If I were put on death row and given one last meal, there’d be about a half-second of thought before my answer: fried chicken. It’s so simple, yet it remains one of my favorite foods and guilty pleasures (I could probably eat Popeye’s once a week for the rest of my life). Face it, no matter how you feel about chicken (bland and boring), it’s exponentially better when it’s greased up in fat and oil. Here in Chicago, numerous places fry up a mean bird such as the ever-popular Harold’s Chicken Shack, Asian-style Crisp, and even high-end places like Table Fifty-Two. But perhaps one of the most overlooked spots is Big Jones and its Boarding House Lunch. For fried chicken lovers, there’s not a better deal around.
Available Mondays through Fridays, the Boarding House Lunch features a hearty, family-style meal of fried chicken, biscuits and cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, red beans & rice, collard greens and snickerdoodles for dessert. The best part? It’s only $16 per person but does require that the whole table participate, although there can be as few as two people. So I was thrilled when my friend suggested we drop in for lunch. I was not disappointed.
Big Jones focuses on Southern heirloom cooking using fresh, sustainable ingredients. They serve a fantastic brunch on the weekends but on this afternoon, and most others I presume, it looked like most of the restaurant was there for the Boarding House Lunch. We placed our order and proceeded to wait, and wait, and wait. Their site proclaims that it has been set up to get you in and out in under an hour but that clearly was not happening. We stared hungrily as other tables got their food before us while we only had cornbread to tide us over. When it finally arrived, it was glorious.
Each person got a piece of leg, wing, thigh and breast as well as ample portions of the sides. The chicken was cooked using Edna Lewis’s classic recipe in fresh leaf lard with butter and a ham hock, in a cast iron kettle. Golden brown, juicy and succulent, this was fried chicken nirvana. The sides were equally impressive although the collard greens went untouched because we’re gluttonous animals who have no room for greens in our meal. And when we were done, there was still plenty of food left to take home.
Now in a food-induced coma, there was still one more course left to go—dessert. Snickerdoodles were brought to the table and provided the perfect sweet ending to a rich and filling lunch. For $16 a person, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal in town. It’s Southern cooking done right and I couldn’t ask for much more. I only hope the Boarding House Lunch stays under the radar so there’s plenty of chicken left for me.