July 6 may indeed be National Fried Chicken Day, and given that most of us have shorter workweeks, it’s definitely worth celebrating mightily. But for some of Philly’s finest fried bird purveyors, every day is National Fried Chicken Day.
Take Reuben “Big Rube” Harley, the master of all he’s surveyed. He’s been an influential street-style photographer/newspaper columnist and blogger (Street Gazing), with a powerful Facebook page and Instagram feed to prove it. He all but invented the throwback jersey in his time as marketing director and part-owner of Mitchell & Ness. He’s fashioned a high-end t-shirt line LipHeelé, with his photos as the centerpiece, and he’s got his Baby Mama hot sauce that’s a sweet, spicy treat. Which leads us to his immensely popular fried chicken.
“I do pop-ups and collaborate with whomever I like,” says Harley about his first true love, a passion he learned from his grandmother in Union, South Carolina who used to fry up chicken in an iron skillet.
“I remembered that taste my whole life. There’s nothing [the recipe] written down.” he says. On the night we speak, he’s bringing his fried chicken and cheesy grits to Moonshine. On Saturday and Sunday evenings, he’s at Toast in Midtown Village, doing his chicken and waffles with a serving of some Baby Mama Sauce on the side. What’s his calling card when it comes to doing fried chicken right?
“Black folk style,” he says with a hearty laugh. “I brine it for a week in my secret spices and let that marinate with the very best ingredients you can buy, like Halal chicken from Cannuli’s in the Italian Market and King Arthur’s unbleached flour. Then there’s my Baby Mama Sauce – the best you ever had.”
Food-famous first for his catering largesse in barbershops and basketball games in the late 90s and his turkey lasagna pop-ups of 2011 (“I made “Time” magazine”), Harley wanted to show millennials his full repertoire of culinary skills. Which is where his social media community comes in, to further the desires of his brand and inform new diners to his whereabouts. “It’s part of my meteoric rise – I mean, turning throwback jerseys worldwide was something I did before Twitter and Facebook. Now I’m able to get all of my talents out there faster and wider - via Instagram in particular - to an audience that loves me. Or at least a crowd who loves to eat.”
Big Rube’s key to a making a great fried chicken – whether his own or someone else’s - is that lengthy brining process (“I do a week, but if you’re in a hurry, please do it for no less than an hour”) and pan-frying. “And show that chicken some love, please, that’s essential.”
A few other Philly favorites for National Fried Chicken Day
There are five locations housing Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook’s tender fried chicken and donut eateries throughout Philly. If Harley can’t eat his own tasty treats, he’ll head to the 17th and Sansom branch for chicken whose thin crispy batter that has “a nice crunch” and a unique perspective on spices.
1632 Sansom St., federaldonuts.com
The toast of Chinatown, the still-young Korean fried chicken franchise maintains its heritage as one of the tangiest taste sensations in that area with a coating that is nearly as sweet and spicy as Big Rube’s Baby Mama. Plus, surprisingly BonChon does no brining, and makes a tender tasty bird.
1020 Cherry St., bonchon.com
Bud & Marilyn’s
Here’s the ringer. Chef Marcie Turney’s tribute to down home Americana and the roots of her family’s food features a generous fried chicken dish that’s buttermilk battered, served with homey warm biscuits, tart zucchini pickles, salted honey butter, and YES, her house made hot sauce.
1234 Locust St., budandmarilyns.com