For a Southern expat, I know surprisingly little about fried chicken. I wasn’t raised on it—no one ever fried much of anything in my childhood kitchen. We’d eat take-out fried pieces from the Publix grocery store at picnics once or twice a year, max. After leaving home, I quickly attempted to cultivate the perception that I was enlightened in the art of fried poultry. Ten years later, I’m still learning—gladly. I’ve tried hot chicken, (real) Kentucky fried chicken, Korean chicken, and chicken and waffles. Give me a piece of dark meat dredged in batter and dropped in hot oil, and I’ll eat at least a piece or two. So it was inevitable that I would find myself visiting Proposition Chicken.
Ari Feingold opened Proposition Chicken last October in Hayes Valley. Feingold is also the owner of Straw, the carnival-themed restaurant around the corner. I have zero interest in paying a premium for carnival food, so I was a bit hesitant to try out another restaurant run by a person who believes in the goodness of amusement park food. But the siren song of quick, easy, and thoughtfully made fried chicken was too strong for me to ignore.
I came in for lunch on a sunny weekday afternoon. Only a few other diners sat scattered throughout the long dinging area, but everyone seated seemed to be enjoying themselves. The restaurant is structured to work perfectly for office workers on their lunch break: order at the counter, grab a stool, and the food shows up quickly.
Proposition Chicken’s menu is short and straightforward. There are three types of chicken—fried, flipped (rotisserie), or fake (tofu). Each type of chicken is served on your choice of a slaw-topped Bakesale Betty-style sandwich ($10), a kale salad ($11), or on a platter as an entrée with coleslaw and a buttermilk biscuit ($12). There are sides and desserts ($2-7), too, but they simply distract from the main event. All of the chicken served is courtesy of Mary’s Free Range, and the kitchen makes everything else from scratch. They also provide gluten-free chicken should you need a wheat-free lunch. The restaurant is also currently in the application process to serve beer and wine; longer hours and happy hour specials will come along with the booze.
I, of course, ordered fried chicken, and was pleased when the counterperson asked if I preferred white or dark meat. Fried chicken breast is almost always inferior to the thigh or drumstick, and I had no intention of setting myself up for disappointment. While the sandwich or salad may have been a more practical lunch choice, I couldn’t resist the promise of a buttermilk biscuit, so I ponied up for the entrée choice.
Twelve bucks turned out to be a little steep for the demure tray of food I received. The three pieces of chicken were tiny, especially compared to the oversized biscuit tin of slaw. A small bowl of ranch dressing was a nice surprise, albeit an unnecessary one. (Who puts ranch on their fried chicken anyway?) The chicken itself was properly fried, juicy, and very well seasoned. I couldn’t taste the characteristic twang of the buttermilk brine advertised on the menu, but I didn’t miss it.
The haphazard breading on the chicken was a much bigger problem. One piece (the wing) was practically inundated with breading; it was more crunch than tender chicken. On the other hand, the drumstick was close to naked. Lacking any textural contrast, the piece was just greasy. The thigh was the Goldilocks piece—it had a distinctive but not overwhelming crust, flecked with pepper, and adorned with a multitude of crisp bubbles.
Neither flaky nor crumbly, the biscuit was simply average. Like the chicken, it lacked any discernible buttermilk flavor, but this flaw was not as troublesome as the serving temperature. The giant mound of butter sitting on top of the biscuit was tasty and full of sweet honey, but it sat there, immobile on the room temperature biscuit. Had the biscuit been piping hot, the butter would have melted into its warm layers, infusing the bread with its richness.
Far better was the slaw. In fact, the bright, spicy slaw even outshone the chicken. The slivers of cabbage and parsley were coated in just enough creamy dressing to transform from crunchy garnish to crisp-tender salad. Its heat was present, lingering for a few moments after eating. I wanted to slather the salad over everything. Instead, I devoured the whole bowl within seconds, scraping out every last bit of dressing with stray bits of biscuit.
As the chicken cooled down and I took my last bites, I was reminded of that Publix fried chicken I ate as a kid—salty, a little bit greasy, and ultimately very satisfying.