FIRST LOOK: Fork & Hen
In a smallish corner of a fairly non-descript North Tamiami Trail strip center is a place where they have figured out the art of perfectly frying chicken. We’re not talking KFC bucket stuff here. Anyone that has ever overcooked a piece of chicken will tell you that it is attention to the smallest details that make frying chicken so potentially maddening. But Fork & Hen (2801 North Tamiami Trl., (941) 960-1212) has got the chicken thing figured out!
Chefs Alfonso Duron and Mark Traugutt couldn’t have come from more different culinary places. But they do have one very special thing in common, Sarasota. More specifically, The Founders Club. That’s where both chefs crossed paths professionally and forged a relationship that would result in their latest gastronomic adventure, Fork & Hen.
People say that good things come in small packages. I’m here to tell you that there may be some truth to that statement. This scratch kitchen restaurant can seat maybe 20 inside (the others may have to stand!). There are a few tables and a small diner-style bar. That’s pretty much it.
The menu is perfectly sized for the space, small. There are a few appetizers, some handhelds, and a small selection of “plates”. A couple of daily specials posted to a chalkboard help round things out and keep it interesting. What we’re talking about here is having to make some tough decisions. Or you could just make your own “tasting menu”! You know, one from column A, two from column B…
I took the perfect fried chicken taster with me on my fact-finding trip. A newly minted high school graduate. It’s just so weird that even with their extremely limited food experience, 18-year-old young adults know a thing or two about the fried chicken game. I’m sure the same could be said for pizza and tacos.
It was my plan to let Ethan handle the fried chicken duties. He didn’t know I was secretly plotting to steer him to “something chicken.” As it turned out, I didn’t need to use my untested powers of subliminal persuasion. He ordered the El Chido Hot Chicken Sandwich all on his own. Or did he??…
I would be concentrating on something a little more adult-like. I ordered the Mac and Cheese! 😂 Chef Duron did double duty as our server this afternoon. He suggested I add the fried chicken as a topping. Who am I to argue with the chef? As you will see, it was the PERFECT addition to an already delicious dish.
Timing can be a blessing or a curse in the world of restaurant review writing. Today the timing could not have been better. A fresh batch of biscuits was just emerging from the kitchen!
Everyone in the place was treated to a little amuse bouche. Or, in this case, a BIG amuse bouche!
The biscuits had a substantial crust holding in a soft, fluffy center. A fantastic carrier for the rich, sage-infused gravy. A delicious combination, to be sure.
Oh yeah, we ordered lunch! And it came out right on the heels of our biscuit starter course.
Here’s how the El Chido Hot Chicken Sandwich turned out.
So, what did my teenage fried chicken critic think of his sammy? Well, he proclaimed that “this is probably the best fried chicken I have ever eaten!” Now granted, he has only had 18 years to accumulate samples. Maybe 17 ½ if you throw out those awkward non-solid food years, but still a big statement.
He did say that the spice was right on, not overwhelming, and that the potato wedges were pretty solid too. Overall, a damn good chicken sandwich review.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “how was the mac and cheese?”
First, I’m not a connoisseur of all things mac and cheese. Looking back, I should have also brought a fourth grader to round out my tasting panel. As it turned out, I didn’t need an eight-year-old to determine that my dish was excellent. The chef made the best call possible on adding the fried chicken. And for an extra $2.95, that was a steal! The chicken was cooked perfectly. Not an easy task. The pasta was al dente, and the cheese nice and melty. A success!
I’m guessing those Ringling College kids will eat them out of mac and cheese when they return to town in the fall.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Fork and Hen has all the elements you could want in a small scratch kitchen concept. The menu has enough for everyone and, at the same time, isn’t intimidatingly big. The dishes we tried were presented well, and tasted like they had been cared for in the kitchen. If this place really catches on (and it should!), there is going to be a line on North Tamiami Trail! Watch out for that!