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The Budlong Is Serving Insanely Good Hot Chicken In Lincoln Square

By Anthony Todd in Food on Apr 21, 2017 3:33PM

The chicken tenders at The Budlong. Photo by Anthony Todd.

The fried chicken market is heating up in Chicago. While my first love will likely remain Honey Butter Fried Chicken (followed closely by Big Jones, which I think serves some of the best "fancy sit down" fried chicken in town), my new hometown hero, dangerously located about 4 blocks from my house, is The Budlong, which opened last week on Western Avenue.

This isn't my first encounter with The Budlong, which specializes in Nashville-style hot chicken. Their location inside Revival Food Hall was my favorite thing in the place, beating out such other Chicago food luminaries as Fat Shallot, Aloha Poke and Brown Bag Seafood.

Sadly, the path to this particular location has been a bit tortured. The first sign for the Western Avenue location went up years ago, but some development woes (happily forgotten and not worth recapping now that there are hot chicken tenders within my grasp) slowed down the project.

In case you aren't familiar with Nashville Hot Chicken, this primer from Serious Eats will tell you all you need to know. The highlights? After brining and battering, the chicken is fried and then dipped in a spicy/savory paste of goodness that gives it a signature flavor; the Budlong folks claim that their spice recipe took over a year to develop. As a final touch, the chicken is served atop thick white bread and topped with pickle slices.

A Mural at the back of The Budlong in Lincoln Square. Photo by Anthony Todd.

Guests can choose their heat level, and i've tasted the chicken at the "Classic" and "Hot" levels—I'm saving "Xtra Hot" for a particularly masochistic mood. The joy of this particular style is the combination of hot, savory and sweet, which leaves your mouth burning but craving more at the same time. For review purposes (and review purposes only, of course) I ordered just about everything on the menu, but instead of my intended light tastes, I ended up eating almost an entire chicken before I had to finally admit defeat. The slight burn is addictive, and I'm willing to bet you'll find yourself munching away at a bird that is, frankly, too hot to eat comfortably, since waiting for it to cool would involve a level of willpower that I just don't have.

Fried chicken purists will hate me for saying this, but my favorite dish is the chicken tenders ($11), which create the optimal spicy crust-to-meat ratio. The actual chicken pieces are almost as wonderful, and the kitchen in Lincoln Square seems to have overcome the cooking issues that some previous critics noticed at their other location, as the chicken here was juicy, flaky and cooked all the way through on every piece.

If you can possibly resist, don't order so much chicken that you skip the sides. I wasn't impressed with the collards ($4), which claim to be cooked with smoked ham hocks but had very little of that signature porky, juicy flavor of good collards. But I was completely blown away by their flaky, buttery "Budlong Biscuit," ($3) served with a homemade balsamic berry jam that I ended up eating with a spoon after I'd finished the biscuit.

There are other dishes on the menu, including an excellent chicken sandwich and a farmhouse salad. But here are your marching orders: Get an order of 3 tenders and a biscuit and prepare for a really happy food coma. Get them to go, because your fingers and lips are going to be turned bright red before you're done.