By: James Barriere
Photos by: Andy Zhao
Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
Dishes to Try: Fried Chicken Sandwich
After a false start in Lakeview and a popular stall at Revival Food Hall, The Budlong Hot Chicken has finally settled into a space of its own. Behind an airy window near the Armitage El is another cayenne and flour-dredged outpost for the Nashville specialty colonizing Chicago.
The Budlong makes a strong first impression: a huge window beckons from the sidewalk and floods the space with natural light during the day. The interior seems to draw from the ‘southern Pinterest’ canon with a mishmash of black and white photos and exposed brick. Tying everything together are two huge picnic tables in the center of the dining room. It is a dining room with loads of charm that manages to avoid being too precious.
Service is similarly charming, especially for a counter-service operation. At the counter, the staff taking orders were game to any questions or explanations of the simple menu. Other wait staff roamed the dining room, seamlessly running food and keeping water filled.
Hot chicken is popularly held to have been created to exact revenge for a boyfriend’s infidelity. Sordid past aside, it has gained a reputation as an intensely painful and flavorful experience. In practice, the spice of my chicken sandwich missed the mark. I ordered a ‘Hot’ sandwich (the second spiciest offering) and was disappointed to be left wanting for spice. Ignoring spice, however, The Budlong serves an incredible fried chicken sandwich. The breading was crisp and flavorful, the meat was unbelievably juicy, and a complex pickle, sauce, and slaw combo played counterpoint to the fat and salt of the meat. The slightly sweet brioche bun, straight from Expensive Sandwich Central Casting, held everything together perfectly. In the future, I would order their X-Hot chicken, which might have more of the spice I wanted to see in the sandwich.
Sides were a bit more hit-and-miss. Collard greens were excellent, making up for a lack of the meatiness I look for with sharp cider vinegar and a little bit of spice. Mac and cheese was a mixed experience. While the sauce had a great sharp cheddar flavor, it was sunk by a grainy and floury texture.
Overall, my trip to The Budlong was enjoyable. They put out an excellent sandwich and decent sides. My main sticking point with them was the price. At $10 for the sandwich, $4 for sides and $3 for drinks, it is very expensive for fried chicken. While it could be a great neighborhood lunch spot, travelling to Lincoln Park for a $20 fried chicken dinner is a huge ask.