Cheap Eats - Floured, fried and flat at LeRoy's Fried Chicken

The Westside joint specializes, but doesn't dazzle

The boon and the bane of any restaurant (or take-out counter) that focuses heavily on one thing is that people expect the place to do that one thing very, very well. Or if not exceptionally well, at least in a somehow remarkable way. If you're a burger stand with a limited menu, your burgers better be very good, or at least different (note FLIP Burger Boutique). Taco stand? Same thing. Fried chicken? Ditto. By declaring your genre, your forte, you invite comparisons to others that do the same, and you invite close scrutiny.

LeRoy's Fried Chicken does fried chicken. With a well-regarded chef (Julia LeRoy, formerly of the Bookhouse Pub and a little place called Seeger's) and the backing of a successful local restaurant group (the folks behind Fellini's and La Fonda Latina), the launch of this little take-out stand with a few outdoor seats back in June stoked public expectations for Atlanta's next great plate of fried chicken. The big question was whether it would do it either exceptionally well enough or remarkably different enough to distance itself from other plates of fried chicken around town.

The answer, so far at least, is no. There's nothing particularly outstanding about LeRoy's Fried Chicken. Is it good? At times, yes. Is it better than the Colonnade or Busy Bee or even, gasp, Popeyes? I don't think so. Does the fact that it uses Springer Mountain Farms chicken and do its frying in lard make it worthy of adoration? Since those facts aren't yet resulting in better fried chicken, then the answer is probably not.

The fried chicken at LeRoy's is a bit different than what you might find elsewhere, but the differences tend to be in the faults rather than the pleasures. The crust ranges from "so crisp that it's falling off" to "so thick and doughy that it's soggy," and that range can be found in a single chicken breast. Some bites are a perfect blend of crisp exterior and juicy interior, but others miss the mark by a mile. The seasoning is certainly not a point of distinction. It's a fine mild blend, nothing more, nothing less. The Springer Mountain Farms chicken LeRoy's uses is certainly a good product that might make you feel (a little bit) better about your purchase, but at the end of the day, it doesn't significantly distinguish the taste of the fried chicken.

So, if the fried chicken itself doesn't vault LeRoy's ahead of the competition, maybe the sides or specials do? Well, not so much. A chicken biscuit special with a thin piece of boneless breast meat sandwiched inside a buttery biscuit is a case of dry bland on bland, screaming out for honey or hot sauce or something to make it sing. Yes, LeRoy's does have bottles of hot sauce on the counter, but the kitchen needs to do something to make this special menu item more, well, special. Mac and cheese is fairly standard, with thick elbow macaroni and a rich cheese sauce that suffers from being a bit pasty. On the plus side, the collard greens may actually be the best thing on the menu, laden with rich smoky pork and bright flecks of red pepper that leave your tongue eager for more. And the chicken liver sandwich? It's a weird one — unique, but not quite crazy enough to be a destination dish. Chicken livers tossed with curry mayonnaise, a bit of red onion and celery sit atop leaf lettuce on a dense, pretzel-style roll. The chicken liver is indeed well-cooked and intriguingly spiced, but the combination of the rich livers, the mayo and the heavy roll sits like a brick in your stomach.

So how does LeRoy's Fried Chicken really stack up? The one thing it does, it simply doesn't do well enough or differently enough to withstand scrutiny. Give us an interesting spice, a consistently great frying technique, a side of fried skins, something remarkable. A young girl beside me commented after trying her chicken biscuit, "I don't think anyone can beat Chick-fil-A's." Unfortunately, in this instance, I think she was right.

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