What America Tastes Like

Searching for Fried Chicken in the Pacific Northwest

I make this “What America Tastes Like” pledge to readers: No Food Pictures.

As I explore the cultures in the United States by putting them in my mouth, I will share what the experience was. Not what it looked like. This is not a superficial relationship.

Seattle is not the place to go for fried chicken.

Unless you’re Oprah. She had fried chicken picked up in Seattle and delivered to her by jet in Chicago.

Why would she go looking in a land splashed with salmon and water-based asian influence for this oily delight?

The fried chicken was made by a man named Ezell. Ezell eventually sold his name to a company.

So if you want Ezell’s fried chicken, you can’t go to a building labeled “Ezell’s Fried Chicken” to get it. You must go to “Heaven Sent.”

One year on my birthday I wanted fried chicken, and I’m happy what I got was Heaven Sent “Spicy” Fried Chicken. It has a distinctive style that can’t be found elsewhere.

I would have been angry if I ate the sides first.

This was order in which I dug in:

“Original” Fried Chicken – Ezell knows chicken. Take one bite and you know that. The meat is tender but not overcooked. The skin is pleasant and thin and crisp. The “breading” isn’t thick and bready – it adds texture and flavor to the meat but doesn’t overwhelm it. This is a “Seattle Style” fried chicken, and you can tell why Oprah had Ezell’s old recipe shipped to Chicago. In Ezell’s newer “Heaven Sent Original” rendition, you get that unique coating. There’s a vague and pleasant flavor to the seasoning of the “Original,” but it lacks something…

“Spicy” Fried Chicken – Whoa! THIS IS THE REAL “HEAVEN SENT FRIED CHICKEN.” Now you get beautifully cooked, unique Seattle fried chicken, with enough seasoning! Savory and crisp flavorful skin that dances with the primal flavor of chicken itself. Yes! My guess is that this was the “original recipe,” and somebody told Ezell to tone it down. The “Spicy” is not spicy in a “hot” way.

Mac ‘n Cheese – Well, okay. I get it. I expect thick and pasty macaroni as a side to BBQ or fried chicken. There’s enough actual cheddar flavor that it’s a satisfying side.

French Fries – You had these fries in junior high. These are crinkle-cuts out of a frozen bag. I wanted something they made at the restaurant, so I could dip them in gravy…

Gravy – Made with drippings from the chicken? Yes. It was not made from a packet of powder. But the real chicken drippings here had no salt. None whatsoever. Maybe somebody forgot. The result was thin and bland, and fell off the fries.

Baked Beans – What the hell, Ezell? A can of Van De Camps for $7? Did a pig breathe on them? They contained not a single bit of pork. Soft beans in ketchup. Come on, man.

A whole damn Sweet Potato Pie – I’m happy we finished on this note for my birthday meal. I ate it until I went to bed. It’s a real pie, like you’d get when visiting somebody’s grandma out on her farm. Overly sweet but homey.

Get the Spicy Fried Chicken 12 piece! That’s what you need. It’s distinctive and local, without all the buttermilk and breading found in the South, yet it contains savory flavor and a unique crispy-not-crunchy character making Northwest Fried Chicken its own thing.

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