What are you, chicken?

Notable poultry dishes on the southside

By Sara McAninch


We’ve all been there: We go to a restaurant and order a chicken dish. Expecting the perfect poultry, we’re excited when it arrives, only to have it be rubbery or bland. But the noble chicken does not deserve such treatment. Never fear: The southside has plenty of chicken dishes to cluck about; here are four standouts for you to try.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza at The Willard

99 N. Main St., Franklin, thewillard.com

When you first walk into The Willard, it feels like home. With the fireplace at the head of the main dining area and the welcoming atmosphere of the place, it’s like eating at a friend’s house if that friend offered an extensive menu of food and beer.

Since it was built in 1860, The Willard has been a family home, a hotel and now a bar and eatery. Known for its chicken wings and sandwiches, the restaurant also boasts some of the best pizza in the area, and the buffalo chicken pizza is no exception.

Starting with a thin crust that adds a nice crunch to the finished product, the dough is then coated in a small layer of Frank’s RedHot sauce. The cayenne kick of the sauce is balanced by the marinated chicken breast that makes up the next layer. Rounding it out is a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, which gets bubbly and brown during the baking process and holds everything together.

What really sets this pizza apart is the chicken. Breast pieces are cut into thin slices and then marinated for hours in a combination of soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar and a proprietary blend of southern spices. Cooked in the same oven as the pizzas, the result is a sweet and tangy taste that’s so good even the staff wants to snag bites of it without the accompaniment of dough and sauce.

The buffalo chicken pizza ranges in price and size from a 7-inch personal pan, to a medium 12-inch to a large 16-inch. Paired with any one of the beers on tap at The Willard, or even a glass of chardonnay or zinfandel, this pizza is sure to please with a little bit of heat and a lot of flavor. Stop in on a Friday or Saturday night to enjoy live music, or before or after a movie at the Historic Artcraft Theatre next door, and it’s the perfect night out.

Chicken-N-Waffle Bytes at Tried & True Alehouse

2800 S. State Road 135, Suite 100, Greenwood, triedandtruealehouse.com

Fried chicken and waffles are a popular southern comfort food entrée. When Indy area hotspot Tried & True Alehouse put the dish on its menu, it did so with a twist: an appetizer called Chicken-N-Waffles Bytes (pictured).

While chicken and waffles on their own might not seem all that different, what is special is how they’re prepared and served. The Bytes start off as made-from-scratch waffle batter, into which fresh chunked chicken breast cutlets are placed. Once dipped, the chunks are deep-fried, thus marrying in the holiest of matrimony two things that are usually separate in the traditional dish.

Once fried, the Bytes are dusted with powdered sugar; when the appetizer arrives at your table, it’s served with sides of regular maple syrup and a spicy syrup that’s made in house. The result is tender, juicy chicken in crispy golden waffle batter that’s balanced by the sweet from the powdered sugar and the heat from the syrup.

Each serving comes with 10 Bytes; upgrade with strips of bacon on top. As an appetizer or your main meal, the Chicken-N-Waffle Bytes can be washed down with any one of the 20 drafts or 12 craft beers on rotating taps that the restaurant offers daily.

Tried & True Alehouse also offers a laid-back atmosphere with more than 30 televisions, and there’s always music playing softly in the background. If beer isn’t to your liking, then it also offers wine and cocktails.

Naptown Hot Chicken at Thunderbird

1127 Shelby St., Indianapolis, thunderbirdindy.com

Nashville, Tennessee, is known for, among other things, a signature dish called the Nashville Hot Chicken. The open-faced sandwich consists of a white bread base, pickle slices and fried chicken covered in a spicy paste whose main ingredient is cayenne pepper. Thunderbird chef Kristen York brings her version of the dish to Indianapolis’ Thunderbird restaurant with the Naptown Hot Chicken.

At its most basic, the Naptown Hot Chicken is two buttermilk biscuits topped with two spicy chicken thighs, mustard seed slaw, and bread and butter pickles. When combined, the flavor of each element creates a spicy, sweet and tangy mix with a crispy mouth feel.

Bringing the heat is a combination of cayenne pepper, ghost chilies and Gochujang, a Korean hot sauce. The mix of spices ensures that your taste buds tingle all over while you’re eating. The heat is balanced with a sweetness from the two buttermilk biscuits that make up the foundation of this dish, and bread and butter pickles, both house made. Lastly there’s a tangy bite from the mustard seed slaw, which is made with cider vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise, whole grain mustard and mustard seeds.

Each serving come with two biscuits, two thighs, pickles and a heaping pile of slaw. If you want a smaller portion, the starters menu offers a single chicken biscuit with some slaw and pickles. Add in one of Thunderbird’s signature cocktails from a bar that takes center stage in the restaurant to have a warm, cozy dining experience with a rockabilly vibe while surrounded by a lot of reclaimed wood.

Kickin’ Chicken Sandwich at Zaxby’s

1274 N. Emerson Ave., Greenwood, zaxbys.com

When you see a sandwich called Kickin’ Chicken, you expect some heat. This sandwich from Zaxby’s delivers that and more.

Instead of the run-of-the-mill bun, this sandwich starts with two thick slices of Texas toast covered with a margarine garlic spread. The bread is then smothered with Zaxby’s Tongue Torch sauce, a vinegar based hot sauce that rates two flames out of five on its signature sauce heat scale, which includes flavors like Wimpy and Insane. It also has ranch sauce as a cooling counterbalance to the heat of the other sauce. Three Chicken Fingerz complete the sandwich.

Each of the Chicken Fingerz is 3 to 4 inches long and hand breaded in-house. Since they’re deep fried, they have a crunchy exterior and tender interior that mimics the texture of the Texas toast. The finished product of dripping sauces, thick bread and juicy chicken means you’ll want to keep the napkins handy when eating this dish.

The Kickin’ Chicken Sandwich is available by itself or as a meal. The meal includes a small serving of crinkle-cut fries and 22-ounce drink. Want to get your meal on-the-go? Zaxby’s has a drive-thru if you want to keep moving or a dine-in space with a family-friendly atmosphere if you want to sit and relax while you eat.


Photos by Stacy Able