Sunday, August 30, 2009

Belgrade Gardens and the Infamous Barberton Chicken

I think what surprised me the most when I wrote my blog entry on Milich's Village Inn was how many people eventually found a link to the article through the myriad of search engines out there (Google's being the top, by far). Of course, my faithful readers took a gander when it first came out, but the entry just seemed to take a life of its own on after that. To this day I still get a fair number of first-time readers coming from the Internet every now and again who happen to find my website through the results of a web search.

Having eaten at two of the four major Barberton Chicken restaurants now, I decided it was time to add a third one to the list, Belgrade Gardens. Situated at 401 East State Street, Barberton, Ohio 44203, they can also be reached via telephone at 330-745-0113. There is no website currently, although there is a lot of information available on the web if one just does a simple search. The first thing you notice after seeing the sign for the restaurant

was the MASSIVENESS of the parking lot. Doing a quick bit of estimating, I figured that the parking lot could easily hold 200+ cars. If you figure two to three people per car on average, that means that during a really busy night, you could be feeding 500-600 people at any given time. While Milich's Village Inn will serve quite a few at once, this is monstrous compared to that. Fortunately, I decided to go earlier in the evening to avoid the crowds. I was rewarded with a much emptier restaurant.

Here was a shot of the front of the building as you walk across the parking lot towards the front of the restaurant:

After being seated, I started looking through the menu. Left panel:

Middle panel:

Right panel:

Besides the usual suspects (i.e. chicken), the left panel of the menu also contained a list of daily specials:

But, seeing as I was here for the chicken, I mostly focused on the middle panel which talked about all of the chicken options:

It was at that point my server came over and introduced herself. I explained that while I have been to several of the Barberton Chicken restaurants, I had never been to Belgrade Gardens before. Excited, she said that she would let me look over the menu and would return with my glass of water and a complimentary order of the dumplings that are offered on the appetizer menu. After she left I started looking around my table. The table was actually set simply, but the colorful flowers (not real) added a nice little bit of freshness:

Unfortunately the table also had one of those cardboard advertisements for fried mozzarella sticks:

I guess I understand that in today's restaurant climate you have to appeal to the broadest spectrum of clientèle possible, but honestly this belonged nowhere near a restaurant like the Belgrade Gardens. I suppose in it's hay day, they didn't have to pander to the lowest common denominator, but times are different now. I put the sign back just as my server returned.

First up, a shot of the bread basket. This was similar to what I had received at Milich's,

with the exception that at Belgrade's, they use a local purveyor for their butter, Sumner's:

This impressed me. Not only because it was butter and not margarine, but also because they had chosen to support another local business. Plus, on top of everything else, I like Sumner's dairy products. The bread itself was a mixture of rye and seeded Italian. As with Milich's, the best you could hope for was that the bread wasn't stale; it wasn't.

After she set the bread basket and my water glass down, a dish of the dumplings appeared before me:

The best way to describe this dish is to think of large dumplings that had been poached in a chicken paprikash type base. The red slick on top of the liquid was from the paprika used to help color and flavor the dish. I cut the dumplings into bite-sized pieces and served myself up a little bit:

This was really very good. It was definitely a unique Hungarian flavor and the dumplings for the most part were tender and well cooked. A few of the larger dumplings still had just a touch of rawness to their very centers, but those were few and far between. The stewed dumplings came with a variety of well cooked vegetables on top from onions, celery, carrots and cabbage. After eating about half of my dumplings I decided to stop because I still had an entire dinner coming out, including a side of cole slaw:

When I first tried to get a bit of cole slaw on the fork, I realized that in order to get the neat and molded shape, they must have packed the cole slaw into a timbale before turning it over onto the serving dish. This meant that you actually got quite a bit more cole slaw than you first realized. Which is good because although it was a simple blend of shredded cabbage and carrots, the dressing was nicely balanced between sour, sweet, and salty. And while a nice flavor contrast like crushed caraway seeds or celery seeds would've made this even more tasty and unique, I was quite happy with what came out of the kitchen.

Finally after about another fifteen minutes or so, the rest of my dinner came out:

I ordered the "regular" chicken dinner which includes four pieces of fried chicken, and for my two sides I got the hot sauce and the whipped potatoes with gravy. Above is the chicken and the hot sauce. Below is the whipped potatoes and gravy:

Both the whipped potatoes and the gravy were seasoned well. And as you can see in the photo above, there are even specks of potato skin in the serving I received. However, once I put a bit into my mouth, I was surprised because it was really smooth. Too smooth. I confirmed my suspicions later when I was paying for my meal: these were instant potatoes. Food manufacturers are getting pretty crafty nowadays. Had the potato skin specks not been visible, I would've immediately thought these were instant. But, the palate never lies. I did confirm that everything else I had ordered was made from scratch though.

This was probably the best version of hot sauce I have had so far. A tomato and rice-based dish, this is kind of like eating stewed tomatoes with rice. This also had some cabbage and other root vegetables thrown in as well. It was barely spicy at all, which is fairly consistent with all of the other hot sauces I've tried in my travels. Even with the admission that Belgrade's version was the best I had tried so far, this still isn't something that I would ever really crave.

All that being said, when I finally got around to trying the chicken at the Belgrade Gardens, I discovered that it was OUTSTANDING:

I started with the lowly chicken wing (of which I am a huge fan). The coating was nice and crispy and the meat was hot and juicy. Between the way the crust looked and tasted, you could tell it had been fried in 100% lard. Which, to be honest, is a strange taste to me after having eaten food only fried in vegetable shortening/oil for the last thirty years of my life. After finishing the wing and drummette, I moved on to the rather odd looking breast. Getting a wing to come out juicy and tender is one thing, but the breast, too?

This is a cross section of the breast meat after I cut a portion. The wetness is 100% from the internal juiciness of the chicken. The crust on the outside was crisp and flavorful. The meat was perfectly seasoned all the way through. If I was a betting man, I would say that this chicken is brined before being fried. I was so surprised at how wonderful this chicken was after having such a mediocre experience at Milich's. When I asked my server about this, she admitted that while Belgrade wasn't necessarily the cheapest place to get Barberton Chicken, in her opinion it was definitely the best. Clearly I can see the self-serving bias in her statement, but honestly, I have to agree with her.

I packed up the remnants of my meal (which incidentally enough was plenty for another entire meal), headed back across the parking lot and got into my car completely stuffed and with a newfound respect for the Barberton Chicken "brand". While I still have high hopes for the fourth and final, restaurant, Hopocan Gardens, even if that one turns out to be a total dud, Belgrade Gardens will happily occupy a spot on my favorites list for the foreseeable future. I highly suggest you give them a try.

Belgrade Gardens on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I love this place. Always good food :)

Ray johnson said...

Miss this place since I moved to sc

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