Sure, you can have your cordon bleu or your piccata, but let's be honest: fried is how we really love our chicken. The southern belle of comfort foods, fried chicken embodies just about everything that is pleasurable about eating: that interplay of juicy meat and crispy skin, coated and seasoned and cooked in oil like God intended, salt riffing off pepper, evoking childhood memories of summer picnics and Fourth of July parades.
A number of eateries have been trading on the down-home/upscale fried chicken trend over the past few years -- Front Porch and Sunday Bird in San Francisco and Starbird in Sunnyvale for example -- all putting a foodie spin on the classic Southern favorite.
One of the newest places to take roost is Fast Tony's Chicken, whose new owner is now billing it as a "pop up." It's located in the back reaches of Palo Alto's Town & Country Village, near Belcampo Meat Co. and Biondivino Wine Boutique in the former Tava Kitchen space. Pizzeria Delfina alum and Texas native Tony Nethery opened the place in June with the help of a new chef mentoring program offered through local Vietnamese fast-casual chain Asian Box, whose owners started the initiative to guide up-and-coming restaurateurs through the ups and downs of the perilous business.
However, less than three months out, Nethery is no longer with the restaurant. Chad Newton, a partner in Asian Box and Fast Tony's, has taken over day-to-day operations. He noted Nethery's possible move to the East Coast and the fact that his "heart lies in fine dining."
Newton's take on the restaurant's founding story seems a bit revisionist when set against what was put out to the public in advance of its opening. For example, now it seems Fast Tony's was named not after Tony Nethery, but after Newton's Asian Box business partner's uncle.
While Newton is in talks with the Town & Country management to extend the lease, Fast Tony's could potentially move to a new location, he said.
Despite the apparent early shake-ups, the restaurant has continued to forge ahead with its original vision of Southern-fried comfort food for the California set.
With the exception of a single fish sandwich, Fast Tony's focuses on chicken. The short menu is posted on the wall and the choices are simple: fried chicken, baked chicken, chicken nachos, chicken wings, a fried chicken sandwich, a few sides and daily dessert specials of the pecan pie and cobbler variety. You decide if you want your chicken "hot" or "not." Hot is "Nashville-style spicy," about a five on a scale of 10 in terms of heat, with a warm interplay of seven types of peppers.
In terms of ambiance and amenities, the place is as bare as a plucked bird, what you might expect from a pop-up: a handful of outdoor tables, a makeshift counter, no restroom. Most people take their wings, sandwiches and combos to go, packaged in cute, picnic-ready white boxes. If you do decide to nab one of the outdoor tables, the friendly employees will make sure you're well situated with plenty of napkins. (No tipping, by the way. A sign says employees get a portion of the profits.)
The fried chicken sandwich ($11) is deep-fried chicken breast goodness on a soft King's Hawaiian sweet bun, stacked up with crunchy cabbage slaw, tangy pickles and finished with a slather of the South's favorite brand of mayo, Duke's. Fast Tony's particular combination of classic ingredients adds up to everything a sandwich should be, that deeply satisfying experience you can only get from pairing warm, seasoned meat and cool, vegetal crunch between two pieces of soft bread.
The three piece ($13) will get you a breast, leg and thigh, seemingly from some of the smallest chickens known to mankind. The dainty drumstick was no more than a few nibbles, but the meat did deliver plenty of juicy flavor. We opted for the "not spicy" but it was still deeply flavorful, with a satisfying, peppery finish. All combos are served with a piece of white bread and a stack of crisp dill pickles.
Fast Tony's offers three excellent side dishes ($3 small, $6 medium, $10 large). The eggy potato salad is whipped to a smooth, almost mousse-like consistency. The vinegar slaw is tangy, super crunchy and blessedly devoid of anything creamy.
Finally, there's the "spoon salad" of the day. Seeing as how corn on the cob is not a salad and you can't eat it with a spoon, it seemed an odd offering as a "spoon salad" during all of my visits, but no complaining here. Bathed in chipotle butter, the sweet corn was fantastic, boiled to just the point of tenderness.
A half-pan of baked chicken ($28 for eight small pieces and a choice of two medium sides) was slightly dry, with only a light dusting of the promised dry rub. It was a basic, somewhat bland baked chicken with little to distinguish it.
All of the restaurant's rotating desserts ($3-$6) are gluten-free, procured from Gracie Jones' Gluten Free Bakery on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto, which is owned by Grace Nguyen, Asian Box executive chef and Newton's wife.
Fast Tony's sources its birds from Georgia-based Wayne Farms. According to Newton, they "cost 40 percent more than the average chickens most restaurants procure." While that data point might be hard to verify, the petite nature of the birds is pretty obvious. These are small, flavorful "all natural" chickens noted as hormone- and antibiotic-free on the menu (though it should be noted that all chicken is, by law, hormone-free).
Fast Tony's Chicken
Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real #162, Palo Alto
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes