In and around Charlottesville, Virginia, some of the best fried chicken is found in some of the most innocuous gas station mini marts. The Exxon station in Lovingston is a sterling example. While most of the shelves inside hold typical convenience store fare – beef jerky, beer, motor oil, energy drinks, etc. – a small area in one corner is devoted to fried chicken.
Step up to the window and order by the piece or as a meal of 2 to 20 pieces that includes seasoned potato wedges, a roll, and a choice of cole slaw, potato salad, or macaroni salad. You are given a little ticket with a price written on it. Take the ticket to the front counter, where you wait in line with lotto ticket purchasers, people coming in from the gas pumps, and devotees of fried chicken. Pay for your meal, return to the small dining area near the chicken window, and feast.
Coop chicken is enveloped in an abundant battered crust with so many facets and angles you want to call it rococo. It is salted just right and sports a toasty, gently herbed taste. There is no exclamation mark about this chicken; it is real comfort food with endless good flavor. Thighs are super succulent; drumsticks deliver massive amounts of crunchy crust; breasts are a scrumptious balance of fatty luxury and white meat as palliative as cream. When I asked the woman in the kitchen what made this chicken so good — is it a particular herb or spice? — she offered a Sphinxlike look and said simply, “It’s not spice; it’s how you cook it.” Whatever subtleties of technique are involved, I do know that fresh, clean frying oil is definitely part of the picture. This bird glows!
You might find slightly cheaper gas along this stretch of Route 29, but I doubt if you will find better (or cheaper) fried chicken.