Cam'ron ft. Vado- La Bomba
Ever since I heard Cam spit his shit I knew it was title material. That time has finally arrived. I'm very proud of this moment. The fact that he's a Harlem native is purely coincidental.
Ideally, I'd be the Marco Polo of this shit. Conquistador status. Cortes really. But that is not the case. This city is just too big. And then there's Brooklyn. Ugh. Luckily many food bloggers don't carry oxygen tanks needed to venture up the hills north of 110th St. (I see you Bill Burr). So I throw on my Moncler with the Christian Dior goggles, hop in my Rossignols and slalom that bitch out. Broadway is cool, but Amsterdam gives me the best workout. And 141st? Shit. Not for the faint of heart. I've broke the sound barrier gliding down that one. Give Alexander Hamilton the nod and keep it moving.
The NY Times beat me to the punch with Charles. But I should thank them for lighting the fire to finally get my ass down there. I remember the row of Charles Southern spots in the same location but never ate there. It was an area I'd drive by en route to the FDR. No other reason. Never hit the Rucker and the Giants left the Polo Grounds more than 50 years ago so no Say Hey. Then they closed. A little less than a year later they reopened with a longer name. 7 syllables. For purposes of making things easier I'm just using Charles.
I feel like a true reviewer with this one. I've eaten here 6 times over the last 3 or so months and have been able to try the bulk of their buffet menu. So one could say I'm an expert. But this isn't about me, it's about Charles. Not true, it is about me. About me eating great food and putting on the poundage. Come summertime I'll have to walk here just to warrant the beasting. Tan and svelt in the summer. You know my steez. Speaking of which, let's pray for a safe and speedy recovery for Guru from Gang Starr. He and Premier are responsible for a large majority of my theme music from my teens to the present. A legend. Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.
Enough filibustering. Time to address the bizness. The fried chicken. Cue the singing angels. The best I've had in the 5 boroughs. Better than Momofuku, Blue Ribbon, Amy Ruth's, Redhead, etc. Georgia's Eastside BBQ poses the biggest threat, but Charles takes the cake. There's a reason that Charles has been snagged up by downtown restaurants to do what he does. Patroon in the East 40s signed him up for Fried Chicken Fridays. I know it's not an apples to apples comparison, but if I said you could get 3 pieces of chicken with 2 sides and banana pudding for $25, or all the chicken, sides and banana pudding, with a drink for $13.99, which would you choose? Reminds me of the baby bull joke. Buck, I see you. It's simple mathematics, you gotta love it...
TIME OUT. Due to the recent demands for stricter disclosure requirements by the F.T.C., it's a must that I come clean. Legs are my favorite part of the chicken, aka the polke. Easy to eat, no silverware needed and a 1 handed act. I can multitask with the leg (you know, get my twitter or bbm on). As a youngin, I loved the breast. The nice supple white breast. Now I like tan legs. Go figure. With that said, I have tried the breast, the thigh, wings, etc., but the leg is where my opinions derive from. You might say, "But wait, there is less meat on the leg, so how do I know the breast, a thicker cut of meat, will absorb the same flavors and be as moist?" Good question. Answer, "Motherfucker, because I said so." I tried the breast just so that I could retort to this nonsense. No difference. Just as delicious.
Every bite incorporates the following elements: crispy, juicy, and most importantly FLAVORFUL. Ideally, you want the chicken fresh out the frying pan, but even those pieces that have been sitting in the hotbox for 30 plus minutes are delicious. None of that first bite POW to trick the mouth into thinking there's mad flavor followed by a bland finish. From the shell to the bone (huh???) the flavors emanate. A lovely golden brown exterior, some with more skin crispies than others. Those cute old chickens with extra flab. My favorite. The Times says it's not that greasy, but I don't believe you, you need more people. Let's be serious though, greaseless fried chicken is too futuristic a concept. Grease is part of the game. I wouldn't say Charles' chicken drips that juice, but don't try to use your phone, especially the ball on your blackberry before wiping your fingers. Believe that.
As the restaurant's name says, the chicken is pan fried. In the Times' article Dave Cook provides the details of the no longer top secret 3 step process. So poetic:
"Mr. Gabriel raises the bar further by adding seasoning at three stages, first through a dry rub that works its effects for a number of hours, then via the egg wash and then in the flour dredge. He fries his birds in soybean oil, in a pan whose size befits a fried-chicken superstar."
