The fad for fried chicken may not be as torrid as it was a year or two ago, but when done well, it is still one of the world’s great dishes. When done well, fried chicken is crispy, moist and so flavorful that, I can hardly resist, ok, can’t resist licking my fingers. That said, I don’t lick my fingers for just any fried chicken. There are only a few places where the fried chicken has been that good for me, including Roberta’s in Brooklyn, Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans and Hattie’s Chicken Shack in my backyard of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. An offshoot of the venerable Hattie’s in Saratoga, the Chicken Shack focuses on that particular specialty as well as a few additional items. This summer, I have found myself craving it and have been by the restaurant to satisfy that craving on too many occasions.One day my son and I were getting our fix when I spotted Hattie’s chef, Jasper Alexander, who was kind enough to invite us to visit for a closer look at what they do. I eagerly accepted and my son and I visited again with my camera another time shortly before they opened for the day.
Fried chicken is certainly the main attraction at Hattie’s Chicken Shack and understandably so. Chef Alexander and Hattie’s Restaurant are justifiably proud of their chicken. One of the finest examples of fried chicken I have ever had, Alexander beat Chef Bobby Flay’s fried chicken in one of Flay’s famous tv “Throw Downs” that was held a few years ago at The Saratoga Race Course. Already well known for their chicken and other Louisiana based dishes, Hattie’s opened the Chicken Shack in a small strip mall in nearby Wilton to focus on the chicken and a few other favorites.. Clean and smartly decorated, the restaurant is a model of efficiency in the pursuit of quality. With a frying station that is clean and easy to maintain without the need for hauling buckets of used oil, it is also a relatively safe place to work. Using high quality vegetable oils, the grease is filtered several times a day, keeping it suitable for quality frying.As great as their frying is, not everything at Hatties Chicken Shack is fried. The grilled chicken sandwich is as good a chicken sandwich as I’ve had in the Capitol District with few better anywhere. It is marinated in a proprietary blend of spices and grilled to order. Full of flavor and juicy, it makes for a fine alternative for someone just not that interested in fried food. Hattie’s Chicken Shack will never be confused with a vegan restaurant, but there are a few salads available, both as a main course and as side dishes. Their Hattie’s Style Cole Slaw, though not likely to garner an American Heart Association endorsement, is certainly tasty, both on its own, as well as in a sandwich. The fried chicken sandwich with two boneless thighs and the Hattie’s Style cole slaw represents pure decadence in a bun. While it is a paean to excess, it is glorious excess, full of textural and taste pleasure. I can’t eat these too often, but every once in a while it makes a special treat.
Hattie Gray came to Saratoga from Louisiana in the first half of the 20th Century and opened Hattie’s in 1938, never forgetting her Louisiana roots. The tradition continues at The Chicken Shack with more than just fried chicken. The restaurant serves an alternating menu of po’ boys including the tasty shrimp po’ boy shown above. “New Orleans Style” refers to lettuce, tomato and a proprietary sauce called “Jasper’s Bayou Blend,” a version of remoulade that works quite nicely on these sandwiches. Cucumber salad, sweet potato fries and hush puppies round out the savory treats originating in the south.Though The Chicken Shack can’t be considered a bastion of locavorism, a lot of their product is local, most notably the potatoes used for their fries. They are from nearby Sheldon Farms in Salem, N.Y. Always cut that day in the restaurant, they are never frozen and always fried twice at different temperatures.
As tempting as everything on the menu is, the fried chicken, to me, remains the main attraction. In the video above, Chef Alexander takes us through the process of making the chicken. It is always served piping hot, crisp and juicy, just the way good fried chicken should be served.If one still has an appetite, The Chicken Shack makes fresh to order beignets to rival those from the New Orleans staple, Cafe du Monde.
Here’s a slide show of my photos from Hattie’s Chicken Shack: