The best fried chicken I’ve eaten in my life was served to me on a plate with three vegetables and a basket of cornbread muffins atop a yellow-and-white-checkered table at Martin’s Restaurant in Montgomery, Ala.
And there’s good reason the Martin’s fried chicken is special. It’s not like most every other serving of fried chicken you’ll get at restaurants, in the South or elsewhere.
Martin’s employs its own chicken butchers who cut whole birds in a unique way. The blade slices the breast perpendicular to the breast bone, peeling off a piece of meat that keeps intact the small wishbone, or pulley bone as it’s often called in this case in Montgomery. It’s very different than that wide crescent-style shape of chicken breast you’re likely used to seeing.
Why does this matter? Well, I’m sorry fellow foodies, because I am no scientist and cannot explain to you the specifics as to why this method makes for a better cut of chicken breast. I am but a regular diner as are so many others who love good food. But for some reason, the cut and the cooking method Martin’s uses makes for THE MOST tender, juicy chicken breast I’ve ever put in my mouth. On top of that, the breading used offers a nice crispiness, is well-drained so as not to be greasy, and has a slight hint to my tastebuds of a simple salt-and-pepper seasoning.
Insert drool emojis here.
My wife Molly and I dined together at Martin’s on a rainy January Friday afternoon. She tried and very much enjoyed the unique special that day of poppy-seed chicken, a unique chicken-and-rice dish of sorts, along with a side of well-seasoned cooked cabbage. My sides were rich and creamy corn, just-vinegar-y-enough collard greens and nicely salted black-eye peas. We also savored a basket of four cornbread rolls that we slathered in creamy butter. Both of our entrees were less than $10 each, and we had a mound of food that facilitated the need for a takeout box that we filled and emptied the following day.
Now, I’ve told you that I rank Martin’s fried chicken as the best I’ve eaten in my life. I must now add praise that Martin’s is among the best places in the South to eat a slice of pie. My claim is well-founded, and the evidence is this.
A piece of Martin’s pie is $3.29. And a piece of said pie is the equivalent size of at least two pieces of pie most anywhere else you order a slice. Molly ate part (and saved part) of a massive slice of pecan. It was less sweet than most pecan pies and seemed to include dark instead of light corn syrup. It was very good, and she was so excited that she plunged her fork into the pie before taking a picture to share with you.
This, below, was my coconut-meringue pie. Note the thickness of the meringue. Sometimes meringue is more like whipped cream than meringue. Not so with this variety. It was rich and sweet with just the right amount of sugar, and it was delightfully light. It was pure egg whites, not a cream consistency. Bravo, Martin’s! The coconut filling had a nice, more-dense sweetness to it in contrast with the meringue. It included shredded coconut but not an overabundance of it as I’ve received at some other restaurants. The crust on both of our pieces of pie was delicious, crumbly but sturdy to hold up the filling on top.
Martin’s serves sweet tea that has just enough sugar and, as my wife always notes when appropriate, it tastes like tea. In other words, it’s not sugar water that contained tea bags for a few minutes. It had the flavor of tea that had been steeped properly and for good timing.
When you visit Martin’s, because you absolutely should make it a bucket list Southern restaurant stop, take a moment to listen to the room. You will hear the sound of the South in the accents, which were different than our home communities in North Carolina but still quite familiar in twang and tone.
Smell the food passing you on trays to other tables.
Watch the smiles and conversations between families and coworkers and friends who are clearly regulars here each day or week.
Do all of that before your food comes to your table, because when it arrives you’ll want to concentrate every part of yourself into the taste and experience of your meal.
Martin’s is a simple family restaurant that serves good, old-fashioned country cooking. It’s not frilly. It’s not fancy. It’s not chic. There are no gimmicks. It’s not even one of the top-20 restaurants you’ll find in the Montgomery area on the Yelp app.
However, Martin’s is about as much the quintessential example of a #FoodieScore as a restaurant can get. And we will be salivating and dreaming of the next time we can get back through Montgomery—which sits about five hours from us down Interstate 85—to stop for fried chicken, pie and other delights from a superb menu and hospitable staff.
#FoodieScore Pro Tips: There’s plenty of free parking here. And while it’s an old-fashioned restaurant that might make you question whether debit and credit cards are accepted, do not fear because you may use your plastic to pay.
Martin’s Restaurant, 1796 Carter Hill Road, Montgomery, Alabama