Korean fried chicken at Pelicana in Plainview.

Korean fried chicken at Pelicana in Plainview. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

Much of my own excitement about Pelicana, a Korean fried chicken juggernaut with 3,000-plus locations worldwide, stemmed not from the chicken itself but a menu offering called White Snowing Cheese French Fries. The name alone conjured Currier & Ives images of wintry evenings, seven-year-aged clouds and heavy white snowflakes tumbling from the skies and onto Pelicana’s potato planks. 

And so it was that I rushed to Plainview, mere days after Long Island’s first Pelicana opened, only to find that the item in question, although present on the menu, had lost all pretense of poesy. Now they were simply Camembert White Cheese Powder Fries ($11).

“Are they the same?” I queried the Pelicana clerk.

“I don't know, but I highly recommend them,” he replied.

While the spuds themselves were fine enough, the dusting powder — sweet a la kettle corn, cheesy a la Pirate’s Booty — magically transformed the fries into a carb fest of fierce irresistibility. These are fries that argue persuasively for their existence, and also for the restoration of a name that befits gushing, a name like White Snowing Cheese Fries.

But it’s chicken that made Pelicana into the double-fried empire it is today, an empire hatched not in Seoul but another city 90 miles south, Daejeon. Fried chicken had been popular in the country ever since American GIs introduced it during the war, but Korean fried chicken dates back only to 1982, when, in the company’s telling, Yang Hee-Kweon, who managed the first Pelicana and is still CEO, noticed that customers loved the crunchy skin that double frying produces but often balked at its hardness. His solution? Douse post-fried parts in a sauce composed of garlic, sugar and gochujang, which not only gave Yang’s chicken a sweet-spiciness but also demonstrated a flair for flavor combos that prefigured his later snow fries. And while it’s impossible to say if it was indeed Pelicana that put the K in KFC, seducing the world with chicken that married a candy apple bite with sauce of serious heat — it can certainly take credit for popularizing it. There are now more than 2,000 Pelicanas in South Korea and an estimated 40,000 fried chicken spots total in the country, a country that is the size of Oregon, by the way.

The chicken in Plainview is Pelicana perfect, just what you would expect from the franchise’s owner, a former regional manager for the company named Brian Kim. Fried chicken parts — not lacquered and smooth like most KFC, but craggy and crumbly like American KFC — are available in every possible permutation, including bone-in whole birds ($30, or $17 for a half) and wings ($17 for 10, $32 for 20, $44 for 30), all of them best when tossed in Pelicana’s OG sauce (available in three levels of spiciness), although other sauces exist, honey garlic and barbecue among them.

At presstime, Pelicana’s full menu was not yet available, although most members of the aptly named Fried Appetizers section were, from fried mozz sticks ($12) to fried dumplings stuffed with various meats ($12), to fried shrimp ($12) and fried calamari ($12-$13), to fried onion rings ($9) and variously shaped and sized mochi doughnuts ($7-$12). A section dubbed Meals includes five kinds of fried rice, each accompanied by a side salad ($13-15). Salads that are meals in themselves, meanwhile, will also be available soon ($10-$15).

Pelicana Chicken, 542 Woodbury Rd., Plainview, 516-822-2720, pelicanausa.com. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m., closed Monday.

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