg Grace has concocted a recession-friendly menu filled with all sorts of artery-clogging, pseudo-southern treats. These include salty, compulsively edible chunks of bacon-laced peanut brittle and puffy housemade pretzels (dunked in deliciously viscous “Kentucky Beer Cheese”) to go with your bottle of beer at the bar, and mountains of properly sloppy Low Country shrimp and grits. The main attraction, though, is the Redhead’s fried chicken, which Grace brines in salt and brown sugar; coats in buttermilk; tosses in flour and cayenne; and deep fries to golden-brown perfection.
Whenever I’m in the mood for a rib-sticking feast in the West Village, I pull up to the small zinc-colored bar at Gabriel Stulman’s new bistro, Joseph Leonard, and call for a platter of the beautifully cooked Anson Mills grits (laced with melted Cheddar, fresh shrimp, and crinkly wheels of andouille), followed by the giant crispy-fried pork hock, which the kitchen flash-fries to a light, golden crunchiness and serves with frizzled capers for an affordable $24. For southern-fried goodness in slightly more salubrious surroundings, the choice is Tipsy Parson, in Chelsea, where the menu includes deliciously unhealthy bar foods like fried pickles served with buttermilk dip and crunchy, curiously smooth fried chicken livers set on wedges of toast. But the dishes I like best are the down-home desserts, like the minty grasshopper pie, and a rendition of the Tipsy Parson itself, a brandy-soaked almond cake with brandied fruit and vanilla custard.
When my fatso southern friends feel nostalgic for the truly grisly foods of their youth, they journey across the East River to The Brooklyn Star, in Williamsburg, where you can get a decent helping of crispy pigs’ tails to go with your stack of crunchy fried green tomatoes, and the excellent $15 country-fried steak is nicely tenderized and served with scoops of mashed potatoes soaked in a drippings-rich, industrial-strength milk gravy. But for the ultimate in faddish, southern-fried largesse, I like to gather a bunch of hefty, iron-stomached feeders and crowd into one of the spare wooden tables at David Chang’s constantly evolving flagship restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar. The secret to his much-hyped fried-chicken dinner is the Old Bay seasoning, which Chang’s lieutenant, Kevin Pemoulie, mixes into the crunchy, miraculously ungreasy coating. But the real key to this infectiously enjoyable, gut-busting meal are the Asian-themed trimmings (stacks of mu shu pancakes for wrapping, fresh Bibb lettuce, radishes, and shiso for stuffing, bowls of hoisin, bibim, and ginger-and-scallion sauce for dipping), which combine the communal charms of a church picnic with the elevated of pleasures of Peking duck.