I'm a south side girl. I live in Kentucky, which means that I don’t really have a stake in Cincinnati’s whole East Side/West Side thing. Moeller grads, Elder alumni — I love ’em all.
But, hey, if there’s an angle I can exploit for a story? I’m all over that bad boy.
So welcome to the East Side/West Side Crosstown Chicken Challenge, pitting two long-time legends against each other in a crispy smackdown! We’re gathering buckets of golden brown deliciousness for a discerning crew of tasters to eat and rate. Napkin under your chin? Let’s begin!
In this corner of the ring, er, town, is Hyde Park’s Hitching Post! This family-run restaurant is tucked into a corner across from Rookwood Commons — nothing to draw your attention other than their boast of having the “World’s Best Fried Chicken.” You don’t make a claim like that unless you’re ready to rumble!
And wayyyy across town, with a huge rooster statue right on top, it’s Ron’s Roost! If a giant metal chicken doesn’t make you want to dig into a family meal, then I fear that there’s no hope for you. This is a church of chicken. A temple of battered wonderment. You get my drift.
The panel of expert judges were arbitrarily chosen: self-confessed foodies who are lots of fun and would contribute excellent beverages. The exception being my own husband, who is truly Mister Chicken. His singular devotion to the plucky bird is such that the man will eat no other meat. He practically clucks in his sleep. He is like the Russian judge at the Chicken Olympics. He will broach no foul, er, fowl.
We established scientific judging criteria. We tasted for crispness (crispness good, greasiness bad); seasoning (another plus); flavor; juiciness; and ratio of batter and skin to meat. The rules were to keep everything from Hitching Post on the east side of your plate and everything from Ron’s on the west side, so there’s no confusion.
Be objective. At least until the beverages kick in.
To be fair to each competitor, we collected a good assortment of side dishes and plenty of chicken at the same time, so everything was fresh and hot. A volunteer team headed off to Hyde Park, while I took the West Side trip. Map at the ready, I made it pretty deep into unfamiliar territory before I started to doubt my directions. I saw a police cruiser stopped at a red light and rolled down my window to ask him if I was lost. The air was thick with the scent of fried chicken. I was on track.
We rendezvoused right on schedule and the scene was set. There were pitchers of water for palate cleansing, hearty plates and generous napkins and even a ceramic chicken in the center of the table to inspire us in our mission. We opened the containers, admired the bounty of battered beauty and began.
None of the side dishes really got raves. Clear favorites, though, were the mini-potato pancakes from The Hitching Post. Our lone vegetarian rated them “Not as good as Izzy’s, but still tasty.” She also liked the Hitching Post’s macaroni and cheese and their cole slaw but joined the carnivorous judges in their universal dismay at the green beans. Their only positive comment was that they gave the whole decadent meal a “hint of health.”
I’d been warned by another CityBeat writer that Ron’s “puts meat in everything, down to the applesauce,” but I liked their bacon-y German hot slaw (which an out-of-town judge called “truly disgusting”). Maybe it’s a Cincinnati thing.
The verdict on the birds? I tasted an east breast and a west breast and they were distinctly different. The Hitching Post breast was prettier — a classic, flaky batter with visible flecks of pepper. Ron’s Roost’s batter was denser, with a little cornmeal added. Ron’s wasn’t as attractive, but it had a satisfying crunch. Advantage Ron’s, for crispness.
Both were juicy inside, but four out of 11 carnivorous judges gave The Hitching Post demerits for greasiness. Two gave the East Siders praise for seasoning, but another felt that the seasoning overpowered the meat. Hubby, the discerning expert, felt the Hitching Post’s flavor was “fair only” and Ron’s was “very good.” In the end, nine of the judges called Ron’s Roost the clear winner.
Consolation came to The Hitching Post in the final test of the evening. Between the custard pie from Ron’s and the chocolate cream from their crosstown rivals, the Hitch hit it out of the park. One critic called the custard a “wasted opportunity in need of a vanilla bean,” and another deemed it “gummy.”
I won’t pretend that this Crosstown Chicken Smackdown is the definitive guide to Cincinnati fried chicken. We may save that for CityBeat’s Dining Guide. But it was a fair comparison of two local legends, both very popular in their respective regions.
Either one would be good to serve at a party for something East, West, North and South Siders could all agree on — like maybe the Bengals in the Super Bowl? There’s always next year (or the next year … or the next year).
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