Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Discovering City Chicken At Fred's Diner

I have written about my ongoing conversation with my online friend TheFoodTutor from eGullet in the past, but today serendipity would be in full force as I descended upon another Akron favorite, Fred's Diner. In a sort of odd twist, I remember seeing Fred's Diner well before knowing it was such a well-respected dining establishment. In fact, I honestly thought the place was closed down. When I read a blurb recently in the Akron Beacon Journal that not only was it not closed, but that it was a valued Akron culinary treasure and quite still open, I was compelled to give it a try.

Fred's Diner is located at 930 Home Avenue, Akron, OH 44310 and can be reached at 330-535-3733. They are open seven days a week from 6 AM until 3 PM. They must have only taken cash before, because a sign out in front of the restaurant today indicated that they now take VISA and Mastercard. Parking was in front and on the side of the building as well as across the street in a dirt lot.

Here was a shot of the sign visible from the road:

Short, sweet, and to the point, no? From the front of the building, if it weren't for the fact that there were a ton of cars parked out front, you might understand why I thought the place might not even be in business anymore. It has that kind of "locked down" look to it:

I got here today at 1:30 PM for a late lunch thinking I would be avoiding the crowds. While it wasn't all that crowded when I arrived, when I left around 2:10 PM or so, there were actually more people in the restaurant than when I got there. The inside was quite cozy with seating for about 25-30 people. Ten of those are barstools where you can sit right up at the counter and watch all of the machinations in the kitchen. From my barstool, I snapped this photo of the board listing the daily specials:

When I asked what today's special was, my server promptly informed me that it was City Chicken. Not sure if I had heard her correctly, I asked her to repeat it once again. I then chuckled as I realized that the last food conversation that TheFoodTutor and I had on eGullet was over City Chicken! Even though we are roughly the same age and both from Akron originally, she had grown up eating this Ohio/Pennsylvania delicacy. I, on the other hand, had never even heard of it. While I had perused Fred's on-line menu before coming to lunch today and had been prepared to order one of their sandwiches, after hearing the daily special, I knew exactly what I would be ordering for my lunch today.

With my lunch came my choice of potato and side. I went for the French fries and the homemade chicken dumpling soup, a dish about which I had read so many positive things. After placing my order, my cup of soup promptly came out:

This was a nice cup of chicken soup. It was seasoned well and had a nice chicken depth of flavor. The dumplings were good, but I suspect that they had been held at the proper temperature for some time because some of the dumplings had started to dissolve into the soup. Nevertheless, this was an excellent cup of soup and something I would definitely order again.

After what seemed to be only a few minutes, my lunch arrived on a large plate:

From noon moving clockwise we have a mixed vegetable medley, the City Chicken, the French fries, and a roll with butter. The only thing I really didn't care for on this plate was the mixed vegetable medley. It was the same horrible one from my childhood that consisted of carrots, corn, green beans, and lima beans. I tried it just to be sure and wouldn't 'ya know it, it had the same gag inducing flavor as I remembered from when my mother used to force us to eat it. The roll was fresh and was served with Sumner butter pats (another local Akron product). The French fries were nice and crispy and seasoned well, although these were clearly fried from frozen.

Now let's talk about the City Chicken. In this case, it turned out to be rather large pieces of pork tenderloin that had been skewered and then coated with a seasoned bread crumb mix, deep fried to help set the outside crust and then finished off in a slower oven. Here was a shot of just the City Chicken:

The pork was seasoned well and was tender on the inside with the crispy coating acting as a nice contrast to the juicy interior. After cutting one of these cubes in half, I attempted to capture how juicy they really were:

There was no sauce served with this, and to be honest, with how moist they were, no sauce was really required. After talking a bit with my server, I learned that there are actually quite a few "recipes" for City Chicken, but they basically all have the same format:

* Cubed meat: pork, beef, or veal (almost never chicken, although some people I've talked to insist that it can ONLY be pork)
* Skewered
* Coated in either seasoned or unseasoned bread crumbs or flour
* Drizzled in butter
* Baked or Pan-Seared and then baked

The waitresses behind the counter were speculating as to why it was called City Chicken, but based on the Wikipedia article I linked to earlier, I think that this was popular in urban areas because chicken was both uncommon and expensive. Thus, using a different meat that would be equally as tender became a common occurrence instead.

It turns out that after I finished up my meal at Fred's and starting doing some investigative work by polling friends and relatives who might remember eating this delicacy, many people remember eating this growing up, although few of them actually eat it now. What surprised me the most was that it was almost universally loved by those I asked about it. Well, except for my mother. As it turns out, the reason I had never heard of City Chicken growing up was that my mother absolutely hated the dish and never made it for us when we were children. Which it too bad, because from my sampling today, Fred's version was quite tasty. Having nothing to compare it to from my past, I can definitely recommend it even if I have never had any other versions.

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at Fred's Diner today and definitely plan to return again soon. I suggest if you are up for a more authentic diner experience, give Fred's Diner a try. I'd advise you to go during non-peak hours, but given that the house was almost full when I left just after 2 PM, I'm not exactly sure when that would be.

Fred's Diner on Urbanspoon  Freds on Restaurantica


DianeS said...

Funny, I love those mixed veggies, the frozen ones though not the canned.

My Mom occasionally made city chicken when we were growing up. She always used veal and that is how I think of city chicken. To me, pork doesn't make it.

Tino said...

@DianeS: You got it. All my mixed vegetable medley will herein, and forevermore, belong to you. Enjoy. :P

I definitely got some strong opinions on what constitutes a proper protein for city chicken.

Anonymous said...

Great restaurant, but what I really love there is their breakfast. Their Corned Beef Hash is divine and their toast is great.

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