WEST TOWN — If the idea of fried chicken and champagne isn't decadent enough, how about chicken fried in lard, butter and bacon fat?
That's how it goes on Monday nights at Lush Wine and Spirits, 1412 W. Chicago Ave. For $18, you get a pile of that unapologetically fatty fried chicken with a bacon biscuit and ginger-pickled mustard seed coleslaw, plus a 25 percent discount on any bottle of grower champagne.
The $18 Monday night special at Lush Wine & Spirits, 1412 W. Chicago Ave. [Mitch Einhorn]
Owner Mitch Einhorn started offering the bird-and-bubbly combo about a month ago on what had been a closed day for the shop. It is the only dish coming out of the kitchen on Mondays.
And it's a revival of sorts. Einhorn, who has been perfecting the chicken for the better part of a decade, used to hold a once-a-year fried chicken and champagne dinner at Lush's University Village shop (now closed).
Back then, peanut oil was Einhorn's frying oil of choice. Then he started fiddling around.
"I'd read this article on flavoring your oil for frying chicken. So what happens if I put five pounds of bacon in the pot with the peanut oil? I was like, 'Oh, that's pretty tasty and we get to eat all the bacon,' " Einhorn said.
He tossed in garlic cloves and herbs. He added lard. He tried frying in butter on the suggestion of his friend, the mixologist Adam Seger. He subbed in duck fat for the butter when he ran out of the latter.
He has settled on lard, clarified butter and bacon drippings as the optimal bird bath.
"It's the most flavorful chicken we can make," he said.
What's the secret to the fried chicken at Lush? Frying in lard, bacon fat and butter. [Mitch Einhorn]
Einhorn credits Seger for turning him on to the magical duo of fried chicken and bubbly years ago at a party at Seger's apartment. While guests brought champagne, Seger "picked up a couple buckets of fried chicken from Pollo Campero [a Latin American chicken chain]," Einhorn said. "He was like, 'This is the greatest combination ever.'"
The New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov calls the pairing of crispy, salty fried chicken and palate-cleansing champagne a classic that "cannot be bested." At the year-old restaurant Birds & Bubbles in New York, it is, as the name suggests, the signature item.
There are other factors at play that make Lush's fried chicken memorable, Einhorn said. The marinating process — which begins on the previous Friday — involves chili-and-citrus-spiked buttermilk, and Einhorn uses a combination of rice and all-purpose flours for maximum "crust adhesion."
Comparing his to other versions around town, he said, "I have tried a lot of them. I think it's as good as any. It's a pretty damn fine chicken."
Einhorn said in a few weeks, once he trains his newest cook at the Roscoe Village location, he will start serving the Monday night special there as well.
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