Friday, August 6, 2010

Going For A "Child's White" At Hopocan Gardens

In my quest to cover the four major Barberton chicken houses, I have eaten at and blogged about both Milich's Village Inn and Belgrade Gardens. Both posts have been quite popular in the search engine results and I have had many new readers find my blog because of those write-ups. Recently, I had a chance to finally make it to the third major chicken house, DeVore's Hopocan Gardens. Trying to avoid long lines and crowds, I smartly went for an early supper and was rewarded with plenty of available seats.

Hopocan Gardens was located at 4396 Hopocan Avenue Ext, Norton, OH 44203 and can be reached at 330-825-9923. There was ample parking in the lot outside the restaurant. The tricky thing about finding Hopocan Gardens was knowing that the restaurant isn't visible from the corner of Hopocan and Hillsdale Avenues. The clue, as I discovered the first time I found it, was to look for this sign:

Once on Hopocan Avenue Extension, follow the road down to the parking lot and the actual restaurant. Here was a shot of the front of the building:

There were two doors in the building. I choose the one on the far left, but as it turned out, either entrance would have been acceptable. Based on the size of the parking lot, I was expecting a lot of available dining room space. While tonight's small crowd only needed the moderately sized dining room attached to the kitchen and bar area, there were additional unlit rooms to the rear of the building. I don't think I'd be stretching the truth to say that during the Friday and Saturday night dinner crunch, just like it's other brethren, Hopocan Gardens can seat a lot of people.

After seating myself in the main dining room, my server dropped off a menu:

As has been the case with the other chicken houses at which I've eaten, the menu options were quite similar, although Hopocan Gardens' menu seemed a bit simpler at only two pages. I was here, of course, for the fried chicken and while the price for a regular four piece chicken dinner wasn't too expensive, I just wasn't that hungry. Fortunately, there was a "Child's White" option available that came just with a chicken breast and three sides in the mid $6 range. Perfect!

When I asked about the sides available, I was told that of all the sides, only three were homemade: hot rice, coleslaw, and fresh-cut fries. This seems to be a common theme among all of the chicken houses. And, as it turned out, the flavors were also very similar.

My server started my meal by bringing me some bread and butter out from the kitchen:

Once again, white and seedless rye were presented. Once again, there wasn't much to be said except that the bread was fresh, but unremarkable. I began to realize that the experience of getting a Barberton fried chicken dinner was largely pretty much cookie-cutter. Where one restaurant outshone another was in the execution of the dishes. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long to find out how Hopocan Gardens fared.

Here was a shot of my chicken dinner:

Considering this was the "child's" plate, it was still an enormous amount of food. In fact, I took half home with me for a snack later on that evening. Let's work our way around the plate.

First up was the hot rice:

The first time I had hot rice, I wasn't sure if the "hot" moniker was due to the fact that the dish was served hot or if it is because the dish was supposed to be spicy. Hopocan Gardens' version satisfied both requirements. It was most similar in flavor to Belgrade Gardens' version, but this actually produced a bit of capsaicin-induced burning in my mouth. Not so much that it masked the other flavors, but it was definitely the spiciest I've had so far.

Next was the coleslaw:

The coleslaw at all three chicken houses have been made with the same vinegar, sugar, and salt ingredients, but I think my favorite so far has to go to Belgrade Gardens. While Hopocan Gardens' version wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, the version at Belgrade Gardens seemed to sing a bit better in my mouth. I think the balance between the three dressing ingredients played better on my taste buds.

While I wasn't super excited about the fresh-cut fries as a side, being that they were homemade, I gave them a shot:

The good news was that some of the fries were actually crispy and not greasy. The bad news was that the rest of them were limp and a oil laden. I've said it before and it bears repeating, if you like this kind of fry, these will definitely appeal to you. If, like me, you prefer fries that are crispy on the outside, not greasy, and fluffy on the inside, this probably won't be your cup of tea.

And finally, the star of the plate, the fried chicken breast:

The first thing that people new to Barberton chicken might notice is that the chicken breast doesn't look like a regular piece of fried chicken you would get elsewhere. To quote Hopocan Gardens' website:

"During the depression, families needed to find a way to cut the chickens to yield the most pieces without any waste. Times were hard. When the first chicken house opened, they cut the chicken this same way and passed the efficiency onto their customers in the form of low prices - an idea that is still popular 50 years later. "

While it looks like the breast might be boneless, I can assure you it isn't. I managed to cut through a small bone and after taking a bite, had to fish the small jagged piece out of my mouth so I didn't actually choke on it. It was my own fault and I should've paid a bit more attention to what I was doing.

Speaking of which, after cutting into my chicken, I took a picture of the interior meat:

Overall this was a nicely fried piece of chicken. The exterior was crispy and not oily and the meat itself was moist and well-seasoned. It was comparable to Belgrade Gardens' chicken, but the chicken I had eaten at Belgrade Gardens was actually juicier and more succulent. If Hopocan was a 9, then Belgrade was a 10. Regardless, I enjoyed the chicken very much.

Having finished all that I could eat, I boxed up the rest, walked up to the counter and paid a little over $7 (with tax) for my very filling meal. I very much enjoyed my meal today at Hopocan Gardens and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to you, especially if you are looking for a taste of this somewhat unhealthy dish and don't want a massive amount of leftovers attributed to a full-size entrée. However, if you are looking for the very best version of Barberton chicken, I still have to tip my hat in the direction of Belgrade Gardens.

DeVore's Hopocan Gardens on Urbanspoon

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