Address: 280 Elgin St, Ottawa
Hours: 11:30am – 12am (Mon – Thu); 11:30am – 2am (Fri); 12pm – 2am (Sat); 12:30pm – 12am (Sun)
Like any other sane, honest human being, I thoroughly enjoy fried chicken. I’ve eaten my fair share of KFC and even the stuff in the deli section at Sobeys. In more recent years, I’ve reserved my caloric intake for more worthwhile fried poultry, like what’s found in many of the hip new bars and restaurants, and what may be the pinnacle of fried chicken technique – Korean fried chicken.
At most Korean fried chicken places, you’ll be able to order a half or whole bird that’s been broken down into smaller chunks, which maximizes the batter-to-meat ratio, allowing the shatteringly-crisp batter to work its magic. I frequently enjoy it on its own, but common sauces include the gochujang-based sweet and spicy, and soy and garlic glazes.
Looking for a late dinner after a long day at work, I made the trek to The Fry on Elgin. I caught the tail end of the dinner rush, with the small restaurant still mostly full. Since I was dining solo, getting a seat at the counter along the window was easy, and would make for great people watching.
The décor isn’t what you would expect for a small chain, forgoing the typical bright colour palate that fast casual burger joints use to reinforce their branding; instead, The Fry featues a modern bar sort of vibe. Rap and K-pop videos played on two TVs, although the music playing in the restaurant was adult contemporary, so that was an amusing contrast.
Naturally, the menu is mainly fried chicken; orders can come in small (2 – 3 people) or large (3 – 4 people) sizes. Varieties include regular, crispy, green onion, soy garlic, and spicy sauce, and you can shell out a little more cash to get half and half combinations. There are several sides, from the mundane like fries and sweet potato fries, to the more authentic and interesting like spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki) and fried chicken giblets.
For my order I went with a small order of the regular fried chicken ($18.99) to serve as a baseline for their chicken, and an order of tteokbokki. Unfortunately, they were out of the sauce for the rice cakes and had 86’d them, so I went for the chicken giblets with garlic ($15.99). The prices seemed kind of high, especially for the sides, but keep in mind that everything is geared toward sharing, and is more than one person can (or at least should) eat. That said, chicken giblets are dirt cheap.
After ordering, I soon got a sizzling platter of corn kernels. Thinking I had received one of the corn sides instead of my giblets, I inquired with the staff, but it turned out that it was a standard amuse bouche here. With the dinner crowd steadily thinning out, it didn’t take too long for my food to start arriving.
First came the chicken – a basket of very crispy-looking hunks, each no larger than a few inches. Although not necessary for plain chicken, it came with some palate cleansers – diced pickled daikon, a very basic macaroni salad, and coleslaw.
Seeing some of these items really showed the strong influence that post-war American military bases had on Korean food. I would consider it a change for the worse, as the corn, macaroni salad and coleslaw were bland even for the purpose that they were serving, and are not going to serve as a draw when people want some real Korean food. No one is ordering Korean fried chicken and then complaining if they didn’t get some mediocre coleslaw.
The chicken was straight out of the fryer – super crisp and moist; this is how Korean fried chicken should be. It was salted well, but could have used a little more pepper or other seasoning in the batter for some more flavour. While the chicken was on point, the price point is definitely on the high end for half of a chicken.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the giblets, and they surprised me…mostly in a good way. Served on an iron skillet with sautéed onions and bell pepper, the fried bits of chicken organs were tough, but not in the way that a steak is tough. They were crunchy, and while it was a bit of a jaw workout, it was texturally interesting, and the sesame oil and fried garlic gave them a great flavour as well. The portion was large and would be a hearty appetizer for two, and could easily serve four people.
Service was friendly and helpful throughout my meal.
While this wasn’t awe-inspiring chicken, it was very good, certainly better than what you’ll get from the Colonel (although he does have superior seasoning). I won’t be eating this fried chicken multiple times a week like I was the cheap stuff from Sobeys back in grad school, but I will be back for more of The Fry’s crisp goodness and to finally try out their tteokbokki.