Bird alert: Some superb fried chicken has appeared in Suffolk County, with a battered, peppery crust that has a touch of heat and a crackling moonscape of crisp.
It’s cooked at Carolina Kitchen, which opened in Medford a few weeks ago on Route 112, just south of the Long Island Expressway. The cafe is a bright, tiled place of cool hues and clean lines that are a visual counterpoint to hearty soul food such as fried or barbecued chicken, ribs, collard greens, mac-and-cheese and marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole.
“[Carolina Kitchen] came to my dad in a dream, down to the colors,” said Katorie Wheeler, son of owners Kha (his nickname) and Shelly Wheeler. Kha, the dad in question, spent years in the music industry before starting the restaurant; Katorie worked in the food industry in Brooklyn before taking up the reverse commute to Long Island to manage the place for his parents. “This is our first restaurant, so it is new to us.”
The Wheelers spent 10 months gutting the spot into an immaculate cafe with broad windows and a handful of tables. Customers order at the counter, where they can view the goods on the hot bar or the fried chicken in a warming oven that is constantly replenished.
Shelly Wheeler is the talent behind the chicken, and though she's reluctant to give up her recipe, it took off from the start. "We sold out of chicken on the first day," Shelly said, when 400 people showed up during what was supposed to be a soft opening. "We expected to take it slow when we opened, but it hasn't happened that way."
Broiled chicken in barbecue sauce rings in at $6.99 for two pieces; sides are $2.50 or $5.50 extra, depending on size. Fried chicken is sold in combos, ranging from $6.99 to $18.99 (for a family-size meal) and includes one to three side dishes, such as collards, baked beans or a creamy stuffing slathered in white gravy. Burgers, pulled pork and half and full racks of ribs are also on the menu, and down the road, Shelly said they will add some seafood dishes such as fried whiting and broiled or fried salmon.
Carolina Kitchen is open daily from noon to 9 p.m., and closed on Sunday; Sunday hours will be added in a few weeks. Find it at 2717A Route 112 in Medford. 631-569-5993.