Every time I go...strike that. The few times I've been to old downtown Carrollton, the square always seems deserted. Oh, there are cars, but few people--until you walk into Babe's, where you find the entire population of North Texas.
So if, as writers at the New York Times suppose, Southern fried chicken is nothing special, just what the hell are all these folks doing here?
Good question. Times writer Julia Moskin says, flat out, that "Southern fried chicken is usually seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper. Once that fabulous crust is gone, it's hard to ignore that the big hunks of breast are often as dry and woolly as fiberglass insulation, and the moister parts have a caul of flabby skin under the crust."
In this week's toque to toque battle, therefore, we ask which fries up better insulation and more spectacular cauls of flabby skin.
Both Babe's and Williams Chicken have followings, although Babe's is more like a religious following. Yet underneath that crispy skin, the meat is rather tame in flavor. Williams, meanwhile, places such an emphasis on brining that salinity practically squirts from the chicken on each bite.
Points for flavor of the meat itself to Williams, then. As far as tenderness goes, however, Babe's manages to push even with--probably even slightly ahead of--the yellow chicken stand chain.
Now, there are as many 'right' ways to prepare fried chicken as there are to, oh, sob on the Glenn Beck show. Williams Chicken keeps a tub of seasoned flour ready to go. Cooked to a golden color, their crust sings with salt and pepper, though my sample for this comparison was also weighted with vegetable oil. Babe's, on the other hand, allows the bird to brown up considerably. The crust is clean and crisp, though gently seasoned.
So this is also kind of a wash. Williams shows a better understanding of salt and pepper--or at least a greater willingness to use the shakers. Babe's line knows how to work the fryer with considerable skill.
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Of course, the greasier feel of Williams' chicken is reason to dock several points.
Ultimately, while no restaurant in Dallas that I know of puts in the time and effort required to do a great 'grandmother's style' bird, both of these hold up well.
Well, if I was looking for reminders of buttermilk, deft brining and a touch learned over decades of cooking Sunday dinner, there would be more than a hint of disappointment in my tone. But it's really hard to be upset when you sit down to pretty good fried chicken two days in a row.
Give the win to Babe's. But don't shut out Williams...unless, of course, you prefer a darker crust and milder bird.