It is impossible to miss Rudy's Chicken as you drive down Lancaster Avenue through southern Dallas. The overwhelming aroma of chicken and grease will hit you long before you see the peeling red and orange paint that marks the storefront. The string of ruby brake lights are a beacon, guiding you, oh so slowly, to a single drive-thru window where white paper bags turned translucent with oil mark what for some has been an hour-plus wait.
The tired, old chicken-shack has been getting a lot of attention as of late. Their Facebook page has nearly 40,000 followers, and City Council member Dwaine Caraway has been touting the fried bird at numerous council meetings.
Caraway said the drive-thru line was so long during the lunch and dinner rush, a bottleneck formed along Lancaster Avenue. Rudy's had become a quality of life issue for residents, and Caraway was ready to heed their call (and ostensibly grab some more fried chicken). The chicken shack also stands in the way of a $3.4 million redevelopment project.
Last week, The Dallas Morning News reported that the council agreed to provide an $890,000 grant to Rudolph Edwards, who owns and operates the takeout restaurant. The money will be used to build a brand new Rudy's Chicken with a double drive-thru, which could alleviate Lancaster Avenue's traffic woes, and according to Caraway, "will continue to serve the people this remarkable, secret recipe chicken."
I recently made the trek out to try to figure out what makes this chicken so remarkable. I stood in line to the walk up window, waited about 10 minutes for my turn (this was 2 p.m., after the lunch rush) and proceeded to order a breast and two thighs. I forked over $4.75 and waited out front for a few minutes before I was handed my own grease-stained, paper bag.
For comparison I stopped by Williams Fried Chicken on Corinth Street and placed the same order. And then because I have absolutely no regard for my personal well-being I stopped by the Chicken House in East Dallas for a little more, you know, research.
Back on my couch, I tore open the bag from Williams. Instantly, the smell evoked a childhood memory of the KFC my father used to serve at football tailgates. Williams chicken smelled awful -- like spent frying oil and cheap fast food. The crust was crisp and the chicken was juicy, but it was also unnaturally soft and rubbery.
The meat from Chicken House was the exact opposite. Dry and tough, it wasn't much more pleasurable, but the crust was crunchy, not too oily and full of flavor.
Rudy's was clearly the leader, even before I took a bite. When I tore open the bag, which was now stained red with grease and chili powder, the brash scent of pickled jalapeño filled the air. This chicken was greasy. Too greasy. So greasy, the bed of fries it sat on was reduced to a soft, pulpy mess of potatoes. Two slices of white bread were also inundated with oil, and my heart quivered as I took my first bite.
Was it good? Maybe. I wanted to talk to Caraway to find out why it was so special.
If you question the council member's chicken qualifications he's quick to answer. "I'm the chicken king of the United States of America," he said. "In fact my mother said I'm going to be laying eggs when I die, because I love chicken."
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So why is Rudy's so good?
"They have a secret recipe, " Caraway told me. "Some people call it crack chicken, because we don't know." He also pointed out that you get a lot for your money. My order came with a mass of french fries, pickles and two slices of bread. "You get the whole meal when you go to Rudy's," Caraway said.
You also get a Dead Sea's worth of sodium, which I think is the reason behind most of the appeal. Rudy's chicken is so salty I puckered when I took a bite. After the chicken emerges from the fryer, while it's still sizzling and as absorbent as a sponge, the cooks hit it hard with salt and chili powder. Salty, spicy, juicy, fatty -- Rudy's chicken is the kind of food that makes your synapses and neurons go haywire. You know it's terrible for you but you keep on munching, wiping the grease from your chin (or not) as you go.
It's hard to argue with a line so long it restricts traffic patterns and causes the need for City Council's intervention. But as far as fried chicken goes, Rudy's is not all it's clucked up to be.