Piece of Chicken
362 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 (b/n Eighth and Ninth avenues; map); 212-582-5973
Service: Slow, a little disorganized but well-meaning
Setting: Curbside cuisine
Compare It To: Charles' Southern-Style Kitchen, Pink Teacup
Must-Haves: Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes
Cost: $5 if you get three pieces of fried chicken and a side of mashed potatoes
Grade: A- for the fried chicken and the mashed potatoes, B for everything else on the menu
What in the way of substantial food can you get for a buck or two in Gotham these days? Not much. Chinatowns all over New York are full of inexpensive delicious treats: Dumplings, greens sandwiches, dollar hot dogs were all included in Serious Eater Gordon Mark's deliciously comprehensive guide to cheap eats in Chinatown. And then there's the dollar menu at McDonalds, which budget-minded students of all ages and ethnicities avail themselves of frequently. Finally, there have been a couple of pizza-slice-for-a-buck emporia starting to pop up all over town, but those slices will only do when any form of melted cheese on warm bread fix will suffice. Of those mentioned above, only the Chinatown offerings strike me as anything I would look forward to eating on a regular basis.
That's why I was so excited when Serious Eats: New York editor Zach Brooks told me about Piece of Chicken, a soul food take-out joint (really a kiosk fronting a kitchen) where most things on the menu are a buck or two.
Piece of Chicken operates out of a chunk of what was the kitchen of the old, elegant soul food restaurant Jezebel. Most of Jezebel's kitchen and the rest of its space are now 5 Napkin Burger, where the burgers and fries are good but cost way more than a dollar.
You order your food at a window fronting the Piece of Chicken kitchen. The menu is mostly soul food standards: fried chicken, ribs, smothered chicken, smothered pork chops, jerk chicken, fried whiting, fried catfish, and the usual sides of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, green beans, mashed potatoes, and frozen french fries. In fairness I should report that plates like the smothered chicken and pork, and the fried fish, cost way more than two dollars. But the best things on the menu are a buck or two, which is really cool.
The fried chicken ($1) is greaseless, crisp-skinned, and well-seasoned. Though the $2 breast is a little dry, the dollar thighs and the drumsticks are damn fine. In fact, if you happen to get them right out of the fryer, they are just about perfect. Wings, which are two for a dollar, are a model of crispy, crunchy wonderfulness. The honey chicken ($2) is made with the same fried chicken but is twice as expensive. If you like your fried chicken sweet (I don't), you will be happy here.
The smothered preparations were pretty standard, the fried fish ($3) was well-executed, and the grilled jerk chicken ($3) was a reasonably spicy skip.
A big surprise were the ribs ($1). I'm not sure what cut of ribs they were (they're called riblets) but they were for the most part meaty, plenty porky, and a real bargain.
Among the sides the mashed potatoes ($2) were dee-lish and the true standout. I couldn't stop eating them even though I had ordered one of every side dish (ten in all). Macaroni and cheese ($2.50) was plenty cheesy and tangy, but I wanted more crunch.
Rather than spend $4 for an admittedly big piece of not great sweet potato pie, have another four pieces of chicken for dessert. Or just take them home for your friends and family so you can show your dinner companions what you can get for a buck in this town.
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