January 21, 2010 | Short Order

Aretsky's Patroon Takes a Flier on Fried Chicken Craze 

Charles Gabriel serves just-fried chicken at his $15 buffet.  Photo Steven Richter.

        There is no denying it, fried chicken is having its moment. The Times said so. New York declared it. Then Ken Aretsky, proprietor of the upscale meat-centric Aretsky's Patroon, was denied a table at Locanda Verde on a Monday because of a full house for fried chicken night.  “An Italian restaurant is doing fried chicken,” he thought. “That’s something.” Next he read that Le Cirque was giving away fried chicken in the lounge to Yankee fans watching the World Series in the bar-lounge. Fried chicken at Le Cirque!

        “Do you do fried chicken?” he asked his chef Bill Peet.

        “I’m from Lutèce.  What do I know about fried chicken?” Peet responded.

Photo by Carmen Gonzalez

      That’s how it happens that Harlem’s legendary fried chicken master, Charles Gabriel, will drag his giant iron skillets down to 160 East 46th Street tomorrow (Friday January 21) and from now on for the first of Patroon’s Fried Chicken and Jazz Fridays.  For $25 (the price of a Patroon burger) fry fans will get chicken and a choice of two sides – corn, okra, collard greens, candied yams, or mac’n’cheese plus banana pudding for dessert and a piano/bass duo playing jazz. 

        Aretsky says he’s been a fan of Gabriel at Charles Southern Kitchen till it was wrecked by an errant auto and he’s enjoyed the chef’s cooking at Rack & Soul on West 109th Street. He always loved his fried chicken.  “He’s the best,” Aretsky says.

        I needed to know more. Four of us met Tuesday at Country Pan-Fried Chicken, two doors down from the old stand, to taste the house’s $15 all-you-can-eat buffet.  That’s less than a shrimp cocktail at Patroon. We actually called ahead to reserve.  Two other tables were occupied in the tiny storefront – one guy, getting a third fill-up, arranged his plate like a regular. Gabriel’s granddaughter served the carryout customers while we helped ourselves to barbecue ribs and wings, waiting for a fresh delivery of fried bird, best eaten hot.  I took a heaping tablespoon of potato salad, some collards and a mess of mac’n’cheese, rather like my mom’s, sticking to the sides of a sheet pan – I scraped away for all the crisp edges.

        Then he shouldered in, a big man in white lugging a big covered sheet pan, and set it on the edge of the buffet.  Hot chicken. He acknowledged with a laugh that he was indeed the famous fried chicken master Charles Gabriel.

        Which is a thigh? I asked him, not wanting to waste my mouth or a calorie on white meat. 

        He pointed out the thighs and drum sticks piled on the right.

        I took a big fat thigh and threw some more macaroni on a fresh styrofoam plate since moderation was no longer an option. For my first bite, I took the crunchy part that goes over the fence last.  I can’t really say that this is the best fried chicken in New York. I’d have to spend weeks exploring rivals and pretenders. I only know it was tender, juicy, crunchy and delicately greasy – sublime.

        “I think I’ll skip dessert,” I said. Marcia and Steven agreed.  No dessert.

        “I want to taste the banana pudding,” said Myron.  He brought a small paper cupful and four spoons.  We all tasted. Ummmm. Really good. And tasted again. Yes. Wow. He went back for more. At that moment Gabriel came in again with another sheet pan.  Hot from the oven, fried pork chops. Everyone looked at me.  “Don’t you have taste one?”  Myron asked.

        “Next time, if I’m still breathing when I wake up tomorrow,” I promised.

        By the way, the service car Gabriel called to take us home charged $20 for two stops, one on either side of the park.  That was a deal too.

        Country Pan-Fried Chicken, 2839 Frederick Douglas Boulevard (8th Ave.) between 151st and 152nd St. 212 281 1800. 

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