Charles Gabriel, perhaps NYC's finest fried chicken practitioner, has expanded south from his base at 151st St. and Eighth Avenue (Charles Southern Kitchen:212-926-4313) to 109th and Broadway, where he is cooking his very fine bird at Rack & Soul (2818 Broadway, 212-222-4800). He was in good form last night, when our party of five descended on the simple but comfortable space restaurateur Michael Eberstadt has built to house Charles & company and a smoker fueled by wood and gas installed by competition barbecue man John Wheeler.
Charles' bird was golden brown, greaseless, and crunchy and crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. In short, it is everything I want fried chicken to be. Wheeler's ribs were messy, satisfying baby backs, but the very sweet glaze they were coated with almost completely obscured whatever smoky taste the Old Hickory brand smoker imbued them with. My wife's fried catfish was fried just as skillfully as the chicken, though its crispy exterior could have benefited by a shake or two of salt.
Sides: very good beans studded with tons of pork, standard macaroni and cheese that could have used a little tang and a little more cheese, solid cole slaw that wasn't overwhelmed by mayo or sugar, tender (not al dente) stringbeans that tasted like they were cooked with meat as well, lovely soulful potato salad, by the numbers candied yams, collard greens that I forgot to taste, and (get this) a waffle that was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, much like the fried chicken. I like any place that offers a waffle as a side dish.
All this food was preceded by very good corn muffins with a honey glaze, and succeeded by moist pieces of red velvet cake and pineapple cake from a local Harlem bakery (I believe the owner said he got them from Let Them Eat Cake). They're still working out the kinks in the service (our food took a long time to come), but the staff was pleasant and well-meaning. When Dirty Bird to Go opens, I look forward to comparing its fried chicken to Charles'.