We southerners do not actually know anything more about fried chicken than the rest of the country, but are happy to pretend otherwise, if only because people are always asking our opinion about someone’s recipe, which means we get to eat a lot of fried chicken.
Many years and countless grease-stained tablecloths later, I have determined that there is absolutely no correlation between one’s birthplace and the quality of one’s chicken, a theory that gained further support after a recent visit to Buttermilk’s Chicken in E. Islip, which opened (unfortunately) during a pandemic, but did so (fortunately) with a very good recipe and fry method. Thus is it gaining a loyal following, virus or no virus. Its owners, the husband-wife team of Charlie and Jenn Mastropaolo, are Long Island natives.
“I absolutely love chicken,” said Charlie, which is the sort of thing you would expect the son of a butcher to say, especially one who opened his first chicken restaurant in Flushing way back in 1978, and then several more on the Island around 20 years ago. Two of the latter, known as Country Rotisserie, remain in Shoreham and Riverhead, although the Mastropaolos sold both to a former employee a few years back, at which point they turned their attention to East Islip and, for some reason, pizza. Rizzo’s Kitchen was not a happy departure.
“East Islip actually has 15 pizzerias,” said Charlie, “and you could walk to six or seven of them from Rizzo’s.”
Chicken places, on the other hand, were in short supply, and so in March the couple traded their brick oven for a fryer, completing a top-to-bottom renovation of the space without a contractor in just 10 days. On March 17, Buttermilk’s opened without fanfare — for obvious reasons — and has remained in soft-opening mode ever since. But word of Jenn’s crispy chicken sandwich ($4.99) has spread anyway, its breast meat brined first in a salt-and-pickle-juice mixture before being doused in buttermilk and flour, tossed into red-hot canola oil and a special fryer that cooks chicken in under 15 minutes.
I didn’t try that, sadly, but I’m not complaining. The $8.49 four-piece box, a mix of white and dark meat, was juicy, flavorful, and reduced to nothing but bones within minutes. The dining room at Buttermilk’s Chicken, meanwhile, is cheerful if small, containing just 32 seats, none of which were occupied on the day I visited, per current restrictions. But Charlie didn’t mind. “The reaction has been incredibly positive,” he said. “Besides, we always knew our business was going to be 75 percent takeout.”
So what’s another 25 percent, right?
Buttermilk’s Chicken is at 93 E. Main St. in E. Islip, 631-581-3000, buttermilkschicken.com. Opening hours for takeout and curbside pickup are Tuesday through Sunday, 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Closed Monday.