Everybody is talking about Slappy’s Chicken.
The fried chicken restaurant in Winston-Salem’s Washington Park neighborhood is like a new baby in the family, with relatives cooing over it, taking and posting photos together, rushing in to visit and apparently unable to talk about little else. Within hours of first hearing about Slappy’s from a friend, photos from several others appeared in my newsfeeds.
When I walked in a week later at lunch, the excitement hadn’t relented any, and a steady stream of eager patrons ranging from punks to architects lined up to order from the relatively spartan menu — choose white or dark meat, how much, sides and a drink.
The hefty chicken cut arrives in what looks like teriyaki sauce — it’s drenched in the dark brown flavoring that the menu describes as spicy and savory. But the taste is different: peppery, to be sure, with some kick but not enough to be hot exactly, and some sweetness to even it out.
It’s delicious, and I could understand why friends were fawning over the restaurant whose logo looks like it could be a sticker on a skateboard. But I had questions.
There’s no real sign to speak of yet on the former Acadia Grill where the fried chicken joint now stands. But directly across the street, tall banners planted in the ground advertise fried chicken at the J&J Food Mart & Convenience Store, and another by the door proclaims, “Now serving fresh hot chicken daily.” How, I wondered, does Winston-Salem’s hip new restaurant, part of the culturati family, stack up to this hole in the wall that seems to be doing pretty brisk business itself?
Part of me hesitated to walk across the street and find out. Friends and locals might have my head on a stake if I panned Slappy’s, I reasoned. But I care less and less about the opinions of others these days and more about cultivating trust with our readers. And my friend Pablo, whose always down for a food adventure, had come with me to Slappy’s and egged me on.
And then after J&J Food Mart, he somehow convinced me to drive to Ted’s Kickin’ Chicken, so I could accurately rate Slappy’s against the competition. Eating at two places in a row is called a “bang-bang,” my publisher Brian tells me, which would make this a bang-bang-bang.
Do not ever do such a thing to yourself. I think I could actually feel my arteries clogging later that afternoon despite leaving food on the tray at our second and third stops. There is absolutely no reason for you to put yourself through such gluttony, because Pablo and I already sacrificed our bodies so that you could actually trust our endorsement. And we easily crowned a victor from the three — more on that in a moment.
Over at J&J, fried chicken wings, breasts and legs sit under a heat lamp at the front of a relatively large kitchen area. For just $6, we scored three wings, a leg, fat potato-wedge fries, a roll and a 12-ounce drink. (A quarter chicken with a roll and two sides at Slappy’s is $9.) The cook/cashier told us we could add “any sauce you could imagine” before listing out a half-dozen of the basics, but we picked hot sauce — Texas Pete, in this case — because otherwise the only thing making this hot chicken would be the temperature.
We pulled up overturned milk crates on the side of the food mart to split the fare, sampling the wedges but quickly deciding to pass on most of them. The sides at Slappy’s easily won, though we had been a little let down that the “Cheez-It mac & cheese” didn’t taste more like the orange snack.
As for the chicken? No contest. For what it is, we agreed, J&J is solid, but it’s what you’d expect from chicken that isn’t made to order, instead prioritizing affordability and speed. That has its place in this neighborhood, considering the flow of people in and out and the Family Dollar next door, but so does Slappy’s, which is more in line with Washington Perk & Provision and Swaim’s dive bar up the block. And if the extra couple of dollars isn’t a deal-breaker, the trade-up is undoubtedly worth it.
But we weren’t done yet. Ted’s Kickin’ Chicken, also known as Ted’s Famous Chicken, operates at least three locations in the region including one in Winston-Salem. Given the size of the franchised business and its longevity, I expected it to be a more formidable rival to Slappy’s.
The smell of cooking chicken hits you as soon as you step out of your car in Ted’s parking lot, about eight minutes south of Slappy’s and J&J. It’s the biggest of the three chicken shops, filled with a bunch of white men and biker paraphernalia in particular, with signed dollar bills taped everywhere and a red bottle on the table that I hoped held hot sauce but instead dispensed ketchup.
A juicy order of leg and thigh — just $4.25 — arrived with a plastic fork stuck in it and basting in a thin overflowing sauce. It’s similar to Slappy’s in color, but the similarities pretty much end there. Pablo ordered Ted’s famous chopped chicken sandwich, which he topped with a red vinegar slaw as if it were barbecue, but the chicken lacked real flavor and depth. I poured my excess onto his sandwich, but it didn’t help much.
To be fair, we were far from hungry by the time we arrived, and we still enjoyed Pablo’s fries. But while my leg and thigh may have beat out J&J on taste and even price, I don’t plan to drive back to the southern fringe of the city for a repeat.
Slappy’s on the other hand — I can now say with some authority, speaking from a place of wisdom rather than fear — is a treat.
Visit Slappy’s Chicken at 200 W. Acadia Ave. (W-S) inside the former Acadia Grill, find it on Facebook or call 336.761.0268.