Some of my fondest memories of growing up are rooted in visits south to see Grandma. She would be over the stove—serving up a perfect, lip-smacking, fried chicken alongside hearty helpings of gravy-smothered mashed potatoes and legendary biscuits. While nothing will ever be as good as the food Grandma makes, there are a handful of local spots that know how to treat a bird right.
Somerville’s Highland Kitchen has developed into a destination restaurant. The Monday night fried chicken special ($13.95) is the epitome of the feel-good, fill-you-up food that chef Mark Romano has made his trademark. The three pieces of deep brown, super crispy, perfectly tender chicken is a contrast not only in texture, but also in well-balanced accents (the seasoning is amazing). The chicken’s supporting cast was also of all-star caliber: fluffy garlic mashed potatoes, herbaceous country gravy, bacon-studded, smoky-sweet collards and a flaky buttermilk biscuit. [150 Highland Ave., Somerville. 617.625.1131. highlandkitchen.com]
Tucked away in a small, unassuming storefront on Dot Ave., Mrs. Jones is truly one of the city’s hidden gems. The place is run by Cheryl, who takes the orders while her husband George cooks them up. The food is as humble as the surroundings, offering plates of stick-to-your-ribs soul food based off of Cheryl and George’s family recipes from Charlotte, N.C., and Alabama respectively. The fried chicken dinner ($9.99) is a heap of giant wings enveloped in a classic Southern-fried crust peppered with seasoning and the sides of gooey, baked mac & cheese, flavor-packed collards and just-sweet-enough cornbread. At Mrs. Jones, it’s not homestyle cooking; it’s home cooking. [2255 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester. 617.696.0180]
TRINA’S STARLITE LOUNGE
The crown jewel of Trina’s accomplished munchie menu may be the nationally recognized chicken and waffle ($14). The buttermilk-soaked breast and leg quarter are pan fried and served atop a double-wide, herb-garnished, savory waffle with a side of sweet and spicy jalapeño-maple syrup. The combination of sweet/salty flavors is what has made this staple work since it was born in Sylvia’s of Harlem around a half-century ago. After mopping up every last drop of the addictive syrup, you’ll be left with a clean plate, full stomach and deep sense of satisfaction. [3 Beacon St., Inman Sq., Somerville. 617.576.0006. trinastarlitelounge.com]
THE HEN HOUSE
For those who like steaks medium rare, martinis with exactly three olives and suits cut just so, The Hen House is your kind of place. The choice of three kinds of waffles, butters, syrups and barbecue sauces provides the ultimate customized chicken and waffle experience ($7.65). Go classic with the whipped butter, honey butter, buttermilk waffle and maple syrup, or get funky with it and try the cornbread waffle with Cajun butter and barbecue maple syrup. [1033 Mass. Ave., Dorchester. 617.442.9464. thehenhouseboston.com]
Cajun fast-food joint Popeye’s sets the bar for fried chicken on the cheap ($4.95/2 pieces with side), boasting a golden brown, crispy-to-the-last-bite crust. Unlike its Kentucky cousin, this fried fowl is crunchy, not greasy, and has a good sense of moderation when it comes to salt. The accompanying mashed potato side has a texture like baby food (clearly the instant variety), although it is picked up nicely by a flavorful Cajun gravy and a solid biscuit. The only issues here are academic: Where did this bird come from and how clean is the kitchen? [21 Brookline Ave., Kenmore Sq., Boston; 710 American Legion Highway, Roslindale. popeyes.com]