Don Bauder 5:30 p.m., Jan. 29
Pfft, "Extra crispy," you say, my dear Colonel? I'll show you CRISPY!
I can't deny that if I see a sign advertising "fried gizzards," I have to check a place out...even if I don't actually have the gizzards. I'm not 100% crazy about gizzards, truth be told, since they're just about the chewiest thing you could extract from a chicken short of the bones. Crispy Fried Chicken (and Seafood) in City Heights has embraced fried gizzards as a selling point, painting the windows to advertise the plate of fried gizz' and its $4.15 price tag.
The interior of the restaurant was undecorated save an Area 51 shoot-em-up game (!) and a fish tank with schools of guppies and crayfish squirming around while a lonely freshwater shrimp cruised up and down in search of filtrate too inconsequential for me to see. Curiously, the desolate appearance of the restaurant was excused by the immaculate fish tank. I assume that anyone who keeps pets so clean must do likewise in the kitchen.
To the right of the counter, a glass case exhibited the fried chicken for all the world to see; with just a touch of the circus sideshow in the way the display case had been cut right out of the wall and offered only a partial glimpse to the shadowed mysteries of the kitchen behind it.
A little while back, Matt Lickona dared us to disagree with him that Crispy Fried is the best in town. I'll call the bluff. I found the chicken itself to be above average in size, but only average in quality. It did the restaurant's name proud, however, as it was some of the crispiest chicken I've ever eaten. The breading is nearly non-existent in some places, so the skin of the chicken goes straight through "extra crispy" and out the other side. The best way to describe it is that it's almost like a potato chip made out of meat. The flesh of the chicken, particularly the white meat, was dry. I'll give credit for the fact that it seemed to have been fried minutes, not hours, in the past and that the dryness was more likely the result of lack of breading/brining to keep the juices inside the chicken during cooking.
Where CFC fell flat was in the side dishes. Hush puppies could have killed at thirty paces and the fried okra had been coated in a very thin batter that didn't do much to improve or detract from the vegetable. The paltry serving of ranch dressing that I received for my okra demanded rationing in light of the sign on the counter claiming that requests for extra sauce would be met with disapproval and possible rejection. An apple pie, too expensive at $1, was filled with industrial grade apple compote and had clearly come out of a very large box of similarly poor quality pastries.
If Crispy Fried had a real advantage it's that the food was cheap. Nearly the entire menu was under $10, most items by a significant margin. Were I to return, I would order a large bucket of chicken, but skip the sides and try to get something elsewhere...or just eat an extra piece of chicken.
4919 El Cajon Boulevard
Cash only (ATM inside)