The Eagle makes fried chicken. This crunchy, greasy hallmark of Southern cooking has always played second fiddle to the hamburger as America’s most iconic edible. But at The Eagle Food & Beer Hall at 790 N. High St., fried chicken makes a brave power play to dethrone the king of American cuisine.
When I first heard about a new chicken restaurant opening up near campus, I shrugged it off. I had been burned too many times paying exorbitant prices for disappointing permutations of burgers and beers. As a firm believer in the traditional bar food paradigm of cheap and greasy food, nonsense like $30 “gold-encrusted himalayan-salted kale bar chips” is insulting to my wallet and my palate.
Nonetheless, I am and always will be an avid consumer of all things fried. So after hearing a close friend drunkenly wax poetic about his recent trip to The Eagle, I decided that perhaps it was time for me to see what all the fuss was about.
Thus, with my wallet full and stomach empty, I drove down to the Short North in the hopes that by the end of the night my situation would be reversed.
Located in the building that once housed La Fogata Mexican Grill, The Eagle sits in the heart of culinary Columbus. Upon walking up to the complex, I was introduced to a perfect combination of warm lighting, standing-level tables and gregarious servers. It was an immediately welcoming experience, and I imagine that even the most nebbish of customers would feel comfortable.
The Eagle’s method of organizing its indoor seating was reminiscent of a Munich beer hall, with individual dining parties consolidated together to fill table vacancies. The booth I was seated in already housed two couples engaged in intense games of stare-eyes. Luckily, my ability to be a fifth-wheel had been fine-tuned from years of practice, and my stomach was empty enough that I was willing to face any amounts of social discomfort to satisfy my hunger.
The menu offers up a number of soul-styled sides and appetizers from a baked mac and cheese to collard greens. In comparison to the vast array of side dishes, the choices for its chicken were refreshingly to the point. After experiencing a bout of jealousy that the all-natural, free range, amish chickens came from a more affluent background than myself, I was impressed to see the refreshingly streamlined chicken-centric portion of the menu. There’s a choice between a quarter chicken with either light or dark meat, a half chicken and a whole chicken.
The beer menu was intuitive and wide reaching, organizing the beer into “The Basics,” “Seasonals,” “Easy Drinkers,” “Draft Medium and Full Bodied,” “Belgian Style,” and “Hops” with gluten-free and non-alcoholic options included.
I ordered a one-fourth chicken with all white meat, mac and cheese, and french fries with a few bottles of the Old Rasputin — the age-old cure to social anxiety.
The food arrived surprisingly quickly, given how busy The Eagle seemed to be. The sides were delivered on a large hot cast-iron skillet in a fashion calling for a communal experience. While it served to remind me of the crippling loneliness in my life, I can imagine that for those more socially inclined, this platter arrangement would make sharing meals with one another much more accommodating. The fried chicken selfishly took up a whole plate to itself. It was fully deserving in this treatment with the delicate way each individual piece of chicken laid atop one another as a cozy, full-bodied representation reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Upon my first bite, a miniature geyser of rich juice erupted from the chicken in my mouth. The temperature was also perfect. It was fried in rich oils with a magical seasoning of bread crumbs — arguably the most distilled and prime example of American cooking this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Additionally supplementing the chicken was the spicy hot honey offered with it. In combination with the honey, the chicken was almost reminiscent of the syrup saturated breading of chicken and waffles without the unnecessary waffle part.
The mac and cheese was soft to the bite but not overbaked, falling slightly south of al dente. The cheese sauce balanced the fine line of buttery and tangy with a tease of the fresh garlic. Although the french fries and aioli were nothing to write home about, they were far from purposeless as they helped combat the greater levels of drunkenness I would have attained from the bottles of Old Rasputin.
Perfectly breaded, perfectly seasoned, and perfectly cooked, The Eagle managed to afford me the perfect chicken experience. And as I had hoped, I left The Eagle with my stomach full and my wallet empty.