A few years ago, Korea-based fried chicken joints blew up in Atlanta. Seriously, it seemed a new one opened every month. As the trend died, many closed, but BBQ Chicken (3473 Old Norcross Road, Duluth, 678-417-6464, www.bbqchickenatl.com) has managed to hang in there. BBQ Chicken (aka Chicken & Beer) — no relation to the Ludacris album Chicken N Beer — is a Korean megachain with 1,900 restaurants scattered throughout China, Japan, Spain, the U.S., Vietnam, Australia, Mongolia, Malaysia and Singapore. Despite its ubiquity, BBQ Chicken doesn't feel like a fast-food restaurant. And considering the house specialty is fried chicken, it seems downright swanky.
The BBQ in the name stands for "best of the best quality chicken." It's a lofty claim, and they have it plastered everywhere, including an enormous poster featuring an attractive Korean superstar giving her endorsement. Korean culture is obsessed with health and wellness, so BBQ's chicken is fried in 100 percent olive oil because of the purported health benefits. Its website also makes the far-fetched claim that it uses "special sauces and spices developed by our food scientists that cannot be found at any other restaurant or cuisine."
Because Korean fried chicken (or K.F.C.) is fried twice to achieve a greaseless crust with scores of crunchy nooks and crannies, it can take a good 20 minutes or so to make it to your table. The wait is arguably worth it. The interior is super juicy and fresh-tasting, although the olive oil imparts a unique taste to the original olive chicken that's more Italy than Korea. Opting for a flavoring mutes any of the residual olive notes. The sweet and spicy chicken has a respectable amount of heat and enough stickiness to make it pleasantly sloppy. Just eat it quickly because the sauce can make it soggy. The wings — especially the über-crunchy and hardcore-spicy "wings of fire" — are more consistent.
The very freezer-to-fryer starters and sides are hit or miss. Fried green beans are a fan favorite, but I found the tempura-like coating soggy and the beans woefully limp. The straight-outta-the-jar, no-frills ranch dressing is just sad. The dressing also accompanies the onion rings, which are more greasy onion than crispy breading. The funky-and-fermented-tasting coleslaw is the most Korean thing on the menu. It comes with mashed potatoes and gravy, which are respectable even though it's hard to tell if they're powdered or real. Side-wise, the waffle fries with nacho cheese are probably the best bet. The fries have a nubbly coating that's golden and crisp, and the nacho cheese dressing tastes exactly like the movie-theater variety. It's fun, but there needs to be more of it to balance the serving of fries.
The "beer" component consists of a few beers on tap — nothing fancy, just your standard Budweiser and Sam Adams.
Service can be slow at BBQ — like, one-server slow — so this is more of a takeout spot. The crispiness of the chicken holds up remarkably well over the hours and will withstand refrigeration thanks to the nifty, brightly colored ventilated paper takeout boxes. Just give yourself a good 30 minutes of lead time.
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