Chefs Matt Phillips and Andrew Cowan dreamed of opening a small fried-chicken shop together. When I interviewed the pair last summer for a story about the risks of opening a restaurant during a recession, both Mr. Phillips and Mr. Cowan were confident that their accessible chicken-centric menu and low price point would buoy them through any lingering economic hiccups. They weren't going in blind; the two had tested their concept, "Northern Chicken," via a series of sold-out pop-ups that confirmed Edmonton's enduring love for deep-fried comfort food.
Now, Chefs Phillips and Cowan are co-captains of a shared dream-made-real. Northern Chicken proudly stands on the busy corner of 124 Street and 107 Avenue, deep in Edmonton's beating culinary heart. The narrow and rectangular space is flanked on one side by a Japanese eatery and on the other side by the solemn, empty lot where the proud Roxy Theatre stood before it was consumed by a fire. Inside, vintage hip-hop albums adorn the wood-panelled walls while the likes of Fatboy Slim and Wu-Tang Clan groove over the sound system. A "rumpus room" near the back sports a communal table and a big-screen TV airing a hockey game. In the bright, open kitchen, perpetual buckets of breaded chicken fly in and out of the deep-fryer to keep pace with diners' appetites. The menu provides sweet reprieve from the egotarian pedanticism to which so many menus fall prey. There are no microgreens, balsamic reductions or deconstructed desserts in sight. Instead, homey creations such as potato salad and coleslaw are happily at home with baskets of piping-hot fried chicken that vary from "original" to "extra hot."
Fried chicken is the main attraction, of course, and may be ordered in platters of three ($13), six ($18) or 10 pieces ($27). Northern Chicken's fried fowl puts fast-food versions to shame. Gorgeously crispy skin conceals juicy, piping-hot meat. The "original" breading is simple (with perhaps more than 11 secret herbs and spices?), while "hot" has a fair bit of kick from house-made sauce. I'm told that "extra hot" is made with a combination of Carolina Reaper and ghost peppers; this time, it's a challenge best left to another day.
Side dishes ($5 for a small, $9 for a large) are creative, but consider yourself warned: there are no French fries. Instead, Dorito Mac and Cheese triumphs by tricking out creamy, cheesy pasta with a liberal topping of crushed, electric-orange taco chips, while the house potato salad includes peanuts for added texture. Honey-thyme cornbread is dense, warm, fragrant with fresh thyme, and redolent with darkly rich honey. But whipped sweet potatoes and bacon cream corn outshine their compatriots by far; the former is gently sweet while the latter commands attention with generous chunks of smoky rashers amidst a golden jumble of sunny corn niblets.
If one is still hungry after all that, a slice of tangy buttermilk pie ($5) easily chases away any residual hunger pangs. Northern Chicken boasts a "pie of the day" as well. On this particular evening, fudge brownie pie owns this role with richness reminiscent of a chocolate butter tart. One would do well to chase these pies with a shot of whisky. Jim Beam ($7/1 oz) or Jack Daniel's ($6.25/1 oz) are prosaic choices, but Old Grand-Dad bourbon ($7/1 oz) captivates with mellow, woodsy notes. It's an appropriate ending for a no-nonsense yet thoroughly delicious meal. Northern Chicken's concept is deceptively simple, and that's why it works.