Worth A Cluck

If the phrase weren't trademarked, we'd tell you that at Huntington Beach's Chicken Co., they do chicken right. Instead, we'll tell you that they do chicken, er, correctly—damn correctly! If there's one particular way to cook up a bird and make it delicious, they've been doing it for years, slathering on the secret sauces in this nondescript little restaurant and turning lowly poultry into buttery works of art.

There's an almost martial austerity to the place. Since most of their business seems to be takeout (judging by the constant stream of slavering fowl-o-philes strolling out the door, teetering towers of Styrofoam trays cradled precariously in their arms), the décor shakes down somewhere on the sunny side of Spartan. But don't let that scare you away: there's a certain rare pleasure to be had from perching in one of the plastic chairs, flipping through the free apartment guide because you're getting screwed by your current roommates (but that's another article), and letting the world melt away in a buttery bowl of tender chicken slivers. Forget chicken soup: this is what your soul has really been craving.

For something like 20 years, the Chicken Co. has been dispatching hundreds of nature's most misbegotten creature—the nasty, dimwitted egg-beplopper we like to call the chicken—to that great, free-range pasture in the sky with the not-inconsiderable consolation that their earthly host will be transformed into something sublime. You'll know as soon as you step inside: from the generous buckets of lemon-butter-garlic sauce to the grills crackling with legions of breasts and wings, it's obvious that small miracles occur here. And it's all natural—no cholesterol, lard, MSG or preservatives—just chicken in all its tender glory.

Best of all, such glory is insanely, incongruously, incredibly cheap. Shake out the couch cushions for change, because this is one of those mythical restaurants all but stomped out by the heavy hooves of global fast-food capitalism. You'll spend about as much as or even less than you would at one of those lard-and-drive-through joints, you'll get a lot more food (the Chicken Co. serves ostrich- or emu-sized portions) and your poor withering taste buds will tearfully thank you for it.

We eagerly but skeptically began with a tray full of hefty hot wings, typically unable to find any west of, say, Asbury Park that meet our discriminating standards. Someone at the Chicken Co. must have honed their craft in the back streets of Buffalo, however: when your dinner flushes out your sinuses, you know you're dealing with a master. A chicken sandwich (with fries, a mere $3.49) is the perfect lunch on the run—a breaded patty lightly dabbed with mayo and tucked between lettuce, onion, tomato and a sesame-seed bun. For an appetizer, snuffle your snout through a baked potato brimming with chicken and optional cheese ($3.49) or some chicken strips ($4.49, just like the school cafeteria used to make—except edible) or a chicken bean-and-rice burrito ($4.49) and the proverbial much much more, just about all of it involving chicken in some profound and fundamental way. And then you're ready for the house specialty: the charbroiled chicken.

Even the tiniest two-piece combo meal or dinner ($3.99 or $3.49, with tortillas and some combination of beans, rice, guacamole, salsa and lettuce) will leave you greasy and satiated, cleaning butter-lemon-garlic sauce from your slick fingertips and trying to muster the strength for one last attack. (Tip: ask politely for as much sauce as you can handle; it's the best part.) If you're one of those dainty chicken-skin peeler-and-eaters, this is your glimpse of heaven, and if you'd rather spare the style and go for the substance—well, there's plenty of transcendence awaiting you, too. Even the vegetarians are sorely tempted, and that's probably the highest praise a chicken wrangler can get. Like we said, they do chicken correctly.

The Chicken Co., located at 9017 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, is open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (714) 963-0500. Dinner for two, $10. No alcohol. All major credit cards accepted.


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