Is fried chicken the perfect food? It’s fast and cheap. It’s fun to eat, familiar and satisfying. Lots of people make it well. And it usually comes with excellent sides. So: possibly perfect? Either way, there has been an explosion of southern-style joints opening all over this great city of late, so I decided to visit a couple of Williamsburg spots on consecutive weeks, for a informal Fried-Chicken Face-Off, pitting long-time champ Pies ‘n’ Thighs against Bedford Avenue newcomer Sweet Chick. Let’s see who comes out on top…
Round 1: Atmosphere, Service, Decor
Pies ‘n’ Thighs began life in 2006 as a labor of love, with six stools in the back of bar under the Williamsburg Bridge. Since then co-founders Erika Geldzahler Williams, Carolyn Bane Ross-Leutwyler, and Sarah Buck (who met in the kitchen at Williamsburg’s great Diner) have hit Brooklyn big time, in 2010 opening their funky spot in an historic carriage house on S4th and Driggs, and branching out with a successful catering business. And yet, in the face of fried-chicken fame and almost cultish adoration, Pies ‘n’ Thighs remains wonderfully warm and friendly, the place decked out in appropriately down-home furnishings and vintage gear.
Sweet Chick opened in February on a bustling Bedford Avenue corner, and it feels a bit forced, throwing out every Williamsburg cliche in the book: communal picnic tables, exposed unfinished beams, quoting Biggie’s “Spread love it’s the Brooklyn way” on the wall. The service was fine if awkwardly casual (“how are we today” said my waiter to me, dining solo), and the whole thing has an air of a can’t-miss concept that the owners are terrified that they will, in fact, miss.
Round 1 Winner: Pies ‘n’ Thighs
Round 2: Fried Chicken
The Pies ‘n’ Thighs classic Fried Chicken Box ($14) doesn’t actually come in a box (unless you’re getting it to go, an excellent idea for Williamsburg residents on the way home from work), but it does feature three pieces of the best bird you’re likely to find anywhere in town: crispy, well-seasoned (though don’t skimp on the vinegary hot sauce on your table), meaty and juicy. The accompanying buttermilk biscuit is dense and goes great with honey; and my choice of side on this night was spectacular, a bright and lively salad of asparagus, snap peas and radishes covered in creamy peppercorn dressing.
At Sweet Chick I ordered the Sweet Chick Bucket ($17), which does, in fact, arrive in a bucket, the three pieces of chicken supported by a buttermilk biscuit and a side of collard slaw. The bird was just ok, the meat too-often leaning toward chewy and dry, the skin tasting slightly of fryer. The biscuit was first-rate, but the slaw, a good idea, was just depressing, limp, freezing cold, obviously put into my little bowl at some time in the distant past when the prep-team had time on their hands, then plastic-wrapped and stuck in the fridge.
Round 2 Winner: Pies ‘n’ Thighs
Round 3: Dessert
The only thing that rivals the chicken at Pies ‘n’ Thighs are the desserts. The donuts are awesome, and so are the cookies, but you’re sitting down for a meal here, a slice of pie is your move. I’ve had many delightful desserts here over the years, but on this night I went strong with a slice of their Chocolate Bourbon Pecan. It is fantastic, from the buttery crust to the gooey filling to the slice of dark chocolate slowly melting in between. You will start craving another slice of this pie as soon as you put down your fork.
Sweet Chick has a tempting-sounding Butterscotch Pudding on the menu, but for face-off purposes I ordered the Bourbon Pecan Pie here as well, though it turns out to be more of a piece of a “bar” than a slice of pie. Which would be fine, except this also had the texture and flavor of something from the back of the walk-in, so all that really registered was “sweet” and “cold”. The creme-freche ice cream’s a nice touch, though.
Round 3 Winner: Pies ‘n’ Thighs
Williamsburg Fried Chicken Face-off 2013 Winner: Pies ‘n’ Things (in a rout)
Pies ‘n’ Thighs is located on the corner of Driggs Avenue and South 4th Street, and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner. More info, online ordering, and the complete Pies ‘n’ Thighs menu here.
Sweet Chick is located on the corner of Bedford Avenue and North 8th Street, and is open for dinner every day at 6:00 p.m. More info and the complete Sweet Chick menu, here.