I've secretly always wanted to eat at Chik-fil-A, but I never have, for obvious reasons. I prefer my chicken sandwiches sans bigotry, thank you very much. Which is why Leghorn Chicken was such a dream come true for me. The idea of an anti-Chik-fil-A, a fried chicken sandwich spot championing gay rights and naysaying prejudice by doling out a portion of proceeds to gay rights organizations, is everything I could ever want in an eatery. Although the obscure Ukrainian Village locations means I probably won't be hoofing it there too often, it's definitely worth the trek for some tasty chicken 'wiches deep-fried in acceptance. Here's a first taste of Chicago's latest chicken joint:
(Pickle-brined chicken sandwich at Leghorn)
This place is small and bustling, making it the closest thing to a raucous chicken shack amidst an onslaught of chicken openings these past couple years. It feels like the type of small-town counter-service haunt you might expect to encounter on a middle-America road trip, only instead of conservative, judgemental glares from patrons as I saunter in with neon socks and skinny pants, I feel warmth. I feel at home. But with louder, more aggressive music. It's slick, simple, and bright, perfectly personifying the Americana chicken restaurant motif. The seating layout may be a little confusing at first, just make sure you mosey into the line on the left side of the restaurant, analyze the menu, and place your order at the cash-only counter. Service is gruff in that adorable sort of way; they'll call you darling when you attempt to pay with a credit card and you can't really put a price on how surly-sweet that is. Actually you can: the ATM fee.
Fried chicken sandwiches are the name of the game at Leghorn. Such a straightforward concept seems like it would be easy, but it's a little confusing nonetheless. Case in point, if you're going the sandwich route, which you damn well should, there's decisions to be made every step of the way. First, select Nashville hot or pickle-brined for the style of chicken, then select breast or thigh meat, followed by biscuit or bun. The algorithm can be a bit puzzling, especially for first-timers afraid to make the wrong choice and screw up flavor combinations like at a DIY frozen yogurt shop. Here though, one can rest assured that any combo therein is sure to be delish. Although fiery and merciless, the Nashville hot breast'wich on a biscuit is tender, heady, and luscious, plus it will clear out your sinuses! Meanwhile, the pickle-brined thigh meat sandwich provides a pleasant tangy bite, mellowing out the innate richness of deep-fried poultry. I haven't tried the bun yet, but biscuits are reputable, if a bit dense. But I appreciate that they are firm enough to hold together and support the chicken. Adjoining pickle slivers on the sandwiches are quite nice and potent. For sides, it's a smattering of random additions (nori fries; fresh pineapple and mango with togarashi) and stellar accents (green chile hush puppies are killer, made with Iroquois cornmeal that begets a creamy, fritter-like texture). Daily specials are also worth noting, especially chicken fried fries on Tuesdays and fried chicken nuggets on Wednesdays.
Leghorn is the latest concept from tireless restaurant group Element Collective, whose impressive portfolio runs the gamut from a boisterous and meaty bar (Old Town Social) to an elegant Parisian parlor (RM Champagne Salon). Leghorn marks their most casual endeavor to date, their first counter-service operation, and their first slinging free condoms. It's all about wholesome, sustainable, welcoming service at Leghorn, where the socially conscious eatery champions local farms and human rights in the same breath. Named after a heritage breed of chicken that until recently was nearing endangerment, Leghorn sources from small farms supporting the breed and raising livestock the right way. Furthering the socially conscious mentality, Leghorn makes concerted efforts to support the gay community, welcoming them when other fried chicken sandwich shops would prefer to bastardize religion and isolate clientele.
- Matt Kirouac