Southern Fried Chicken: Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food
Lille Mae’s recently took over the old Coleman Still space near the San Jose airport, and a friend in the Silicon Valley who knows I am fried chicken obsessed tipped me off.
Named for her grandmother, Lillie Mae Gaulden, chef Rhonda Manning had another soul food restaurant called Lillie Mae’s in Santa Clara that closed leaving loyal fans in despair. Like all great southern cooks, she learned the recipes from her grandmother and her mother paying careful attention at an early age to the ingredients, seasoning and technique.
The folks at Zagat- the once-respected food guide that opened voting up to anyone with a computer, resulting in KFC being named “best fried chicken”- obviously haven’t been to Lillie Mae’s. I ate a lot of fried chicken working on my “Fried Chicken Frenzy” article several years ago, and I’ve also been eating a lot of lately while researching “Fried Chicken Frenzy Redux” for a future issue. So trust me when I say that Lillie Mae’s has the best fried chicken in the Bay Area; it blows away renowned, higher priced competitors like Wayfare Tavern and Casa Orinda.
I watched chef Rhonda pan fry her chicken to a crisp golden brown, lovingly turning it to make sure each piece cooked evenly. He result was this-cut 9my preference) lightly seasoned and just salty enough. When you take a bite, the skin offers a delicate crunch and the coating doesn’t come off in big pieces 9the problem with thicker breading); inside the meat is tender and drip-down-your-arm juicy. I’m a dark meat fan, but even the white meat at Lillie Mae’s is moist.
For dinner, you get four generously sized pieces served with cornbread and a choice of two sides for $1.95 (at lunch, it comes with one side and white or wheat bread for $6.95) – and if you’re there on a weekend, be sure to try the friend chicken and waffles.