Chickens soared Saturday night at the W Hotel South Beach, where the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's ode to fried birds and champagne began anew.
But first a side note: Very early on, much of the crowd gathered around famed chef Daniel Boulud as he fed his fried chicken thighs with spicy honey, pomme purée, and fried green tomato to portrait painter and photographer Chuck Close. The now-75-year-old artist had a stroke in 1988 and has since been confined to a wheelchair. But that didn't stop him from making a mad dash through more than a dozen iterations of fried chicken and disappearing as the crowd began to thicken.
The fatty dark thigh of the bird appropriately reigned supreme throughout the night. Local favorite Lindsay Autry was dishing them out over a Florida vegetable chow chow comprising mostly crisp winter vegetables. The pickled relish provided the ideal contrast for the rich bird.
It was the same contrast that Boulud's fried green tomato offered. You could also find it at Leon's Oyster Shop's stand. The Charleston restaurant wasn't stingy, dishing out whole chicken thighs and drumsticks encased in a brittle crust that smacked of salt-and-vinegar potato chips. Under the bird rested a tangy black-eyed pea salad.
Such are the dishes you want to fill up on at a gluttonous extravaganza. Of course there were sandwiches aplenty, but too much bread will sideline you in a half-hour. Still, the Korean fried chicken sandwiches using soft, house-made sesame seed buns with spicy-and-sweet slaw and pickles, covered with crushed peanuts, were worth it.
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So too was Shake Shack's Chick'n Shack and New York favorites Pies 'n Thighs. The latter served teensy chicken bites on honeyed biscuits as well as mac 'n' cheese that tasted like what you'd make at home — the refined kind where you make your own roux, spike it with whole milk, then melt in slices of Velveeta.
Fried chicken even made its way into dessert. Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner in Raleigh scattered crisp bits of chicken skin across a salted-caramel-covered churro.
If you were too swollen on chicken fat to take that final plunge, the Dutch's Josh Gripper was on hand with a refreshing sour apple sundae topped with mint chantilly and salted caramel sauce, all cloaking cubes of brown sugar cake. It served best as an intermezzo, clearing and readying the palate for the next wave.