As the weather warms up and I embark on my first summer on Long Island, I’ve noticed myself falling into random bouts of homesickness. I find myself craving the taken-for-granted activities of my Florida youth: Relaxing on hidden beaches only the locals know how to access or enjoying a basket of crispy conch fritters at a restaurant you can drive your boat right up to.
In many ways, I anticipate summers on the North Fork will remind me of those in my hometown. I’m hoping to smell sunscreen as it wafts through the humid air and I’m sure I’ll enjoy plenty of dockside seafood restaurants.
But, in my search to find a meal that feels like summer comfort food I enjoyed back home, nothing has felt quite right. That is, until I ate at the refreshingly unique fried chicken at Ellen’s on Front in Greenport.
Growing up in the South, homemade sweet tea was another essential part of my summers. Nothing beat the Florida heat and satisfied my sweet tooth quite like an ice-cold glass of sweet tea.
Unlike sweet tea, my relationship with chicken is tumultuous. I typically steer clear of dry, under-seasoned chicken dishes that plague restaurant menus and although my mother tried, she never quite perfected a delectably juicy yet crispy piece of fried chicken. Ellen’s on Front did just that.
Who knew that sweet tea was the secret ingredient?
From the creative mind of executive chef Jennie Werts, her sweet tea-brined fried chicken was the perfect contradiction of flavors and textures: sweet and spicy, crispy and juicy.
Werts begins by marinating the chicken wings and thighs for 24-hours in a homemade sweet tea brine. She then uses a dry batter of flour, cayenne, paprika and salt and pepper. Adding soda water to her wet batter, an airy consistency is created for an ultra-crispy chicken skin. She fries the chicken in oil before tossing them in hot sauce and honey butter.
The bright orange crispy chicken is placed in a metal fry basket lined with green and white checkered paper and topped with a drizzle of the same hot sauce honey butter. Last, the dish is topped with Thai basil leaves, giving a satisfying earthy-lemon note.
I’m still amazed at how this unique combination of flavors and textures transported me back to the crispy fried food of my childhood. Through a mixture of science, talent and a touch of the unexpected, Werts creates tender fall-off-the-bone chicken wings and thighs that will have you craving it for days to come. Insider tip: Pair the dish with a Thai basil gimlet for a next-level combination.
Want to try this dish for yourself? Head to Ellen’s on Front at 38 Front St. in Greenport. Make a reservation at 631-333-2743 or visit their website at ellensonfront.com.