Believe the hype, y'all. Honey Butter Fried Chicken really is that good. It's worth the drive, worth the lines, worth every last gram of saturated fat. If you have taste buds, you won't be disappointed by this place.
The Avondale space is unassuming on the outsideexcept for a line that will inevitably be winding out the front door for the foreseeable future. On the inside, you might expect to see kitschy Southern décor in a nod to the cuisine, but the dining room is decidedly urban, with exposed brick, lots of clean lines and a bunch of different kinds of reclaimed wood. My favorite element is the old banquet chairs, which are redesigned with slabs of grainy wood where ugly red pleather used to be. What I really love about Honey Butter is the feeling you get when you step inside. This kind of a restaurant could easily feel overly trendy or like you have to be a hipster to eat there. But, it doesn't. It feels grounded and authentic. Everyone working at the place seems genuinely happy to be there, and completely jazzed about fried chicken.
Speaking of fried chicken, it only takes a bite to understand why these folks are so damn happy. You'd be cheerful too if you got to eat this stuff everyday. There's a thick layer of breading on the chicken and it's fried perfectly crispy, not too greasy and not too dry. Each bite starts off rich and buttermilk-y and finishes with a nice hint of spice and salt.
The chicken itself is plump and super juicy, which is no doubt thanks to the salt, sugar, spice and citrus brine it's soaked in before it gets fried. And yes, the rumors are truethe chicken has no bones. Don't worry, it's not gross mass-produced chicken that's been genetically modified to grow boneless. Quite the opposite. It's happy chicken: locally sourced, hormone- and antibiotic-free. The good folks at Honey Butter simply remove the bones before frying it up and serving it to you. That means there is nothing standing between you and bite after juicy bite. Frankly, I think it's brilliant.
And then, there's the eponymous honey butter. Sweet, sweet nectar from the poultry gods. Listen up. This fried chicken is damn good all on its own, but when you slather it with fluffy whipped honey butter that glistens as it melts, the flavors combine to give you the ultimate salty/sweet mouth-gasm. It's like eating at Willy Wonka's Chicken Factoryit's so magical that you can't help but overindulge.
If you're in the mood for a cocktail, there is a nice selection of craft beers and several clever cocktails that play off of the down-home theme. The "damn good sweet tea" is spiked with whiskey and sold by the pitcher. The "hill pop" combines house made lemonade with bourbon. It tastes like a grown-up and liquid version of sweet tart candy, and is nice to sip while you wait for your chicken.
Oh, and there are side dishes. Really, really good ones. One of my favorites is the slaw, an upgraded and modern version made with kale and yogurt cumin dressing. It's cool and refreshing and dried pomegranate gives it a tart little kick. Mac 'n cheese is a must-have for me when I'm eating fried chicken. Honey Butter's rendition of the creamy classic is made with pimento cheese, which gives it a pungent and memorable flavor. Depending on the day, you'll also find a few special side dishes. Recently, schmaltz smashed potatoes have been gracing the menu. Nothing like a little clarified fat to make mashed potatoes even more decadent. The fragrant rosemary gravy they're doused in provides an herby contrast to the creamy potatoes. You won't need more than a few spoonfuls of these guys, but they sure do taste delicious with the out-of-this-world fried chicken.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken is very quickly endearing itself to Chicagoans, and for good reason. The food is special and inspired, without an ounce of pretense. And that, in my book, is a recipe for success.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken is located at 3361 N. Elston; call 773-478-4000 or visit www.honeybutter.com .
Do you need some more Sugar & Spice in your life? Follow me on Twitter: @SugarAndSpiceMSfor inside scoop and commentary on Chicago's dining scene.