Review: Head to Duluth’s Thank U Chicken for real KFC (as in Korean)


Chicken and waffles. Nashville hot chicken. Buffalo wings. Asha Gomez’s Kerala Fried Chicken. Popeyes.

However you like your fried bird, and I dig all of the above, you won’t go lacking in Atlanta, where cooks from north, south, east and west are well schooled in matters of frying the comforting dish their way.

Korean fried chicken, which some people winkingly call the original KFC, is known for its delectable crispiness. And when I get a hankering for the other KFC, I know just where to go: Thank U Chicken, which opened about a year ago near Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth, is the obvious choice for stellar bird and all the fixings. (I don’t mean mashed potatoes, coleslaw and biscuits.)

Though Thank U Chicken offers a scattering of seafood and noodle soups, stir-fries and rice bowls, the essential dish is that glorious house special, served plain or slathered with soy, syrupy sweet-chile sauce, even a cheese and garlic goo.

Sure, you can get jumbo wings; boneless bird; chicken and waffles; wings and waffles; spicy chicken feet; rotisserie chicken; fried or grilled gizzards, etc. But after a couple of visits, I can tell you it’s the classic Thank U Chicken platter you want: It’s a whole bird, enough for a party of two or three, and a terrific value at $25. It’s hacked into 15 or 16 pieces (so there’s plenty to go around without a squabble), then fried to a shade more blond than golden brown.

After that, you may want to graduate to the shockingly bright red Spicy Fried Chicken, which is twirled with chile oil and a kimchi-like veggie melange. (I liked this hot chicken but would suggest it as part of a half-and-half combo.)

With any platter, you get a lovely fresh salad of mixed greens with a sprinkling of fried green-tea powder and a creamy-mayo or a soy-based dressing (get the mayo!). Plus a quartet of side dishes.

My friend and I had to giggle when we spied the four so-called “seasonal sides.” You were expecting winter squash and braised collards, were you?

If you know anything about the Korean table, you know it starts with rice and banchan: a variety of little side dishes, pickles and condiments. For that kind of eating, there are dozens of Korean barbecue joints and tofu houses in town.

Thank U Chicken has its own way.

Every platter comes with one fat waffle soaked in maple syrup; a pile of chopped and batter-fried chicken gizzards; a tasty dish of whole-kernel corn with melted cheese; and a small bowl of fried potatoes and sweet potatoes. (Every party gets a gratis snack of pickled daikon radish, great for a between-bite palate cleanse.)

For the fried chicken, there’s a trio of dipping sauces: a pink mayo concoction; a brown soy-and-garlic sauce; a sweet chile condiment. Try a dab of each. Ring the red tableside bell and ask for extra if you like. But once you taste the superior bird, I doubt you will. It’s a purist’s fantasy, the best kind of Seoul food.

If you’re trying to save your manicure or don’t want to waste paper napkins, there are plastic gloves. But I’m more of a finger-licking kind of guy than a fussbudget. So unless I’m scarfing down a super-saucy or incendiary dish, I’ll probably skip the clumsy-clingy plastic mittens and use my digits. (Chopsticks are on the table, if needed, and you may always ask for a fork.)

I just don’t want anything coming between me and the joy I get from pulling that first piece of crispy skin from the bone. It’s a helluva flavor bomb: crispy, fatty, salty, melty. The skin is my litmus test to see if a bird shack’s cooking technique is up to par. In this regard, Thank U Chicken hasn’t let me down. (I just wish there was more of that wicked skin.)

The textbook way of making Korean fried bird is double frying — or at least frying for a few minutes, then removing from the oil to shake off the excess breading — the little nibs and nubs and craggy shards that Westerners typically love. (This de-battering hack is often done in a wire basket.) Then the chicken is re-immersed in the deep fat to get that final sheen.

Nerd that I am, I asked the server about the fry protocol. She brought out the chef-owner, Hee Tae Jung, who said the twice-fry method isn’t his way. Seems he gently batters the bird; keeps it cold until the order is placed; then gives it a more aggressive turn in the coating before zapping it for just the right amount of time in the roiling grease. But he only fries it once!

Some other things you need to know about Thank U Chicken. There are sodas, fruit drinks, soju (the national spirit of Korea) and soju cocktails. I suggest a bottle of Korean beer (or a bucket if several peeps are drinking).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the rice balls. They are just what they sound like, wonderful fried rice, rolled up with soy sauce, kimchi, beef or tuna. We liked the kimchi. But man, that beef!

If you aren’t hip to the “other” KFC, start here. Order a platter and a few rice balls. U can thank me later. 

THANK U CHICKEN

11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Wednesdays-Fridays; noon-midnight Saturdays; noon-11 p.m. Sundays. Closed Tuesdays. 3473 Old Norcross Road, Suite 302, Duluth. 470-875-9000; on Facebook: facebook.com/thankuchicken/.

Recommended: Thank U Chicken platter. Spicy fried chicken. Beef rice balls.


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