Why East Coast oyster royalty can’t get enough of gas station fried chicken.
Rappahannock Oyster Comapany might be one of the largest and most recognizable producers of boutique bivalves on the East Coast, but it wasn’t always that way. When its owners, cousins Travis and Ryan Croxton, began their Topping, Virginia–based farm in 2001, restaurants were skeptical of the Chesapeake Bay’s potential. So on weekends, the duo would travel up and down the eastern seaboard with a cooler in their backseat filled with oysters for chefs to sample.
During those trips to Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C., the Croxtons used their gas station pit stops to explore their other gastronomic passion: fried chicken. What they found was that many of these overlooked spots lining Virginia’s highways provided more than a fill-up; they offered fried chicken that rivaled the Croxton family recipe. “And isn’t that the very definition of comfort food,” says Travis. “It gave us a piece of home on the road.”
For almost 20 years now, the Rappahannock cousins have cataloged their greatest fried chicken finds and along the way have learned some regional nomenclature. The “holy trinity” of any worthy Chesapeake menu, according to Travis? Thighs, hot wings (breaded, not sauced), and wedges. “You’re liable to get beat up if you ask for ‘potato’ wedges,” says Travis. “It’s like In-N-Out; you have to know the language.”
5 Virginia Fried Chicken Favorites
“The hot wings here can’t be beat. And the wedges, which are often dry and doughy at other places, simply melt in your mouth.” 12132 King William Rd., King William (Inside a Valero)
“This spot has my favorite fried thigh, with a perfect crust-to-grease ratio. Plus, you pay by the pound, so you can throw in a pork chop and some cherry cobbler.” 335 Virginia St., Urbanna
“I rarely veer away from classic wings and thighs, but Sunnyside has legit tenders with Cajun seasoning in the batter.” 925 Gloucester Rd., Saluda (Inside an Exxon)
“Hidden in a commuter lot beside a Burger King, these juicy wings always prove an exhilarating start to a trip to D.C. and points northward.” 10162 Kings Dominion Blvd., Doswell (Inside an Exxon)
“Whenever I’m traveling to one of my other restaurants, I always hit Brown’s, which offers a free piece of chicken when you fill up your tank.” 1218 Avon St., Charlottesville