Damn, I haven't even addressed the sides yet, or the other meat dishes. All this choking the chicken, pollo petting, fowl fucking, etc. and we're not even there yet. The sides deserve a post of their own. Let's see. The mac & cheese, black eyed peas, collard greens, okra stew with corn and tomato, sauteed cabbage, yams, white rice, green beans, and potato salad. Did you say potato salad? Why yes I did. Yoooooooo. I mean yooooo. Wow. That good. Take it easy How, one step at a time. My spud fetish is getting a bit weird.
Each time I've eaten there the mac & cheese is usually the first thing put on the plate, the kind that is sectioned off, hot lunch status. That yellow is so appealing. Yellow is though- right? I know you stare at that yellow Lambo too. Does things to my brain. And this is where I go wrong. This ish is mad filling. That's a rookie move, yet I make it each time. Cheesy, rich and firm. A little hot sauce and I'm ditty bopping up for plate 2. Next up I usually throw some greens on the plate. Not sure if smoked turkey or swine is used to enhance the dish, but a small scoop provides all the salt I need. To offset the salt the okra stew is next. The sweetness of the corn and tomato paired with the okra offers a quick respite from the heavy dishes surrounding it. The yams are usually on the second plate. Too much starch to mix it with the mac & cheese. Smooth though- close to a puree, and sweet. Might throw some black eyed peas in the mix for a little earthiness, bring that sweet down. Cause we haven't even had dessert yet.
Aw man. Potato salad with hard boiled eggs in a mustard based sauce. Delicious. Heavy but refreshing. The texture, the taste. So simple yet so palatable. This has run out several times when I've been there and I never saw a re-up, so go in early and go in heavy. Possibly the best potato salad I've eaten aside from Bunk's in Portland. PDX- what's popping?
Damn, this is a long meal. Or just a long post. I'm wondering how the fuck I even make it to dessert. Then I remember the made from scratch banana pudding, and a small area in the stomach makes room for further ingestion. Vanilla wafers and sliced banana piled atop each other in a pool of vanilla pudding. Not overbearing, just pleasantly sweet. A great finale piece.
Being that the fried chicken is the pièce de résistance, I don't deem it necessary to go in on the other meat dishes. What??? The fried chix isn't enough? Bunch of jackals. I'll humor you anyway. Baked chicken, BBQ pork ribs, fried whiting (need to have hot), and various other pork and beef dishes are available on the daily. The smothered turkey wings are pretty good too. Though it seems like a lot of work for a little food. Tell 'em Ghost, baked macaroni, turkey wings, a ni... Whoa, easy killa.
The dinner buffet will run you $13.99 ($15.16 after tax)- lunch buffet runs from noon till 4pm and costs $10.99- and that includes unlimited food, sweet tea or lemonade and banana pudding. I am a slow eater and not once have I ever felt rushed. You don't need to do AYCE, you can also choose chicken and 2 sides for around $10. There are 6 tables, most 4 seaters, some 2. From what I've seen most business is takeout. The friendly service is comprised of Charles' younger relatives, always refilling your drink and removing empty plates. Weekdays they close at 11 and weekends they can stay open till 3 am. If you're lucky you might see Charles. Be sure to have a whole chicken available for an autograph. This dude is a first ballot Fried Chicken Hall of Famer. Utensils are paper and plastic, so if you're super green, get over it. Speaking of green, the vegetarians might be able to get by with most sides. Aside from the greens, I'm not sure what else is cooked in some sort of animal product. Might be some, might be none. Believe it's none. If I'm wrong, I apologize. A little mylanta will cure that tummy ache. As I leave the podium let me finish with these words of advice. When you walk in assess the situation (no Jersey Shore). Is the chicken count low? Is the mac & cheese almost out? Chances are they will be replenishing shortly so strategize wisely.
Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken
2839-2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave) between 151st & 152nd Sts.
New York, NY 10039
Lunch Buffet Noon - 4pm
Dinner Buffet 4pm - 11pm Weekdays, At least 1am on Weekends - Call for hours
They now accept credit cards.
B, D to 155th St. & 8th Ave.
A, B, C, D to 145th & St. Nick- nice little walk (perfect for post meal)
3 to 148th St & Lenox Ave.
Below is the most recent menu from mid February.