Cuisines run the muck here in Manhattan, but one that doesn’t seem to be that big or talked about is fried chicken. Hill Country Chicken, however, has dispelled that myth by being the first here in Manhattan to bring authentic southern hospitality to our island, and people are loving every tasty minute of it.
With celebrity fans like Venus & Serena Williams and more, Hill Country Chicken has mastered the fried chicken world here with an assortment of chicken dishes, fresh made sides and pies that make them truly a standalone in a competitive culinary industry. After hearing my friends rave about it for such a long time, I decided to pop in there on a rainy Thursday night to experience first hand what makes this place so great.
Before I dug into their delicious grub, I sat down with Vice President of Operations Steven Ferdinand and General Managers David Frasure and David Velez about the rich history of Hill Country Chicken including how childhood memories inspired the beginnings, how they evolved, and their individual favorite dishes.
When did Hill Country Chicken start?
David F: The first location opened up on September 15th, 2010, just over six years ago and it has been going strong since then.
Steven F: It started primarily as a fried chicken concept. Now the tagline is “The Home of Better Chicken”. So it originally started out with founder Mark Glosserman’s grandmother’s fried chicken recipes from Texas. They do two versions- classic with the skin on, and one called “Mama Elle’s”, being his grandmother, which is a saltine cracker. Essentially it is skinless with a saltine cracker on it, very Texas style.
David F: Mark grew up in Austin, his grandfather was mayor of one of the small towns called Lockhart, Texas. He grew up and spent a lot of summers there, and the story sort of goes that every birthday his Grandmother would ask what he would want for his dinner and he would always say fried chicken and apple pie. So the concept derived from an idea like this from an old family recipe and so everyone put an emphasis in doing homemade pies made from scratch and in house, such as an adaptation of an old Banana Cream Pie recipe, which has since expanded to many other kinds of pies. Overall, this was conceived of and started on two recipes of fried chicken, homemade fresh daily pies and sides from scratch. Keep it simple and keep it straightforward.
What has been the secret to staying not only open but successful in a city like Manhattan?
Steven F: I think our fried chickens is one of the best in Manhattan, and it is consistently good over and over each year. Anybody can grill chicken but with fried chicken there is a science to it, and it seems to work here.
David V: I come from working in a place where hospitality comes before food, and we follow that here too. You don’t receive genuine hospitality at a lot of other places you go to, which probably makes up the 85 percent of the restaurants that close each year in Manhattan. When you come in, we give you a big welcome and a big goodbye, it is something that Mark feels strongly about that. I feel that is something that it is important when serving food because you can come in and have good food but if you had a bad experience you won’t go back. I think there is a lot of people like me, which is why we are successful and staying open.
David F: It is built into the brand, I think, because Hill Country is from Texas. We are giving you down home, southern hospitality here. When we first opened, there was no place in the city serving fried chicken like this. So we wanted to be that place and it has worked since then.
You have a lot of amazing items on the menu. Which is each of your favorite?
David F: I love the Tenders, fried and boneless. They are the best in the city, period. We build an empire on the chicken tender we serve here.
David V: I’m more of a “sandwich” dude, so our “Kickin Chicken” sandwich I love. You can have it either fried or grilled, with homemade coleslaw and chipotle aioli on it. Just delicious.
Steven F: I like the Classic Fried Chicken– consistently juicy and amazing.
Got any big plans with Hill Country Chicken going on in 2017?
Steven F: Actually, “The Tender Dog” is coming next month.
David V: That item came because we want to reach a broader audience with a less expensive item.
Steven F: We use the Tenders that David discussed earlier, with different kinds of toppings, some queso, onions, stuff like that. It keeps people excited. The great thing about Hill Country Chicken is that it is a mix of coming here for a “cheat day” with the fried chicken, but we also have a line of healthy shakes and salads so you can get a bit of both.
I tried some of the food first hand, and can definitely guarantee that this is an amazing place to go to if you want some amazing fried chicken and delicious sides right at your greasy fingertips. For more information on Hill Country Chicken, check out their official website.