World Class Fried Chicken Is Hiding in Paris
Growing up in Texas, I ate my fair share of fried chicken. And while it was always my sister's favorite food, you could usually find me nibbling the edges of a drumstick before losing interest. That is, until I discovered my favorite fried chicken in the world…in Paris, of all places. I've been to Paris three times this year, and the second two trips were in no small part fueled by the desire to eat more of the perfect poultry at Ellsworth, a chicly casual restaurant in the Second Arrondissement. Several deeply juicy, crunchily-crusted pieces of fried chicken, plated with bracing pickles, sharp slaw and a creamy, herby buttermilk dressing that screams to be slathered all over. It's fried chicken you eat with a fork and knife, but I still managed to scrape up every last crumb of the coating before I surrendered my plate.
You'll find the dish on the menu as Poulet Frit, Légumes Marinés, Choux, Lait Fermenté, which sounds a bit more elegant than just "fried chicken." But how exactly did fried chicken end up on a menu in Paris? Laura Adrian, co-owner of Ellsworth, companion to fine-dining restaurant Verjus and its bar à vins, tells it was because she was an American in Paris. "We initially put the buttermilk fried chicken on the menu at Verjus wine bar in 2011 simply because it was nostalgic, "says Laura. "We had been living in France for a few years, and there was not the variety of modern restaurants you have now in Paris. Almost all restaurants were traditional French, very few places doing more modern, global food. We saw a space in the dining scene for some quality, thoughtful dishes that had an American flair." They never anticipated the success of the dish, assuming it was something they would have for a week or two. But they've been serving it ever since, moving it permanently to the menu at Ellsworth, which opened in 2015.
Laura describes Ellsworth as "approachable, fun and delicious" with seven day-a-week service of à la carte dishes. Unsurprisingly, the fried chicken is one of the most popular at the restaurant. The menu is small plates meant for sharing and the perfectly juicy pieces of crispy, breaded chicken —bigger than nuggets, smaller than breasts— lend themselves to that. But the sauce and the accompanying vegetables complete the dish Chef Braden Perkins, co-owner of Ellsworth and Verjus, "wanted components that you could use to cut the heavy saltiness of the fried chicken." And indeed, it's that mix of subtle sweetness from the herbed buttermilk dipping sauce with the vinegary tang of the house made pickles that combine into something fusing the full axis of sweet and savory, creamy and crunchy all at once.
Perkins explains that the quality of the ingredients goes a long way towards making the dish so special. "There are so many components to what makes the fried chicken unique," he explains. "We work with incredible farmers at both restaurants. The flour is ground for the restaurant, [and] it’s the same flour we use for our sourdough bread. The pickles we make in house. The buttermilk for the sauce comes from the byproduct of making butter in house mixed with raw cream that comes from a small co-op in Brittany. The dill and herbs that we cut into the sauce come from another woman who has been growing herbs and foraging ingredients for the restaurants since we first opened." So, not exactly your average fried chicken take-out.
I first tried the poulet frit in January on a friend's recommendation, having already eaten at Verjus several times previously. I went with my pescetarian husband, who smelled the chicken placed in front of me and broke his almost-four-year streak of not eating meat to try it. In June, I took a friend who asked if we could order a second helping of the chicken instead of dessert. And I returned recently in the quiet days of late August for brunch with another friend, who assured me afterwards that it had lived up to the hype. And after all, the jolt of the unexpected is an ingredient that’s hard to quantify. As Perkins says, "I think there is also the scandalous component of eating fried chicken in Paris." Scandalous and delicious.
Ellsworth, 34 Rue de Richelieu, +33 1 42 60 59 66