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On the Wing

by B.A. Nilsson on October 11, 2012

The Flying Chicken, 122 4th St., Troy, 326-3546. Serving 11:30-9:30 Sun-Wed, 11:30-midnight Thu, 11:30 AM-4 AM Fri-Sat. D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Southern fried

Entrée price range: $5 (biscuits and gravy) to $7.50 (fried chicken dinner)

Ambiance: fast food with artwork

One of the most horrifying culinary abominations is the mucilaginous mess called biscuits and sausage gravy. My West Virginia-born mom never prepared this dish, and I didn’t encounter it until I’d transplanted to a rural part of the area 20-some years ago and was served it at a church supper. I picked over it politely, anticipating the arrival of the main dish, until a tablemate informed me that this was it. It seemed like a cruel joke.

The payoff to this confession should be that I tried the biscuits and gravy at the Flying Chicken (it’s $5) and found it ambrosial, and I was almost prepared to do so in the interest of full-immersion journalism. But I was tempted away by something even more awful.

Technically awful. I’m talking about chicken and waffles. Like, say, shrimp and ice cream, they shouldn’t be combined. But, unlike shrimp and ice cream, there’s a thing that makes the improbable combo work. Syrup.

This is getting more and more embarrassing. The Flying Chicken’s $7 serving puts two fried boneless breast portions atop a lusciously light waffle that’s thick enough to suggest a custardy inside, despite being cooked through, with a side of sweet elixir. And you’d be crazy not to spend the extra buck for real maple syrup. “Most people do,” says co-owner Ian Hunter. “But there are some who seem to like the flavor of the other stuff.”

Pity the troubled palate that knows not or is too miserly to care about the difference.

Fritters have taught us the benefit of edulcorating fried food with maple syrup. Spreading the topping to fried chicken therefore makes more sense than I was expecting. What works against the combo is the fact that the chicken’s good—too good—just as it is, its crisp, seasoned jacket marrying the comparatively bland meat within. Adding syrup takes it into an irresponsible realm. And lo, I added syrup, and saw that it was good.

The Flying Chicken is a three-month-old collaboration between Hunter and chef Josh Coletto, who took over the space once occupied by Vinny’s Italia Pizzeria. It’s not the most gentrified stretch the city has to offer, but it’s attracting the all-important student populace. Live music, late hours and video games are among the lures—but it’s the chicken that will bring you back.

I visited the restaurant shortly after it opened and was dismayed by the chaotic counter and run-of-the-mill meal. Both have improved exponentially. The centerpiece of the menu is an order of two pieces of fried chicken with a side dish and a biscuit. It’s $7.50 for breast and thigh, $7 for thigh and drumstick, and the sides comprise rice and beans, hoppin’ John, mac and cheese, baked beans, cole slaw, collard greens and potato salad. You can pay a little extra for such treats as a la carte waffles ($3 apiece), sweet potato fries ($3) and grits ($2/$4).

Not that hungry? Single chicken pieces will run you $1.75 (wing) to $2.75 (breast), or you can order wings in lots of 10 ($7.75) or 20 ($14.50), with the expected array of sauces as well as garlic parmesan, BBQ and Thai coconut peanut.

Partying? Ten pieces of chicken, four sides and two biscuits run $26.50.

Feeling dietary remorse? Try a salad. Cajun Caesar is $6 (add chicken for $2) and mixed greens also are $6.

“Have the biscuits and gravy,” I urged my wife, who looked at me as if I were insane.

“I’m here for chicken,” she declared and put in her bid for a breast-thigh combo with collard greens before I could interfere. This is a dish with childhood resonance for me, something my mother cooked infrequently but to great acclaim. Like so many, I was ruined by fast-food fried chicken, initially seduced but eventually nauseated by KFC’s extra-crispy come-on. Talk about your bad breast enhancements!

Such a comfort, then, to enjoy what Coletto does with the bird, enhancing it with flavor and crunch, but letting the good, plump meat peek through. And the vinegary snap of the collard greens’ flavor proves he has the South in his blood.

As does Hunter. “I lived for a while in the South,” he says, “and when I came back to Troy, I saw a niche.” He had a fortuitous meeting with Coletto, who helped create the brief, well-appointed menu. “I’ve worked in many restaurants,” Hunter says, “but never before in this capacity.” Which includes taking customer orders, which you give at the counter.  And he may be the one to deliver the food to your table. Coletto, a Culinary Institute graduate, also has put in his share of kitchen-gypsying. That they’ve combined their talents to offer a fresh take on a cuisine not well represented in these parts not only is good for the neighborhood but also the area’s culinary scene in general. Let’s hope they can keep that chicken flying.