It’s OK to be picky about guilty pleasures

June 16, 2023

One of my favorite places to hang out (and eat!) is Charleston, S.C. Of course, our Delaware Cape Region will always be my first love, but as a food writer it’s important for me to expand my culinary horizons in other places, too. See? I do it all for you! (Had to work that in....)

Today’s column was inspired by a cookbook I’ve had on my kitchen shelf for over 30 years. Ernest Matthew Mickler’s “White Trash Cooking,” published in 1986 by Ten Speed Press, contains hilarious recipes like Mary Linder’s Washday Soup (cooking is timed by loads of wash), Liver-Hater’s Chicken Livers, and the Kiss-Me-Not Sandwich (mustard and raw onion on white bread). My favorite WTC recipe is Southern Fried Chicken. The instructions are simple and easy to understand: “You take a chicken and ya kill it. And you put it in a skillet. And you fry to a golden brown. That’s Southern cookin’, and it’s mighty fine.” Mr. Mickler assumes we can fill in the blanks.

Next to good BBQ, shrimp & grits, and pimento cheese spread (they slather it on everything), fried chicken is the most popular dish down South — for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Those of you who follow my newspaper writings and radio ramblings know that I love the stuff. My Deep South-born mother used to make it all the time. Venture into The Holy City (Charleston), and one of the most popular breakfast plates is perfectly brined, spiced and cooked fried chicken defiantly perched on a fresh, fluffy biscuit. But wait! There’s more: That combo is topped with creamy sausage gravy and crowned with an over-easy egg. Even I can’t consume one of these every day, but I’d sure like to try….

Back here at the beach, one of my guest-worthy dishes is indeed fried chicken. My mother perfected it, and many years (don’t ask!) have been dedicated to re-creating her recipe. Over the years, I’ve been honored by a number of local restaurant chefs/owners who occasionally escape to my kitchen when they need savory crunch and spice in a non-restaurant setting. But making it is a production! Between brining in [sorry, that’s classified], marinating in [sorry, that’s classified], dredging in [yup, you get it] and frying, I only wish it were as easy as Mr. Mickler suggests. Sometimes you just gotta get out there and let our talented restaurateurs make it for you.

Around here, some of the best fried chicken is dished up where you’d least expect it. One of those spots is Gus & Gus’ Place on the Rehoboth Boardwalk. And on a good day, there’s no matching the delicious crust. Whatever they do, they do it right.

Another spot known for good taste is Kick n’ Chicken. Charlie Pollard’s recipe produces an expertly spiced piece that’s not the slightest bit greasy. All Charlie will divulge is that it’s “all about the oil temperature.” And he’s right: When people tell me their fried chicken is greasy, I tell them to blame the cook, not that poor pullet. Crispy and moist is the goal. If you taste the oil, somebody’s done something wrong.

If you crave crunch, Sydney’s in Milton will satisfy that need. Their recipe grew out of an informal collaboration among chicken-lovin’ restaurant cooks, and it does not disappoint. They drizzle it with spicy honey — I suggest you ask for that on the side in order to preserve that all-important crackle.

Speaking of crackle, the Jacona boys at Bushels Crab House on Coastal Highway add smoke to their chicken: They brine it in beer, smoke it over hickory, then fry to a golden brown. I’ve had it several times, and it’s quite good.

Towering above the intersection of Rehoboth Avenue and First Street is Cooter Brown’s with its sweet tea-brined chicken. The tea imparts a new taste sensation, and the chicken checks all the boxes: crunchy, juicy but certainly not greasy.

Local James Beard Award-nominated chef Hari Cameron once opined on my radio show that Delaware has more chickens than people. And yes indeed, we are certainly up to our gizzards in chickens, skillets and deep fryers. So it was inevitable that good fried chicken would be a staple here at the beach. I’m sure I missed a few, so get out there and explore!


  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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