Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Prettyboy Market

Tailgating in Freeland with some chicken and fries.

I love fried chicken. I can't help it. Sometimes I crave it.

Baltimore's City Paper named Prettyboy Market as the best fried chicken in Baltimore. It's in the middle of the boondocks close to the Pennsylvania state line but I had to try it. And when I say boondocks, I mean boondocks. It's not close to anything. Except corn. But way out there on Middletown Road is the Prettyboy Market.

Maybe I'm just a bit too uban/suburban but when they named Prettyboy Market as Best Fried Chicken, I thought it would be one of those newly chic kind of markets with the nice interiors and fancy gourmet products - maybe even a few tables for seating and a varied selection of fine wines. Prettyboy Market is nothing like that.

It's literally a country market. An old, rundown authentically antique market with the requisite double gas pumps outside that are past their prime. In the county, we're used to Exxon replacing their gas pumps every couple of years with the latest in credit card and multimedia entertainment built in. Not this place. These pumps are old and getting rusty. They look like they've been working hard.

Inside, it's more of the same. The refrigeration units have been here for quite some time. Whole Foods and Wegman's slick this place ain't. But that's the charming part of it. It's real. It's a market for real people. A market for the country. Not a market from yuppie urban slickers who've moved out to the country and want the posh life and deign to beat the "country" out of country because it might lower their property values. No, this place is country, and along with that comes some rather friendly and welcoming country folk who happily asked if I was from around these parts.

Well, yes, if you consider the semi-suburban enclave ten miles south of here as "around these parts," but really: no. I mean, I can sport a Carhartt jacket and John Deere cap like the best of them, but I'm also wearing designer jeans and New Balance shoes, which kinda gives me away as a working the farmers market kind of guy instead of working the farm.

But I'm here for the chicken and a batch just came out of the fryer. Good for me. You order chicken here by the pound, not by the piece. Same goes for the western style fries. Give me a breast and a thigh and they suggested eight fries for good measure. Add a bottle of Dr. Pepper and my meal is $7.41. Not bad for the best chicken in Baltimore.

Unlike my misguided expectations, there's no indoor seating here. In fact, there's no seating at all anywhere on the property. Out to the truck I go to have a little tailgate party while watching the country world go by.

I start off with the breast. It's piping hot. In fact, I opened the plastic bags they were packed in, placed them down on the tailgate and went into the cab to get my camera, came back and situated myself and it was still piping hot. They weren't fibbing about this chicken just coming out of the fryer.

Judging by the looks of it, they use a simple coating of flour and then pressure fry the chicken. It's a bit on the dark side which means that the white meat breast is a bit dry and a bit on the tough side. I'm guessing their cooking the white and dark meat together and the longer cooking time for the dark dries out the white. It's not too dry but definitely on the dry side. Plus the dark crust makes me wonder if perhaps their cook time might be too long.

The flavor is nice but the one thing that lingers in my mind is the mild flavor. It needs salt. More salt. It needs salt to let the flavor pop. As I eat, I'm jonesing for salt. I wish I had some. I search the cab of the truck for hidden packs of salt but nothing. I want to go inside and ask for salt but I don't want to offend, and my urban thinking has me worried that someone might come along and steal my chicken or my camera while I walk inside. It's dumb, I know, but I can't help it.

Now, it's time for the thigh and it's also on the dry side. Not as dry as the breast but perhaps cooked a bit longer than I prefer. The slightly odd cuts on the thigh tell me that they cut their own chicken, which is a good thing. It's nice to see that some craft has actually gone into the food instead of merely using boxed cuts from Purdue.

The thigh's flavor is good but also in need of salt. I'm sitting there wishing they would season their chicken a bit more. I think it would truly make this chicken dance if they did. The City Paper said that no matter how many times they went here, the chicken was always as good as the last time. I'm going to presume today's chicken is the same as the ones that won the City Paper's accolades and I have to wonder if the CP reviewers like salt, cause I think the chicken is good but it could be stellar if it were seasoned a bit more heavily.

The fries are nicely done but compared to the darkness of the chicken, their cook time is a lot shorter. Maybe slightly longer would add a little crisp and, again, a little more salt would go a long way.

Overall, I really liked their chicken, but would I rush out here to the boondocks again just for this chicken? Maybe, maybe not - depending on my mood. But some of my friends live a mile away and we come out here on a fairly regular basis, which means there's always a reason to be out this way, therefore, a reason to just "happen by" the Prettyboy Market for their fried chicken. And next time, I'll bring some salt, just in case. Because I think it could be truly amazing with salt.

Prettyboy Market
20200 Middletown Road
Freeland, MD 21053
Best Fried Chicken 2008

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