Harlem, NYC — The only occasion I need to go to Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken (or Charles' Southern Style Kitchen, as it is also known) is when I want my absolute favorite fried chicken, served like I grew up enjoying fried chicken, in the neighborhoods I grew up in enjoying fried chicken, with the sides I love best with fried chicken.
The only problem is that I no longer live in Harlem, and time doesn't allow to sate myself on the merest whim of appetite or hunger. So it wasn't until I had a business-related reason to visit — to hawk my soon-to-market Pop Sauce™ I hope owner Charles Gabriel puts on his table tops so I can direct more customers there — that was worthy excuse as well to spoil myself with one of my otherwise go-to heavenly culinary pleasures.
Humble yet inviting still is the place's exterior, and as well is the owner who I was lucky to catch up with as he still does the "grunt" work of shopping for and delivery his own wares, foods, and sundries, running in and out the door with heavy boxes while his own personal car idled right outside. He's still the one who's in at 5 in the morning, making from scratch the famous fried chicken and each of the dozens of other mains (pork chops, ham, smoked turkey) and sides (collard greens, sweet potatoes). Yet still a generous enough man to stop for a few seconds to interact with customers and chat with me.
I let him get back to what he needed to do so I could get back to what I wanted to do, which was "throw down" with a fried chicken dinner of two thighs with entree-sized sides of mac 'n' cheese and blackeyed peas.
As always, properly crispy, yet not overly floured, skin crackles with each bite, releasing a burst a aromatic goodness and balanced seasoning for the palate, that all boost the perfectly fried chicken's juicy deliciousness (accented with the rendered fat you best get from thigh meat). The earthy, savory, rich yet light blackeyed peas maintain just enough texture to compliment the bites, while the hearty mac 'n' cheese, speckled with small melted blocks of just cheese, bring me back to every family dinner table I used to look forward to getting second (and third) platings from.
Which is exactly what, I believe, is the intended appeal in Charles Gabriel's chicken place. He cooks the food and runs the hospitality and service much more like a home kitchen than stuffy restaurant, like you've just stepped into someone's South Carolina backyard in the middle of a cookout. But instead of paying a hundred bucks for a flight "down south", or driving 11 hours, I just pay $12 for the privilege of being stuffed by my favorite food(s), served by a man who could be anyone's neighbor, or even family member.
Maybe I should start calling him "uncle" Charles...! :)
Charles' Southern Style Kitchen (Charles' Country Pan-Fried Chicken) | 2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd #1, New York, NY 10039 | 212.281.1800