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At Maryland Fried Chicken, bird is the word

Review: Maryland Fried Chicken does one thing and does it right.

 

★★★

I was not looking for Maryland Fried Chicken when I caught sight of a cartoon chicken painted on the window of a no-frills storefront on Sample Road.

"Best gizzards and livers," read one sign. "Three-piece meals $6.60," read another.

Maryland Fried Chicken is so plain that we weren't even sure the place was open until we'd parked the car and caught the unmistakable aroma of chicken in hot oil.

Inside, the unadorned 25-seat dining room has all the charm of a hospital waiting room. Behind the yellow-and-red Formica counter stands Ruby Khan, who 18 years ago bought Maryland Fried Chicken's Pompano Beach location. She uses the same recipe that — let's call it MFC — has been using since opening in this spot in 1968.

MFC, Khan says, was once a small chain that got its start in Orlando. Owner Albert Constantine had been running a restaurant called Constantine's when Kentucky Fried Chicken opened nearby. Constantine decided to fight chicken with chicken, according to a story that appeared in Baltimore City Paper, an alternative weekly. When the Maryland-based company now known as Lockheed Martin opened a factory in Orlando, Constantine hit on a name and Baltimore transplants couldn't stay away.

Khan says the other MFC owners maintain an informal network, but mostly operate independently, although all still use the original recipe and a cooking method known as broasting. It's a combination of deep-frying and pressure-cooking, which Khan says results in moist chicken without the greasiness that often comes from frying.

The frying process starts the day before, when chicken is cut and cleaned in-house. The restaurant sells about 1,200 pounds every week. Chicken is fresh and never frozen. It's not dipped in liquid batter, but lightly dry-breaded, which Khan says makes for a lighter, crisper crust. It also helps the breading adhere to the skin. "That's why it's not so heavy on your stomach," Khan says. "It's like homemade."

In this age of something for everyone, MFC's menu is shockingly simple: fried chicken, shrimp, gizzards, liver, clams and scallops. There's coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans and soft dinner rolls. If you want to get fancy, there are side orders of onion rings ($2.15/$4.20), mushrooms ($3), okra ($3), mozzarella sticks ($3.75) and jalapeno poppers ($3).

Three-piece meals ($5.75-$7.55) are the biggest sellers. Every meal comes with fries, coleslaw and a roll. Many sides can be ordered by the quart ($6), pint ($3) or half pint ($1.50).

Eat inside the restaurant, and your meal is served on a Styrofoam plate with plastic utensils and ketchup packets. (We saw one couple come in with warehouse-club-size squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard. They must have been committed brand-name users of Heinz and French's.) The bare-bones dining room also has yellow Formica-topped tables, a few oil-on-velvet paintings and a big, red trashcan in the corner.

Order food to go, and it's packed inside vintage printed boxes of the sort I haven't seen since childhood. If this place served craft beer, the hipster demographic would arrive here in droves.

I ordered the three-thigh dinner and received three consistently cut, breaded and fried specimens. When you only make one thing, you know what you're doing. The fries were fine, as was the coleslaw. But the chicken will leave you wondering when you'll get back to MFC.

jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/Sup and follow him at Twitter.com/FloridaEats.

Maryland Fried Chicken

1821 E. Sample Road, Pompano Beach

954-943-1800, MarylandFriedChicken.net

Cuisine: Fried chicken

Cost: Inexpensive

Hours: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Reservations: Not required

Credit cards: MC, V

Bar: No alcohol

Sound level: Quiet

Outside smoking: Yes

For kids: Highchairs

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Free lot

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