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Fried in lard, Barberton chicken is distinguished by a brittle red-gold crust that encloses juice-laden meat. In the restaurants of Barberton (at the edge of Akron, Ohio), it is the anchor of a feast that also includes a timbale of tart cole slaw, French fries, and a bowl of spicy tomato-rice hot sauce.
Barberton chicken was brought to the New World from Serbia when the Topalsky family immigrated to the farmland of Ohio at the beginning of the 20th century. During the Depression, when the family dairy farm failed, Mike and Smilka Topalsky opened a restaurant called Belgrade Gardens in Mike’s father’s house. It had a normal repertoire of steaks and chops, but they served their special fried chicken to the staff. Word got out and soon customers began asking for chicken and hot sauce. Once it was put on the menu, Barberton chicken became such a success that three more restaurants opened offering the very same thing. Like Belgrade Gardens, the White House, DeVore’s Hopocan Gardens, and Milich’s Village Inn continue to thrive.