Al’s Chickenette

Review by: Wendler

**** THIS RESTAURANT IS PERMANENTLY CLOSED ****

Since 1949, Al’s Chickenette has been serving top-notch chicken dinners to locals and travelers along I-70. Restaurant founders Al & Lucille Bieker are no longer in charge, but the new owners do a fine job keeping up this Hays, Kansas, tradition.

If you are passing through after dark, Al’s is especially easy to find, thanks to its beautiful vintage neon sign glowing outside. Indoors, the walls are covered with evocative pictures of Kansas railroad history and a huge collection of chicken figurines.

Of course, the thing to eat is chicken. Fried. You can buy it by the quarter or half bird, tenders or nuggets, a breast filet or a giblet dinner of livers and/or gizzards. This is not fast-food chicken. It will take a while for your order to cook, which is one reason it is so good. As your teeth crack through the chicken’s crunchy skin, aromatic steam erupts into the air. It is delicious plain, but the way Al’s customers know to eat it is to take a squeeze bottle of honey and drizzle some across the crisp skin (as well as on the excellent French fries). The honey’s sweetness sings mellifluous harmony with the chicken’s salty crust.

For dessert: peach or cherry pie, a la mode, please.

 

What To Eat

Fried chicken

DISH
Dinner Rolls

DISH

Al’s Chickenette Recipes

Discuss

What do you think of Al’s Chickenette?

One Response to “Al’s Chickenette”

Kent Wendler

November 27th, 2014

Update (27 Nov 2014) Al’s closed for a while between ownerships, but it’s back under new owners and the chicken is prepared the same way as before and is good as ever. I was there twice recently, back in June and again on Nov. 19. There has been some mild redecorating – the railroad pictures are gone and so is the Dorothy Lynch salad dressing. They also source bigger chickens than “back in the day” – the three piece dinner is just as much or more than the old five piece. The prep seems to be just the same as before, fried to order, so be prepared to wait for chicken too hot to handle immediately but steaming hot with each careful initial bite. The fries, thin cut, seem also to be unchanged. The honey squeeze bottle is now brought out with the food instead of remaining on the table.

Oh, an one more change: they now have a web site: http://als-chickenette.com/

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Al’s Chickenette has been in business a very considerable period of time and there is a good reason for this. And the name of this place says it quite well.

As you can see from the photo the outside doesn’t look like much. I believe the building started as officer’s quarters at a defunct World War II army air base about 20 miles away before it was moved to Hays and converted to its true calling. But the restaurant tells its own story quite well and it’s reproduced here, with permission from the management, along with the rest of its promotional leaflet including the menu. (This is free publicity, after all.)

And it is deserved Roadfood publicity. Now reasonable Road Fooders may disagree on whether one restaurant’s fried chicken is “better” than anothers. They will nearly all agree, I think, that the chicken prepared here is distinctive, and it is good. Also the thin cut french fries.

The food is cooked to order and comes to the table hot. Before you dig into it, though, notice that squeeze bottle of honey on the table. It’s there for a reason. Take it and squeeze a generous bead over the fries and each piece of chicken. (Leave the ketchup off the fries, at least until you’ve sampled it this way.) Now, bite into that first piece of chicken, along with a forkfull of fries. You’ll savor the thin, crispy, crunchy, slightly salty, mildly spicy crust of the chicken overlaid with the contrasting sweetness of the honey as steam curls up from where it came from. The honey also nicely contrasts with the crust of the fries surrounding the soft, potato-ey interior. You may also notice that the crustyness holds up even as you swallow, continuing its textural treat even on the way down.

If you have the tossed salad with your meal you might try it with the Dorothy Lynch dressing, a regional commercial product which is quite tasty.

As noted in the menu, tea and coffee are complimentary. Other drinks are extra. I always have the ice tea, and lots of it.

I was introduced to Al’s as a child when I lived in the area. Even though I’ve moved away my family tries to have at least a meal here every time we return for a visit.

So if you’re passing by Hays, Kansas, on Interstate 70 during the hours Al’s is open, take the U.S. 183/Vine St. exit south, going nearly all the way through town almost to the south edge. It will be worth the small detour from your trip.

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