Grilled, pan-fried or otherwise, chicken served whole – or half – is the Valley's hot winter food trend.

Flipping the Bird

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Three Bites Issue: January 2017
Group Free

4743 N. 20th St., Phoenix
Most chefs agree that cooking chicken on the bone punches up the bird’s flavor and juiciness factor – a rustic but tricky preparation that many of the Valley’s best restaurants are embracing this season. For his elegant Two Wash Ranch chicken ($38, pictured), Tratto chef de cuisine Tony Andiario seasons a young bird (no more than three weeks old) in a marinade of olive oil sprinkled with salt and pepper, crushed garlic, bay leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice. The chicken is cooked to order – first grilled to impart a smoky essence, then finished in the oven. Manners aside, you won’t need a knife and fork to tear the achingly tender meat from the bone and drag it through the pool of butter-infused reduction sauce spiked with lemon juice – every citrus-scented, moist bite better than the next. “It’s just what chicken should taste like,” Andiario says.

Beckett’s Table
3717 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
At Beckett’s Table, chef/owner Justin Beckett serves a cast iron petite chicken ($19) that’s brined overnight to tenderize and season the flesh before it’s roasted whole. Prior to popping the bird in the oven, he carefully separates skin from meat and buries shallots, garlic and herbs in the fleshy pocket for maximum infusion. When the chicken, which weighs less than three pounds, is nearly done, Beckett slides its cast iron bed into a 550-degree wood-burning oven to achieve a crispy, flame-licked skin. Beckett serves the chicken in a cradle of bacon cheddar biscuit stuffing studded with butter-bathed garlic, onions, carrots and celery atop a savory reduction sauce. “It’s a chicken worth ordering at a restaurant,” he says.

T. Cook’s at Royal Palms Resort and Spa
5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
The all-natural Mary’s half fried chicken ($28 à la carte) is an unlikely staple on T. Cook’s mostly Mediterranean-inspired bill of fare, but executive chef Todd Allison has an explanation: “A hotel restaurant needs to have comfort food on the menu. [Customers] don’t always want venison from New Zealand or branzino from Greece. Sometimes they just want some good old fried chicken.” Allison delivers three pieces of finger lickin’ poultry (leg, thigh and boneless breast) that are buttermilk-brined, dredged in seasoned flour and then deep-fried in oil. The result: juicy and tender chicken wrapped in a light, crunchy crust that will gratify even the most homesick Southerner. And those who just pretend to be.