A chicken joint with posh neigh­bors

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sunday Arts & Style - 151 Elm St., New Canaan www.new­canaanchicken.com Jane Stern, a Ridge­field res­i­dent, co-au­thored the pop­u­lar “Road­food” guide­book se­ries.

What is it about New Canaan that just speaks of well-bred, preppy, horsey, Ivy League life­styles. I guess I could be silly and blame it all on the in­flu­ence of the leg­endary Whit­ney Shop on Elm Street. If the Step­ford Wives had a fa­vorite store, the Whit­ney Shop would be it.

I have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by the Whit­ney Shop for no other rea­son that it is the ex­act op­po­site of to­days big box stores like Costco or couch shop­ping with QVC. It is pure tra­di­tional good taste, the kind of el­e­gant sen­si­bil­ity seen in Town and Coun­try mag­a­zine and sim­i­lar glossies.

You may be won­der­ing what on earth the Whit­ney Shop has to do with a fried chicken joint? I am not sure I can give a pro­found anal­y­sis, but there is some­thing soul lift­ing about a lit­tle fried chicken joint be­ing able to hold its own on a street with the high­est of high-end mer­chants.

What is now New Canaan Chicken was orig­i­nally a small place called Chicken Joe’s. A few years ago it was bought by Pren Lleshdedaj, a Croa­t­ion na­tive who had come to Amer­ica in 2002 and learned the restau­rant busi­ness. Af­ter learn­ing the ropes at a Bronx restau­rant called Frankie and John­nie’s, he bought Chicken Joe’s. He kept on some of the orig­i­nal line cooks, so the fans of the old Chicken Joe’s recipes would not suf­fer undo trauma. He was also smart enough to not re­name Chicken Joe’s to Chicken Lleshdedaj.

I am sure the crowd at New Canaan Chicken changes with the time of day but on my visit it was filled with lo­cal teenagers. Bright cheeked, po­lite and well dressed they were very much the same crowd that hung out at my gen­er­a­tion’s “malt shops.” As an homage to their youth­ful clien­tele, the wall of New Canaan Chicken fea­ture blow-ups of black-and-white pho­tos of gen­er­a­tions past. Taken from New Canaan year­books, we see an ar­ray of re­cent and past high school wrestling teams, base­ball play­ers and rug­byites. Such good look­ing peo­ple are hard to find out­side a Ralph Lau­ren ad. It must be some­thing in the chicken.

Least I for­get, New Canaan Chicken does not serve only chicken, it of­fers a broad menu of hots dogs, ham­burg­ers, omelettes and com­posed cold sal­ads. This is an in­ter­est­ing fac­toid, but I was set on the chicken. I or­dered the chicken din­ner, I or­dered chicken nuggets, I or­dered chicken strips, and chicken on a salad. On the side, I got jalapeño pop­pers, french fries, corn frit­terd and some ziti in mari­nara sauce that I do not re­mem­ber­ing or­der­ing but there it was.

I ate more then the teens all around me (which is say­ing some­thing) and I was the only one whose mas­sive meal came in sty­ro­foam “clam shells” in­stead of a white pa­per bag. This seems of no im­por­tance ex­cept when I left I no­ticed that I had de­clined the large shaker of “sea­son­ing”

which all the pa­per bag peo­ple used lib­er­ally. I sus­pect it was a blend of sea­soned salt, but the amount the kids asked for must make it ad­dic­tive. Next time I will try it.

When I dived into the meal I was pleas­antly sur­prised at how grease­less the fried chicken was. Com­pared to any of the chain chicken joints, the skin was del­i­cate and held its place on the chicken, not skip­ping off like a sheet of greasy pa­per. The fries were also tasty, again not oily or greasy.

Of all the ways I or­dered the chicken here I liked the clas­sic fried legs and thighs best. They had a nice clean taste, good qual­ity and fried when or­dered. In my hum­ble opin­ion, chicken nuggets are for 5-year-olds; the chicken strips are merely ex­tended nuggets. I did love the jalapeño pop­pers, mild lit­tle pep­pers that when bit­ten into, gushed mild yel­low cheese. The corn frit­ters were rather odd, the size of mar­bles and although they had ker­nels of corn in them were so sweet they could be dessert.

Although this is a teen hang­out, I was im­pressed by the line cooks. They looked like vet­eran grill and fry masters. They keep ev­ery­thing mov­ing quickly, while keep­ing an eye out to make sure no young ones acts rowdy and ev­ery­one be­haves them­selves.

One rarely finds such a true neigh­bor­hood place these days, and cer­tainly not in posh New Canaan where a “neigh­bor­hood” meal might cost a hun­dred bucks. I so wanted to see what was hap­pen­ing at the Whit­ney Shop just a short walk away, but even though I like to be dar­ing I didn’t have the nerve to ad­mire their fine lace nap­kins and smocked chil­dren’s dresses while smelling like fried chicken.

I will re­turn to both the Whit­ney Shop and New Canaan Chicken again but on sep­a­rate ad­ven­tures.

Jane Stern / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A com­plete fried chicken meal that the chains can’t beat at New Canaan Chicken.

Con­trib­uted photo

New Canaan Chicken in down­town New Canaan isn’t just for teenagers.

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